hand science finger fingerprint biology

The stories hands and fingers tell

Do palm-readers have a point?

I used to play the trombone in a brass band in Germany. That was fun, but when I happened to be one of the first at a rehearsal, I had to get up a dozen times and shake hands with all those musicians, one by one, that arrived a little later for the practice. Germans love shaking hands. They even claim that the way someone shakes hands can reveal something about the character of that person.

Well, doctors (the world over and not just in Germany) know that the conditions of a person’s fingernails can provide important clues to that person’s health. Arsenic poisoning is revealed by white lines across the nail that follow the shape of the nail’s “moon” and horizontal indentations could be a sign of severe illness with fever; psoriasis is indicated by small pits on the nail surface, lung disease can be associated with clubbed fingers in association with nails curving around the finger tips, and yellowish or brownish nail discolorations frequently co-occur with chronic bronchitis, kidney troubles or, well, excessive smoking. But it’s not just the nails that can tell stories.

A single line on the inside of the hand of a human below the four fingers, actually seen also on the Daibutsu of Todai-ji in Nara, was termed “Simian Crease” by the English scientist W. Jones, who discovered in 1920 that apes always possessed this line. In healthy humans such a line is rare, and sometimes even valued or at least considered special. Although there are minor differences with regard to the incidence of this line between populations of different parts of the world, generally no more than about 5% of the total population exhibit this feature. However, when it comes to people with Down syndrome or other abnormalities caused by genetic defects, 75% of the sufferers display the Simian crease.

How about the fingers of a person? Recently, the reason for a well-known difference between the hands of male and female subjects has been discovered: in females the index finger is statistically much more often slightly longer than the ring finger, but for males the opposite holds true. Responsible for this difference is the amount of testosterone that the developing foetus releases after the eighth week of gestation when the so-called hox-D gene becomes active. The more testosterone, the longer the ring finger and ultimately the masculinity of the person. Higher levels of the female hormone oestrogen, on the other hand, appear to promote index finger growth. Men with a more feminine pattern (longer index finger) tend to be more social and talented with regard to language acquisition, but also more emotional and thus, prone to depression. Men with the male finger pattern (longer ring finger) tend to be more assertive (not to say aggressive) and more fertile, because of greater sperm numbers. They tend to have more children and to be more logically-inclined.

Incidentally, the facial features of a person, as the publication by Fink et al in the Proceedings of the Royal Society of London in 2005 has shown, mirror the male and female finger patterns. From an evolutionary point of view, a longer ring finger allows a man to more firmly hold a club and throw a spear. A longer index finger, on the other hand, favours delicate manipulations like picking berries or sewing. Do these findings at last provide the proof that the ancient art of palmistry (the ‘reading of hand lines’) is more than superstition? I dare not answer that question and must leave this to the reader of these lines and the lines on their hands.
hand science finger fingerprint biology


© Dr V.B. Meyer-Rochow and http://www.bioforthebiobuff.wordpress.com, 2015.
Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to V.B Meyer-Rochow and http://www.bioforthebiobuff.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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