Woo Woo in your fingers

At the bottom of this post are pictures of  11 commenters hands. A recent study claims that people with relatively small ring fingers are more susceptible to superstitious thinking. My blog illustrates my own personal susceptibility too superstitious perceptions which is indeed verified by my hand in the picture above.  So now I have an excuse!  See if you think these commenters also confirm the hypothesis.


Apparently finger lengths tell us something about our minds.  Particularly, lots of research has explored the ratio of our index finger to our ringer finger.  In medicine, the ring finger is the 4th digit (4D) and the index finger is the 2nd digit (2D).  So the ratio is mathematically expressed as 2D:4D.  The 2D:4D ratio has been shown to be related to the individual’s prenatal androgen levels (e.g. testosterone) and thus correlated to sexual characteristics.  I will let the reader explore all that information at this wiki article on Digit Ratio.  I have not dug deep to inspect the quality of all this research and will have to leave that to the like of Tom Reese at the fine site: Ephiphenom if he is interested.

Recent Study

A new 2D:4D ratio study tries to relate the ratio to Woo Woo thinking:   “Who wants to believe?  Associations between digit ration (2D:4D:) and paranormal and superstitious beliefs” by Martin Voracek (University of Vienna School of Psychology) in Personality and Individual Differences.   Voracek’s study suggests that folks with a lower 2D:4D ratio tend to experience and believe in the paranormal more than those with a higher ratio.  He suggests that this woo tendency is prenatally determined and reflected in our finger lengths.

Click to see the pics and read on: 

For example, in the photos below, you can see that JeffCh, a personal face-to-face friend, has a long ring finger.   And sure enough, Jeff is not only a self-declared rationalist but I can verify, he does not have an ounce of woo in his poor dried up soul!  😉   In fact, though he only deconverted from Christianity 3 years ago, he claims that even when he was a “Christian”, his commitment was purely social because he never thought Christianity out since he realized it served him socially.    He was far from having a mystical relationship with Jesus, his was just had a solid, good-citizen relationship with the Church and his upbringing.

I think categorizing both Christians and Atheists into woo-prone and dry-bone camps is informative.  OK, those are playful terms.  Sure, we could get positive terms for each, but for the sake of the post, endulge me !  I would wager that an atheist and an theist who share this woo-propensity would have more in common than they suspect.

For the info below, I asked each of my volunteers for three things:

    1. A picture of their hand
    2. A self-rating of 0-100 based on the following:
      • 0 =  Everything is logic:  eg, Star Trek’s Mr Spock  (well, probably his father, since Spock was a little human).
      • 50 = let’s say this is someone who has perceived superstitious stuff only mildly in their life but never believed any of it.
      • 100 = devoted their life to some aspect of woo and totally believes it !
    3. 3 sentence to describe their “woo-ness”

This is, of course, a very poor study and just for fun.   But, I think it helps illustrate my points and is fun.


On a serious note, though, one of the themes of my blog is emphasizing how our disposition often determines our philosophies and our experiences.  Most folks think that they have come to their philosophies via reason alone, but I think this is largely delusional.  Of course I do feel reason plays some role, but that role is largely in rationalizing around preferences and limited environmental options/niches available to the individual.  I do feel reason does have an objective role, but only rather small, and only if buffered with many other checks (thus the scientific method).  This is not to belittle reason or our own choices or our own philosophies — it is merely to be honest about our starting points.


1) Main HT:  Bruce Hood Supersense

2) Discovery

Hand Contributor


Woo-scale: 90 (0-100)

Comment: At some previous point in my life I was a 90 and I believed in the power of prayer, the existence supernatural beings like demons which could influence me, demon possession. Pretty much the basic charismatic Christian set of beliefs. I also spoke in tongues a bit, but have a hard time admitting that now.

Personal Site: A Time to Rend


Woo-scale: 1(0-100)

Comment: I don’t feel a susceptibility to this woo in the least, but I suspect that positing explicitly crude supernatural examples against the notion that “everything is logic” is a false dichotomy.  There seems to be what I’d call a first person subjectivity that is impossible to escape without losing a natural aspect of our humanity and yet stops short of the literal crudeness of speaking in tongues, channeling dead grandparents, etc.  In fact, Spock is a great example of what happens when one allows oneself to slip all the way to zero: there is something unnatural about his “character”.


Woo-scale: 80(0-100)

Comment: It is with great effort that I resist the pull of quite a variety of woo impulses. I am a recovering devotee of several ecstatic christian sects.


Woo-scale: 40 and falling (0-100)

Comment: I’ve always struggled to believe it, but I’ve often wanted to,
sometimes tried to make myself believe and always been continually
fascinated with it and attracted to it.

Personal Site: Where is the Christmas Story?


