Anti-ScienceScience

Scientists Get the Finger

Take a look at your index and ring fingers — some researchers at University of Bath in the UK think the difference in lengths between the two could be an indicator of what your star subjects were in school.

A recent study showed a correlation between boys with a large difference in length and those who excelled at math; there was also a correlation between girls with a small difference in length and those who excelled at verbal skills. However, the results didn’t predict which girls would excel at math or which boys would excel at verbal skills.

Test this out for yourself: grab a ruler and measure the index finger (2D) and ring finger (4D) of one hand. Divide 2D/4D and write down your result. Now do the same for the other hand and take the average number. It’s a little tough to make sure you’re using the same start and end points, but most people are able to correctly measure their own ratios to within a few decimal points.

Mine came out to .995, which is just about average for women who tend to have higher ratios. Men tend to have lower ratios, say around .98. Scientists believe the reason is due to the different levels of testosterone we each receive while in the womb, with more testosterone leading to a greater difference (and therefore a lower ratio) between fingers. Other studies have found evidence of a correlation between finger length and people with dyslexia, who tend to show very high ratios greater than 1.

The same researcher who led this recent study — Mark Brosnan — led a previous examination of finger length ratios just among faculty at University of Bath. In that study, he found significant differences when comparing the scientists to the managers and engineers. Here’s the rub: those differences actually show that the scientists tended to have ratios right around .996, the usual average for women, despite the fact that only 22% of subjects were female. The managers and engineers averaged just .977 and .984, respectively.

On top of all that, this study showed no significant difference in ratios between men and women (who averaged .984 overall), suggesting that perhaps the women who succeed in academia get more testosterone in the womb then those in the general population.

These studies are far from conclusive, but they do offer a bit of compelling evidence in the search to figure out how much of our skills and personality are determined way before we know it.

No examination of this subject would be complete without mentioning what the pseudoscientists think. According to findyourfate.com, which offers comprehensive advice on reading your own palm, the relationship between finger lengths is very important and tells us a lot about ourselves. Each finger indicates the strength of traits which are related to it — for instance, the index finger represents confidence, ego, drive, and ambition while the ring finger is in charge of emotion and creativity. Because the average male’s ring finger is slightly longer than his index finger, logically it follows that the average man is more emotional and less driven than the average woman. Because that makes sense.

(Parenthetical aside: findyourfate.com also mentions that a “prominent middle finger” shows a serious and intense nature. Consider this the next time you make your middle finger prominent in the midst of a serious or intense situation.)

For fun, figure out your ratio and post it here, along with your gender and whether or not you think your personality matches your number. Who’s closer: the scientists or the pseudoscientists?

Rebecca Watson

Rebecca leads a team of skeptical female activists at Skepchick.org. She travels around the world delivering entertaining talks on science, atheism, feminism, and skepticism. There is currently an asteroid orbiting the sun with her name on it. You can follow her every fascinating move on Twitter or on Google+.

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33 Comments

  1. hmm. I just don't buy the idea that there are genetically defined limits to who "gets" math, althoug the HOX gene/testosterone thing is plausible.

    It does seem like a fun bar trick, though, and a good reason to fondle a cute guy's hand….

  2. Well, every time I measure my fingers with this awfully bad ruler I come up with slightly different numbers and ratios that all seem pretty low to me. The avg. difference last time was .95475, but I don't trust that in the least. What does finger length say about one's ability to use a simple tool like a ruler??

  3. Average is .9125, Male. That seems like a really huge difference, but I measured twice just to be sure.

    I would have gone to that mystical-looking astrology site and checked what they said, but they started asking for my name and address… Oh, and I am a Math Major at U Waterloo, so I guess the study results are pretty accurate.

  4. Average of 0.9789, Female. I'm an accountant so I guess you could infer verbal skills are not my forte. I think I communicate quite well though.

    Interesting study but like bug_girl I remain a little skeptical about how much we can read into it. It will be interesting to see what other results people post.

    Ian – the real question is are you any good at maths?

  5. I agree it's important to remember that these studies are not conclusive, but I'm not sure I understand your objection, bug_girl. "Limits" isn't a word I'd choose — more like the brain's early development influences who has a greater propensity for a subject. Seeing the way that testosterone alone can so dramatically change a person's personality, it seems very likely that the hormone could influence brain development in the womb. Is there something I'm missing?

  6. I'm a female education major (elementary, with a focus on math and science), and my ratio is 0.986. It's not really accurate for me, though – one of my index fingers is slightly deformed due to environmental factors. The ratio on that hand was 0.973, while the ratio on the other was 1, exactly. I'm thinking my ratio would be closer to 1, naturally. I have always excelled at verbal things, and struggled with math and science (even though I love those subjects).

