John Manning, Bernhard Fink, Nick Neave and Anita Szwed

The second to fourth digit ratio and asymmetry

Annals of Human Biology

Background: Deviations of physical characteristics from bilateral symmetry, in otherwise symmetric individuals, are supposed to result from environmental perturbations during development. One cause of such perturbations may be sex steroids such as testosterone and oestrogen. Aim: The study examined the relationship between second to fourth digit ratio (2D:4D), a putative negative correlate with prenatal testosterone and a positive correlate with prenatal oestrogen, and asymmetry. Methods: Eleven traits (including the second and fourth finger lengths) were measured in a sample of 680 English children aged 2–18 years, and second to fifth finger lengths in samples of 120 Austrian and English undergraduate students aged from 17 to 30 years and 213 Polish adults aged from 26 to 90 years. Results: Significant U-shaped curvilinear associations between 2D:4D and all 11 traits were found in English children with the strongest associations between 2D:4D and composite asymmetry of second plus fourth digit, and second to fifth digits. Further investigation of the relation between 2D:4D and digit asymmetries in the sample of Austrian and English undergraduates and the Polish adults confirmed significant U-shaped relationships between 2D:4D and finger asymmetries. Conclusion: Our data show that both low 2D:4D (a marker of high prenatal testosterone) and high 2D:4D (a marker of high prenatal oestrogen) are associated with elevated levels of asymmetry and this relationship applies particularly to finger asymmetry.