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THE CASANOVA EFFECT Imagine deciding to quit your job and embark on a new career as a professional palmist.

You invest in the requisite purple caftan, set up a small booth on the busy promenade in the nearest seaside town, and nervously await your first customer. A few moments later, a man walks in, sits down, and crosses your palm with silver. You carefully look at the stranger s hand and try to spot any telltale clues that might give you a magical insight into his life. Is his soft skin a sign of office work? Do his chewed nails signal a recent job loss? Is his calloused palm suggestive of too much time at the gymor does it reflect a strong need to find a love

interest? According to some psychologists, you would be much

better off ignoring his soft skin, chewed nails, and calloused palm, instead shifting your attention to the length of his index and ring fingers. Their argument is a curious one, which links the famous eighteenth-century womanizer Giacomo Casanova with some of Britains most famous soccer players. According to his colorful autobiography, Casanova enjoyed the company of many European kings, cardinals, poets, and 7 artists. At one point he describes how he spent time with the eminent German painter Anton Raphael Mengs. After a while, they started to argue, with Mengs berating Casanova for not observing his religious duties and Casanova accusing Mengs of being a child-beating alcoholic. As the


moved from bad to worse, Casanova took it upon himself to criticize one of Mengss paintings. He pointed out that the index finger of a principal male character was longer than the ring finger and was therefore anatomically incorrect, as mens ring fingers were longer than their index fingers. Mengs defended his work by showing that his own index finger was longer than his ring finger. Casanova stuck to his argument, showing that his ring finger was longer than his index finger, claiming that this was true of most men and arguing that his hands were thus like that of all the children descended from Adam. Affronted, Mengs asked Casanova,

Then from whom do you suppose I am descended? Casanova replied, I have no idea; but it is certain

that you are not of my species. As the argument escalated, they raised a bet of one hundred pistoles on the issue and promptly rounded up the painter s servants to discover who was right. A quick perusal of the servants hands revealed that Casanova was correct, but Mengs quickly saved face by rejoicing in the fact that he could now boast of being unique in something. Evolutionary psychologist John Manning, at the University of Central Lancashire, has dedicated much of his professional life to studying the differences in finger lengths described by Casanova. He argues that they reveal an important insight into the human psyche.8 Manning and his colleagues measure

the length of peoples index and ring fingers,

and then divide the first length by the second to obtain what is commonly referred to as the 2D:4D (second digit to fourth digit) ratio. If the ring and index fingers are exactly the same length, then the 2D:4D ratio will be 1.00. If, however, the ring finger is longer than the index finger, then the 2D:4D ratio will be less than 1.00, and conversely, if the index finger is longer than the ring finger, then the 2D:4D ratio will be greater than 1.00. The research has conclusively revealed that the finger-length pattern described by Casanova tends to be associated far more with men than with women, with the average 2D:4D ratio for men being about

.98, while the corresponding figure for women hovers around 1.00. In short, mens ring fingers tend to be longer than

their index fingers, whereas womens fingers tend to be about the same length. Why should this be the case? According to Manning, the explanation dates back to the very start of a persons life and is closely linked to testosterone levels in the womb. After about six weeks or so, the level of testosterone in the womb changes, and those fetuses that are exposed to large amounts of the hormone develop more male characteristics, while those exposed to much smaller levels developmore female attributes. Manning argues that testosterone also plays a key role in determining the length of a persons index and ring fingers, with

high levels resulting in a relatively long ring finger. If Mannings theory is right, a persons 2D:4D ratio is related to the amount of

testosterone that they were exposed to in the womb and should provide a good indication of the degree to which they possess psychological and physical traits commonly associated witheither masculinity or femininity. According to this theory, people with low 2D:4D ratios will be more likely than others to exhibit masculine characteristics, while those with high 2D:4D ratios will be significantly more likely to be in touch with their feminine side. It is a controversial idea and one that has attracted its fair share of criticism.9 However, proponents argue that a large body of research now supports the

theory, including work examining physical strength and sporting success. In one study, a group of men had their finger

lengths measured and were then asked to complete various strength tests, including shoulder, overhead, and bench presses. 10 The results revealed the expected relationships. Men who had lower 2D:4D ratios were able to lift heavier weights than those with higher ratios. Often the differences were far from trivial. For example, for overhead presses, those with 2D:4D ratios of .91 lifted twentyfour pounds more than those with ratios of more than 1.00. In another study, researchers turned their attention to student sprinters and found that their times in the 100-meter, 800-meter, and 1,500- meter races were all related to 2D:4D ratios, with


faster runners having 11 lower ratios. In another experiment, Manning and his team managed to measure

the finger lengths of some of the best- known and most highly skilled soccer players in Britain.12 Attending a centenary celebration designed to mark the end of the 100th English League Championship, the researchers persuaded more than three hundred players to have their hands photocopied, and then compared their finger lengths to those of a control group of more than five hundred men who had never ventured onto a soccer field. The 2D:4D ratio of the players was significantly lower than that of the controls. Strong differences also emerged among the different groups of players, with high-performing legends and those who had played at an international level having especially low ratios.

Other work suggests that the 2D:4D

effect may also extend to certain psychological traits. A great deal of research has shown that men tend to outperform women in tests that involve the mental manipulation of spatial information (perhaps explaining the alleged fondness of women for turning maps around when navigating). In line with this finding, Manning believes that his research suggests that men with low 2D:4D ratios (who therefore, according to his theory, possess more masculine brains) tend to outperform others on these 13 tasks. Similarly, he cites other work suggesting that when it comes to personality, women with lower 2D:4D ratios tend to exhibit traits that the researchers believe to be more maleoriented, including being more assertive and risk


According to Manning, the effect even extends to making music. Noting that there are about ten times as many male professional musicians as females, Manning argues that musical ability is associated more with a masculine brain than a feminine brain and that therefore highly skilled performers should have an especially low 2D:4D ratio. To test this idea, he measured the 2D:4D ratio of fifty- four male members of a well-known British symphony orchestra. Several sections of the orchestra were organized in a hierarchical way, with more highly skilled musicians taking key positions. Manning discovered that performers in these key positions did indeed have significantly lower 2D:4D ratios than their fellow musicians.15

In order to obtain a mysterious insight into yourself and others, it may well be better to forget traditional palmistry and instead focus your attention on the apparently important relative lengths of the index finger and the ring finger.