Woo-scale: 1 (0-100)

Comment: I like the Star Trek reference, however my trouble with the series is the focus on the uber logical character always wanting to be more “human”; I wanted the reverse. All claims are by default false, and all the examples you gave are extraordinary claims without tangible, reproducible evidence to support them. Ergo, hogwash.

Personal Site: None yet


Woo-scale: 25 (0-100)

Comment: I was 100%.  Due to low self-esteem, for the first 40 years of my life I believed just about anything my seemingly intellectual superiors had to say. Keeping in my mind that I thought just about anybody was superior. My current susceptibility is about 25%.

Personal Site: On Leaving Fundamentalist Christianity


Woo-scale: 0-5 (0-100)

Comment: When I was a conservative Christian I wrote off non-Christian spirituality as nonsense or demonic activity. Now that I’m an atheist leaning agnostic I tend to think it’s all nonsense or natural phenomena. Occasionally I get this warm fuzzy urge to try and see some connection between all humanity, and sometimes I can almost see it, that’s about as woo-ish as I get.

Personal Site: Atheist and Christian Community Blog


Woo-scale: 10 (0-100)

Comment: “Card Carrying Skeptic”. I see the world as purely natural, can’t help it, it just is. I had only one religious/spiritual experience (at a revival type service where I was “slain in the spirit”), and it is explainable via psychology.

Personal Site: BibleCritic


Woo-scale:  64 (0-100)

Comment: For me it’s based on environment and external stimulus. My rational mind doesn’t want to believe it, but I can’t help wandering into the grey areas for a look.

Personal Site: None


Woo-scale: 30-80(0-100)

Comment: Of course it matter which self I am in as to how woo I am at any given moment.  Time has disciplined some of the woo out of me.  But I must plea that just because I perceive a magic world, if I don’t act on the insanity, I can’t be held guilty — smile !

Personal Site: Triangulations


Woo-scale: (0-100) 75

Comment: I am skeptical, but have seen things I can’t logically explain. There are many other people who describe such experiences. I don’t believe all of them are fools or are lying. (Although some are.)

Personal Site: Sects and Violence in the Ancient World



Filed under Cognitive Science, Philosophy & Religion, Science

23 responses to “Woo Woo in your fingers

  1. To quote Spock “Fascinating.”

    The funny thing to me is that this all sounds very wooish. 😉

  2. That would be ironic, eh? Woo to prove woo !

  3. Wouldn’t be the first time. 😉

  4. CRL

    I agree. Fingertip woo-prediction is a tad woo-ish itself.

  5. Earnest

    Funny, I can’t really tell if any ring fingers are longer or shorter! Is that my rational mind talking or my woo urge to believe falsely that I am rational?

  6. wow.. that’s kinda cool. i agree with mike though, sounds kinda woo-ish. like saying your eye color can tell you if you’re a sociopath or not. well… you’ll have to ask T4T about all this sorta stuff, his wife does some really cool health and wellness work in a similar area. i should have submitted my own… sorry for being snarky.

  7. @ All of you

    We must remember that the only way to decide if this finger stuff is “woo woo” or not is using the scientific method.

    This study and the many studies done on 2D:4D ratio need to be examined for poor methodology, bad statistics, poor conclusions, outright fraud and much more that any self-reporting science must be put through.

    For instance, much of Pop psychology has been shown false over the last 50 years. But “Birth Order”, oddly enough, has proven to have an influence that many thought rigorous studies would dismiss. In fact, birth sequence influences homosexuality, it appears — again, very counter-intuitive.

    So, we never want our intuition to be the final arbitrator. Maybe I will write Epiphenom and see if he could look at any of this stuff. But I agree, it is counter my intuition. But I love stuff counter my intuition that is the results of studies. For the true scientist loves when his or her theories are proven wrong. This is very different from the religious mentality when it comes to doctrine.

    All to say, we don’t want to get religious about our science theories — that is called “scientism” !

  8. I remember a time when your hand size was believed to have a correlation to your “member” size. As I recall, many women yelled “WOO HOO” for my buddies hands and “ahhh woooo” for me. 😉

  9. The photo of my hand doesn’t serve the purpose very well. When I look at it stretched out, the ratio looks a lot like Jeff’s–my ratio may be even larger than his.

    Yet for most of my life I’ve been easy, really easy to fool.

    My hand proves the theory wrong, I think.

  10. Send me a better picture Lorena!
    We’d love to see your ring finger in all its magnificence!

    Also, remember, the theory states that overall, an influence would be seen. This goes for birth order and many other effects. For example, kids belittled constantly by their parents tend grow up pretty messed-up [a technical psychiatric term], but not all kids. One kid or even several kids who are not messed-up, does not disprove the theory. It is a statistical statement for complex causality.

