‘Scientific Study’ Claims Hands Can Predict Your Sexuality—And People Are Rolling Their Eyes Hard

Ever wish there were an easy way to tell if you, your friends and neighborhoods, or even total strangers were gay? 

If you answered, yes—then, you’re a world class tool with WAY too much time on YOUR hands.

And speaking of hands, did you hear the one about how “science” is claiming you can tell people are gay by the relational length of their fingers?

Yeah, well it’s not that simple and truly a ridiculous notion—at least to those with critical thinking skills— and it still would be, even IF that’s what the study published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior or the scientists behind the study were actually saying.

But as it turns out, they’re not really saying that anyway.

So what’s all the hubbub about? 

Well, apparently there was “a reanalysis of present and previous data” (Hall & Love, 2003; Hiraishi, Sasaki, Shikishima, & Ando, 2012) meaning the folks running this study (a Dr. Tuesday Watts and company) compared it with similar, previous studies with the intent of replicating those previous studies (in order to prove them out) and with the expectations of similar findings—which. as it turns out they did, and didn’t do.

The present research, done at the University of Essex in the U.K. included a small (only 18 female pairs and 14 male pair participants) sampling that compared the digits of identical twins, where one twin was gay or bisexual and the other was straight, and found that:

  . . . on average the lesbian twin had more ‘male-typical’ hands than her straight sister. Researchers also looked at 14 sets of male twins and found the gay twin had slightly more ‘male-typical’ hands than their straight brother – but the difference between the two was not viewed as significant.

Which means there was some correlation for the women in the study but not so much for the men and the data for the men slanted more ‘male-typical’ in the gay twin, when it was expected to skew more ‘female typical.’

But this is not the first time science has suggested a correlation between finger length and sexuality—heck, it’s not even the first time scientists have looked to finger length to try and divine something (seems like ANYTHING they can) about human beings. Studies have been done on finger length and politeness, athletic prowess, hyperactivity, attention deficit, penis size, autism, personality traits, SAT scores, behavior, and even health.

In fact, there really is nothing new about Digit Ratio Theory (which is basically the comparison of the ratio of the different lengths of fingers when measured from where the finger meets the palm to the tip of the finger). The folks into this lane of study mostly focus on the 2nd or index (2D) and 4th or ring fingers (4D), as these are believed to show the effects of exposure to androgens (like testosterone) in the womb.

And while a number of studies have shown some sort of a correlation between the 2D:4D digit ratio and various physical and behavioral traits what that exposure actually determines, how it reacts, and what it may mean in the face of a whole lot of other variables is still unknown. 

Even an article way back in 2005 in Psychology Today cautioned against taking these kinds of early correlations as gospel:

 Some studies have shown hypermasculine finger length in gay men, while other studies show the opposite, a female-like finger pattern. The picture is further muddied by geography. Race and ethnic differences seem to affect digit ratio, although scientists don’t yet understand how. Still, even if prenatal testosterone is a factor in homosexuality, it’s unlikely to be the only element. Studies indicate genes wield much influence.

Even as digit ratio research flourishes and more behavioral links are established, the relationships will remain mere statistical correlations until researchers fully understand how sex hormones physically affect the brain. 

Which is a super fancy way of saying, none of this is conclusive—not by a longshot.

And even though the reporting on this latest study, released on the University of Essex’s website uses carefully worded soft language such as “could provide a clue,” “potential link,” “suggests,” etc., it seems outlets are running (once again!) with sensationalistic soundbites and clickbait headlines (yes, we did it, too.)

The BBC article quotes Dr. Watts as saying:

  Because of the link between hormone levels and difference in finger lengths, looking at someone’s hands could provide a clue to their sexuality.

Thankfully most thinking folks are calling BS on the whole practice for its potential negative ramifications on those in already marginalized communities:

Which is why even John Manning, a biologist at the University of Liverpool (the man who first identified digit length as a sign of prenatal hormones over two decades ago) told Psychology Today:

  You have to be careful. You can’t look at someone’s fingers and make a determination about whether they are heterosexual or lesbian, just as you can’t decide whether they’re neurotic. The [sexuality indicators] are most certainly there, but they’re not strong enough to allow us to make predictions.

Looks like we can chalk this one up to just another instance of junk science meets pseudo-journalism on the interwebs—ain’t life grand.

H/T: Indy100, Psychology Today, Newsweek