  7. My ratio is pretty close to 1 as accurately as I can tell.

    I'm a chick and at school I was good at Maths (first in 2 unit maths in my region in the HSC) but wasn't very good at physics and have possibly forgotten most of what I learnt in high school. Disliked studying English but love to read, do pretty well in debating and have been told I am witty/funny.

    My current field is design/photography so I'm not really using either professionally.

    I'd like to know what sort of ratio comedians have. Or even if the ratio can predict how funny a chick will be.

  8. Like Expatria, I'm having trouble with the simple task of measuring my fingers with a ruler. Although I can't even blame my ruler, since it's a really nice one I bought for art classes in high school.

    Anyway, the ratio I think is pretty accurate is .96, which still seems pretty low, but my ring finger is definitely longer than my index. I'm female, and I'm starting law school in August, so I guess that means I've gone more the verbal route. And I don't think my longer ring finger makes me more emotional, except when I get it caught in a closing drawer or something.

  9. Average of 0.89, Male, Scientist. Based on that article, I must be fairly DRIPPING with the old testosterone! I'm sure my wife would agree with that sentiment…just prior to breaking out in huge guffaws of laughter!

    Pardon me while I go out and howl at the moon while beating my chest.

  10. Monika – I'm pretty average at math. Not horrible, not especially good (80th percentile in the GRE, FWIW, but that was just simple stuff). Hard to interpret "average".

  11. I'm male. The tip of my left index finger was lost in an industrial accident, but the ratio on the right hand is 1.003, or so I reckon. I excelled in calculus, chemistry and physics in school. I do have a tendency to speak too fast, but I am well spoken, and have (I feel) good writing skills. I also have a total lack (absence) of ambition.

    Oh, and I think such attempts at correlation – like relating the size of a man's nose or feet to the size of his penis – is hooey. (I mean, I'm only a size 8.5, but … ;) )Actually, it seems the data collecting here is adequately disproving the theory.

  12. There was a great "brainsex" documentary by the BBC where they did tests with a number of people, also children. They measured everyones fingers and made charts where on the testosterone level everybody fell and then had them do spatial recognition tests and such. Turns out that peoples verbal and abstraction abilities correlated with the finger-ratio.

    I couldn't find a clip of it online, ut the summary is here:

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/sn/tvradio/programmes/sexsec

    was a cool show :)

    Mine's 1.003, I'm a girl. Good verbal skills, though i tend to mix up the letters of words when writing. Math only good when I practice a lot, then best at Geometry

  13. Male, engineer, averaged 0.977, it looks like I'm right on the trendline (Having a set of metric drawing scales makes measuring a whole lot easier. Base 10 measuring system, where have I heard before?).

    But I guess the real point of the story is that if the female ratio = scientist ratio, why are there not more women in science?

  14. I'm a male with a "healthy" ratio of 1.05. I'm pretty good with written communication, and competent with grammar except for spelling, and I'm just about the slowest reader I know. I took me extra long to figure how to read in the beginning and I was forever confusing was and saw when I was writing in grade school (though I'd guess that's not so unusual). I love math though I haven't had nearly enough of it in school. Well, I should say I love working through equations; I'm not going to come up with anything new in mathematics. Proofs tire me because I get frustrated with getting so far only to find out that approach doesn't work in the end and having to start again. That may simply be a time thing though, and the fact that I often doubt myself when I get an answer just pops into my head after staring at it for a long while.

  15. My ring finger is longer than my middle finger, which should mean I am good at maths, but I can't work out the ratio in my head. QED, it's all crap.

    On the other hand the distance between my extended index finger and my extended thumb is looooooong, if you ladies know what I mean..nudge nudge wink wink…

  16. The problem with doing a sample here (as any skeptic should know *glare*) is the very small sample size and subjective measurements of ability. Nevertheless, I'm at about .97 (that's all the significant digits I'm confident in), and a physics grad student/programmer.

  17. Well, I'm a biologist but I also have a bachelor degree in physics… So I'm more the scientist type. My ratio is 0,976. I hope you're all noting this Rebecca so that you can write an article with your own studies.

  18. My measured ratio is about 1.04, but I'm not sure I was measuring all that accurately. There are you supposed to measure from?

    On my left hand, my index finder is strikingly longer than my ring finger, clearly closer in length to the middle finger. The left is also my dominant hand.

    Oh, and I have a Master's degree in Applied Mathematics. I guess I am bucking the statistical trend. On the other hand, English and writing were also favorite subjects of mine.

