For many of us who majored in engineering during college, entrance exams served as a barometer. Higher math and science scores meant engineering was more likely, while higher reading scores suggested that the liberal arts might be more appropriate.
Now, a study detailed in the British Journal of Psychology suggests we may have been bound for engineering long before we took those tests. The study, performed by scientists at the University of Bath in England, contends that finger length is a strong indicator of spatial and mathematical skills. In particular, kids whose ring fingers are longer than their index fingers tend to have higher math scores in college entrance exams, the study said, while those who have longer index fingers tend to have higher literacy rates.
The scientists who did the study said that different levels of testosterone and estrogen in the womb account for different finger lengths, and that exposure to testosterone in the womb is said to promote development of brain regions often associated with math and spatial skills. Hence, more testosterone means a longer ring finger, and a longer ring finger means better math skills.
In essence, it’s a question of nature or nurture. The study, of course, suggests that engineers and mathematicians are born, not made.
Personally, though, I’d like to see a study that compares adult math and science skills to a stubborn tendency to beat one’s head against a kitchen table in pursuit of a physics solution. The results, I think, would be far more telling.