Pika, S., Nicoladis, E., & Marentette, P. (2009). How to order a beer: Cultural differences in the use of conventional gestures for numbers. Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, 40(1), 70-80. doi:10.1177/0022022108326197
[Abstract]It is said that conventional gestures for numbers differ by culture. Conventional gestures are thought to imply consistency of form both across and within individuals. The present study tests the consistency of finger gestures of 60 participants of three different cultures and in three different mother tongues in nine different hypothetical scenarios. The first subject of analysis is whether participants differentiate between counting and signaling. The second subject is the consistency of gestures within and between groups. The third is how participants depict the number 1. Result show that most people use the same gestures for counting and signaling. In addition, Germans and English Canadians show relatively low degrees of individual differences whereas French Canadians show relatively high degrees of individual variability. Furthermore, only the Germans use the thumb to indicate the number 1, whereas the two North American cultures use the index finger. The present data suggest that finger gestures of some cultures clearly qualify as conventional gestures whereas others do not. It is suggested that the development of conventional gestures is influenced by cultural exposure, which can even result into the loosening of conventions.
[Citing Place (2000c)]  
Citing Place (2000c) in context (citations start with an asterisk *):
* The hand was often used as material support for numbers due to its morphology, which can be regarded not only as a total but also as a natural succession of collections of fingers (one finger, two fingers . . . etc., Ifrah, 1985). Finger gestures might therefore have linked the cognitive gap from cardinal and ordinal numerals to an abstract number concept. This claim is supported by documentations of a variety of counting and calculating methods on the fingers that were used by many civilizations in ancient times (Ifrah, 1985). Different finger-counting procedures included, for instance, (a) counting on the bones and joints of fingers; (b) counting on the finger joints and ball of thumb; (c) counting with the thumb on the finger bones, each having a value of 1; (d) counting on the fingers, each having a value of 12; (e) finger numeration in which units and tens were represented with the fingers of one hand (the left in the Occident, the right in the Orient), and hundreds and thousands with those of the other (Ifrah, 1985). These techniques of “finger writing” or “finger counting” are differentiated from “finger gestures” (Menninger, 1958), which include the practice of counting up to 10 on the fingers of the two hands, and can be found in every human culture (Place, 2000). Following Ekman and Friesen (1969), these gestures belong to the category of emblems or so-called quotable gestures (Kendon, 1992). McNeill (1998) however, used the term conventional gestures to emphasize that their form and meaning are established by the conventions of specific communities. This implies standards of form that must be met if the gestures are to be recognized and thus involves low levels of individual differences within the community.