  19. How do people define "finger length? Depending on the definition I use I get ratios of either 0.952, 0.986 or 0.875 for my left hand. And using the two first for my right I get:

    0.962 (tip to knuckle)

    1.01 (tip to web)

  20. Yeah, without a definition of "finger" it varies slightly. What I did is go across and make pen marks (but those have to be accurately straight across and I have no calipers), then measure from those points to the end of my fingers. That way, it's .962. From the top of the knuckle it's .966, and from the middle knuckle on the finger it's .958. Tracing my hand on paper with my fingers closed together I know the difference between them is 3 cm (same as if I compare holding the ruler up to them). This at least jibes with my 7.7 and 7.8, etc. Both hands are the same (but not my feet!) If you don't make points and spread your fingers then it will throw it off, just as if I trace my hands with my fingers open – suddenly the index finger is longer than the ring finger, which is not true.

    I've always been a visual/verbal person, not a math person.

  21. I think the primary indicator of math ability is not having a teacher that sucks.

    Seriously.

    Genetics are only a -small piece- of the puzzle of the math phenotype.

    There is a new study today in Nature that suggests changing the way we teach math can yield great results–it's pretty interesting!

    —-

    Nature 447, 589-591 (31 May 2007) | doi:10.1038/nature05850;

    Symbolic arithmetic knowledge without instruction

    "Children across a broad socio-economic spectrum solved symbolic problems involving approximate addition or subtraction of large numbers, both in a laboratory test and in a school setting. Aspects of symbolic arithmetic therefore lie within the reach of children who have learned no algorithms for manipulating numerical symbols. Our findings help to delimit the sources of children's difficulties learning symbolic arithmetic, and they suggest ways to enhance children's engagement with formal mathematics."

  22. I think the primary indicator of math ability is not having a teacher that sucks.

    Seriously.

    Genetics are only a -small piece- of the puzzle of the math phenotype.

    If that were the case, then we'd expect students who shared the same math teach for multiple years (as happens in many smaller schools) to end up with pretty close to the same level of skill in math, which in general doesn't happen. Of course, better teachers will raise better students, but there's still a lot of significant variation within the population of students. Genetics is only a piece of the puzzle, but it's not just a small piece.

  23. ah, but you are forgetting all of the -OTHER- social variables.

    Another paper came out recently that found that by simply telling girls they were bad at math, their scores were depressed. I'll see if I can roust up the citation.

    Seriously, the reason humans succeeded as a species is our brain plasticity. We are very flexible and adaptable.

  24. I think the primary indicator of math ability is not having a teacher that sucks.

    Seriously.

    Genetics are only a -small piece- of the puzzle of the math phenotype.

    I think if a student has a sucky teacher in a subject they are not inclined to favor, it will make it worse because the student may resent the subject, lose enthusiasm, become frustrated, etc. But I had boring, unenthusiastic Math, Science and English teachers alike from 1st grade up. All those IOWA tests and what not from grade school on were pretty much consistent with my grades. In grade school it was all As and a B in math. I wasn't willing to work hard enough for an A, and later in high school that gets to be a problem as math gets more complicated.

    My father was saying the other day that he was not naturally gifted in math, however he did get all As in four years of math in high school. He had to work harder at it than other subjects. A proficient level isn't the same thing as having a talent for math, or drawing, writing, etc.

    I excelled at multiplication tables (we had races) because that was merely memorization and speed, but I do remember having an "issue" with fractions and also someone saying "It's quarter after four" (on the clock). I just remember that feeling of being bothered by fractions. I don't know if at that point there would have been a better way to explain fractions to me that would have really sunk in, but pies helped, I gather since I muddled through. Same with the way algebra was taught to me: a test would have 17 equations to solve and then three word problems. For me, it should have been the reverse. I also never asked for help.

    So, I feel that talent is innate, but a respectable level of anything can be learned if a teacher recognizes how that person best/i> learns. And, well, if the student cares. One thing that defies that is penmanship. I have a friend who excelled at everything but his penmanship is really awful. So is my sister's. I don't quite get that because non-artistic people I know have beautiful penmanship.

  25. Sounds hokey!!!!

    Kind of like people who claim hand size and something else are related. The later at least involved simular things.

    I find it odd that left handed people seem to be more likely to be analytically minded but it is just a biased personal observation. (I believe I'm ambidexterous.)

  26. Well, I'm a graduate student in astrophysics, and I got an average ratio of .915. My testosterone must have been through the roof as well! I should also mention that by the most objective metric I have (grades and tests in high school and college), I excel in both math and verbal skills, with the exception of learning foreign languages. Those were the only subjects I ever really had to struggle in.

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