August 11, 2012
I had not looked at my right hand so closely since high school days when my friends and I tried to divine each other’s future. The middle finger stood tallest, followed by the ring finger and then the index. In my other hand, I held a science magazine with an illustration of a “masculine” hand. It looked like mine. Apparently, the index finger on a typical “feminine” hand is almost the same length as the ring finger.
The magazine went on to say what the implication of the long ring finger was: I had received more testosterone in my mother’s womb. Estrogen would have made my index finger longer. Finger lengths are obvious indicators of hormonal activity at a crucial time in fetal development.
There are hundreds of studies linking finger length ratio to pretty much everything: behaviour, cognition, personality traits, length and size of body parts, diseases, and more. According to one study, people with my kind of hand are more likely to show mental toughness, optimism and aggression. My “masculine” hand predisposed me towards drug or alcohol addiction, left-handedness, athleticism, and a disinterest in babies. My chances of landing in prison, going mad, or being murdered were high.
Another study suggested that people with male hands were less adept at gauging the moods of people in photographs. As a film editor, I had cut between shots of actors’ faces to accentuate drama, comedy, and pathos in innumerable scenes and episodes of television series. Had I done this without being able to read faces? Give me a break.
I researched where a feminine hand would take me: high risk of breast cancer, schizophrenia, eczema, and hay fever. A longer index finger also indicated the person had better verbal and literary skills. Did I blow my chance of being a good writer while still in my mother’s womb?
I measured the two offending fingers on my right hand since it is more sensitive to prenatal sex hormones than the left. Dividing the length of the index by the length of the ring finger gave me a ratio of 0.95, an average male hand. Women with feminine hands should have a ratio close to one since their index and ring fingers are close to equal length.
It even works in animals. Rats injected with testosterone produce babies with longer fourth digits in their right foot, which would correspond to ring fingers in our hands. High ranking female rhesus macaques had longer ring fingers than lower ranking ones, said one study.
Then came the surprise: long ring fingers make us a successful species. Besides using fire, humans are unique in their ability to throw missiles, such as spears and with slingshots. Having long ring fingers stabilises the middle finger, which provides greater accuracy in hitting the target, said one study. It’s possible that men with long ring fingers, who brought home the bacon more frequently, were preferred mates.
Our destiny is in our hands. But I remain unconvinced. Some studies were drawing conclusions from examining a few people. Many results were contested by others. The methodology was inconsistent: some measured left hands, while one got impossible ratios. It’s possible some of these traits, even finger length, could be inherited. Reading these studies was more entertaining than enlightening — like reading personality types according to zodiac signs.
When my eyes were bleary from reading too long, I said to Rom: “The finger ratio can tell two things — prenatal exposure to sex hormones and maybe sexual orientation.”
Rom asked: “And?”
“What’s your sexual orientation?”
“Possibly lesbianism,” my voice dropped a notch.
With a broad grin and a suggestive look, he commented: “That could be interesting.”
Unwilling to go down that path I pushed back: “In your case, your finger shows your stupidity.”
Rom held up his hand calling for a ceasefire. In the 1960s, he had been bitten by a prairie rattler and his index finger was obviously stunted.
A report by Janaki Lenin