  11. Ian

    I wonder in some of these kinds of studies whether there is actually a socio-economic factor. We know, for example, that education level is correlated with religious belief, socio-economic class is correlated with education level and socio-economic class is also correlated with diet, which is correlated with physical development.

    There are correlations and causations we know a lot about. If I were designing a study I’d want to control *very* carefully for the effects we already know about, to see if we have new data here.

    I have to roll my eyes everytime some *new* study comes out showing that (for example) children who have a nutritious breakfast do better at school. As if we didn’t know that families who are more likely to support their children through school aren’t also likely to be concerned that they get a good breakfast.

  12. @ Ian

    Indeed, excellent points and exactly how we should approach these things. Confirmation bias to reject or accept “studies” is often equally strong among atheists and theists though atheists may ironically pride themselves on their rationality.

    The problem is, it is hard for people to understand the difference between causation and correlation — it is a cognitive blind-spot that can take a whole semester to get a university grad student to see — I know, I use to teach them.

  13. …study suggests that folks with a lower 2D:4D ratio tend to experience and believe in the paranormal more than those with a higher ratio…

    I am thinking I have a reasonably high 2D:4D ratio, so should be relatively resistant to woo. *But*, according to my write up, I once was woo-prone (to use your terminology, I’m embarrassed to claim it as my own). So it would initially seem that the scientific basis for the study is wrong. However, that does not take into account the possibility that my ring finger could have grown significantly longer over the last 20 years from all the positive energy that emenates from my wedding band.

    Without analyzing all the samples, I notice that Bataille9 seems to have a remarkably low 2D:4D ratio, but cites a woo-scale of 1. That looks like close to maximum possible deviation from the study’s findings.

  14. Steve Wiggins

    I can’t put my finger on it, but it feel a little like phrenology. Nevertheless, true to my statement about myself, I don’t dismiss it out of hand.

  15. Ian

    @steve – ho, ho, ho. 😀

  16. @ ATTR & Steve (et al)

    All excellent points. I have actually written to Tom Reese (of the famed: Epiphenom) to see if he has ever evaluated these studies for their weakeness. He has kindly written me and agreed to post something shortly.
    So stay tune !

  17. Hi Sabio,

    All very interesting stuff. Incidentally, my finger ratios suggest I should be superstitious!

    It’s pretty well known that these finger ratios are a rough guide to testosterone exposure in the womb. So what this study suggests is that high prenatal testosterone exposure leads to low predisposition to superstition.

    So far so good, but the big question is why this should be. One thing it doesn’t show is that the cause is genetic. Testosterone exposure depends a lot on the mother’s social environment and mental state during pregnancy. Since that also relates to social status, what we have is apparent ‘heritability’ of superstitious beliefs that is actually down to social, rather than genetic factors!

    Personally, I think the link is indirect. Superstition is more common when people don’t feel in control of their lives. It may be that testosterone exposure in the womb is in some way connected to social status in later life.

    Or it may be that it links to empathy, or to openness to experience. It could also be that low prenatal testosterone only triggers superstition in western societies.

    The bottom line is that no-one really knows. There’s a tendency to link this in with the other ‘fact’ that women are more religious than men. But I think that is broadly speaking bunk too. It’s true in western societies, but then in western societies religion is defined as a female role.

  18. Very interesting. I noticed how many people appeared to have longer ring fingers than index but identified themselves as woo prone.

    I would rate myself as around 55-60 on your woo scale, but my philosophy is closer to Bataille’s, who identifies himself as a 1! Our 2d:4d appears to be very close too, based on his photo.

  19. Another thing I noticed – the ring finger on my right hand is longer than the index, but on the left hand the ring finger is shorter than the index. Hmm.

  20. Another thing I noticed – the ring finger on my right hand is longer than the index, but on the left hand the ring finger is shorter than the index.

    I think that probably means you are more or less prone to supernatural beliefs depending on which hand you are using the most that day. Either that or your supernatural beliefs have caused the index finger on your left hand to grow.

  21. @ Tom — thank you kindly !

    @ Will — OK, I am going to expose a secret. Shhhhh, apparently, especially in women, if I remember correctly, the RIGHT hand is more indicative of the testosterone level womb exposure than is the LEFT hand. Shhhhh. But actually, I think that is true. As Tom says, apparently (and this is the counter intuitive stuff) finger length (esp. Right hand, I think) is indeed sensitive to testosterone exposures in the womb. As to all the rest of the correlation vs. causation stuff, it get dicey.

    @ATTR — Your sarcasm obviously reveals an overcompensation for 2D:4D deficiency !

  22. Earnest

    Hey Sabio how about a blog about phrenology? Perhaps there is still promise in this neglected field!

  23. TWF

    I think Tom Rees summed it up well. 🙂

    My own ratio varies by hand. My left is near 1, while my right is probably closer to the 0.949 average.

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