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Keywords:

  • digit length;
  • index finger;
  • menstrual cycle;
  • ring finger;
  • 2D:4D ratio

Abstract

It is known that there are sexually dimorphic differences in relative and absolute lengths of the index (2nd) and ring (4th) fingers and that the sizes of laterally-paired soft tissues (e.g. ears and fingers) show changes across the menstrual cycle. The aim of the present study was to determine whether cyclical changes in the digit lengths of the index and ring fingers also occur and, if so, to what extent these are related to changing patterns of circulating sex steroids. Digit lengths were assessed over two cycles in groups of right-handed females (19–21 years of age) who were divided on the basis of whether or not they were taking oral contraceptive pills (n = 13 and n = 6 respectively). Using callipers, finger lengths were measured on photocopy images of both hands taken at 4-day intervals for a total of 56 days. We tested the following null hypotheses: (1) digit length measurements do not exhibit fluctuations across the menstrual cycle; (2) there is no evidence of lateral asymmetry between measurements made on both hands; (3) the lengths of digits 2 and 4 do not differ in either hand. Null hypotheses were tested using Page's L trends test for related samples (cyclical fluctuations) and paired Student's t tests (left–right asymmetries and within-hand digital differences). In those not taking oral contraceptives, finger lengths and 2D:4D digit ratios fluctuated across the cycle with values tending to increase in the pre-ovulatory period and decline thereafter. Left–right asymmetries varied in a similar fashion with lengths generally being larger, and lateral asymmetries smaller, in the dominant hand. Although sample sizes were smaller, some of these patterns were retained but others were perturbed in those practising oral contraception. We conclude that finger lengths are cycle-dependent and that account should be taken of this, and of oral contraceptive usage, in future studies on female digit lengths and their ratios.