ISSN 1671-3710
CN 11-4766/R

Advances in Psychological Science ›› 2023, Vol. 31 ›› Issue (8): 1443-1459.doi: 10.3724/SP.J.1042.2023.01443

• Meta-Analysis • Previous Articles     Next Articles

The relationship between fine motor skills and mathematical ability in children: A meta-analysis

KANG Dan(), WEN Min, ZHANG Yingjie   

  1. School of Educational Science, Hunan Normal University; Cognition and Human Behavior Key Laboratory of Hunan Province, Changsha 410081, China
  • Received:2022-09-22 Online:2023-08-15 Published:2023-05-12


The effect of fine motor skills, a foundational motor skill in early childhood, on mathematical ability has been inconsistent in previous studies. Some studies suggest that it has a positive effect on mathematical ability, while others suggest that it has a negative effect on mathematical ability. Some factors may potentially influence the role of fine motor skills in mathematical ability. Given the inconsistency of existing studies, this study used a meta-analysis approach to examine the effect of fine motor skills on mathematical ability and the role of moderating variables in this relationship by integrating relevant empirical studies of the past 30 years. This study used three Chinese databases, including China Knowledge Network, Wanfang, and Weipu, and three English databases, including Web of Science, SCI database, and Google Scholar, for literature search and screening. The search terms for fine motor skills were “fine motor skills” or “finger dexterity” or “motor skills”, and the search terms for mathematical ability were “mathematical skills” or “numeracy skills” or “counting skills”, etc. By September 2022, 34 papers (33 English and 1 Chinese) with 42 independent effect sizes and a total sample size of 78,527 people were included in the study. Meta-analysis was conducted using CMA 3.0 software.

Random effects model was selected according to the characteristics of the study. Heterogeneity tests showed significant heterogeneity among 42 independent effect sizes, indicating that a random effects model would be a more appropriate model to perform the meta-analysis. In addition, no significant publication bias was found in the included studies based on the results of funnel plots, loss of safety coefficients, and Egger's regression coefficients. The main effects analysis showed a moderate positive correlation between fine motor skills and mathematical ability (r = 0.27, 95% CI [0.23,0.32]); subgroup analyses and meta-regressions indicated that the relationship was moderated by cultural background and fine motor skills measurement instruments, but not by children's age and gender. The results showed that: (1) there was a positive correlation between fine motor skills and mathematical ability, and individuals with higher level of fine motor skills developed better mathematical ability; (2) in terms of cultural background, the correlation between fine motor skills and mathematical ability was stronger in the Eastern culture than that in the Western culture; (3) there was no moderating effect observed between different gender groups, and the correlation between fine motor skills and mathematical ability might be stable across genders; (4) in terms of fine motor skills measurement, the highest correlation coefficient was obtained using the Beery VMI, while the lowest correlation coefficient was obtained using the MABC-2.

This meta-analysis has both theoretical and practical implications. Theoretically, this study has verified that fine motor skills are closely related to mathematical ability, supporting the idea of embodied cognition theory and cognitive load theory, and initially clarified the academic debate about the relationship between fine motor skills and mathematical ability. Practically, this study suggests that educators need pay attention to the development of basic motor skills in early childhood and adopt effective fine motor skill training approaches to improve children's fine motor levels so as to promote their mathematical abilities.

Future researches will focus on the standardization of fine motor skill measurement instruments, increased studies with school-age children as subjects, studies in Eastern cultural background, longitudinal studies, and experimental studies to further explore and elucidate the relationship and causal relationship between fine motor skills and mathematical ability across subject groups and cultural background.

Key words: fine motor skills, mathematical ability, embodied cognition, meta-analysis

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