Multi-modal Symbolic Representations of Number: Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Mental Abacus, but Were Afraid to Ask

David BarnerUniversity of California, San Diego
George AlvarezHarvard University
Mahesh SrinivasanUniversity of California, Berkeley
Neon BrooksUniversity of Chicago
Susan Goldin-MeadowUniversity of Chigago
Jessica SullivanUniversity of California, San Diego
Katie WagnerUniversity of California, San Diego
Michael FrankStanford University

Abstract

How do different modalities like language, gesture, and mental imagery interact to support symbolic representation? We investigate the unique case study of “mental abacus” (MA). By visualizing a physical abacus, supporting computations with gesture, and translating responses in a verbal format, MA users perform arithmetic calculations with astonishing speed and accuracy. We explore the nature of this expertise, and how different systems interact to create a multimodal symbolic system.

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