Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Fingers Crossed: The 2D:4D Ratio and Football Success

Chris Anderson and Ramzi BenSaid

Now that the season is over, we thought we'd take a look at some of the more unusual football research we have come across during the year and that's piled up. Here's a first installment.

Genetics explain every physical aspect of a human being. But except for the occasional mention of Paul and Thomas Ince, Frank Lampard Sr. and Jr., or Brian and Nigel Clough, “genetics” and “football” rarely occur in the same sentence. Now, however, geneticists may have found a very simple indicator to keep in mind when looking to compete for the FIFA Golden Ball, or perhaps win a few more football matches.

The indicator is the so-called “2D:4D digit ratio” – the ratio between index and ring finger.* What does it have to do with genetics, and how does it relate to football? For some time, scientists have known that the length of these two fingers is associated with male competitiveness and athleticism. The 2D:4D ratio is a surprisingly good indicator of human exposure to various androgens during the fetal stage. One of these androgens in particular – testosterone – is strongly linked with competitiveness and athleticism. So your fingers don’t make you run faster, but they can tell us something about other physical characteristics of a human being.

Among the physical characteristics that have been linked to the 2D:4D ratio is prenatal exposure to testosterone, which promotes growth of the right hemisphere of the brain. And luckily for athletes (or traffic police), that part of the brain facilitates visuospatial ability – the brain’s capacity to process its surroundings. In addition, fetal exposure to these androgens can be indicative of vascular system stability and predisposition for coronary heart disease.

From there, it’s but a hop, skip, and jump to football. Obviously, without strong visuospatial abilities and a highly successful, working vascular system it would be hard to excel in football. Given the association between this specific physical attribute and such important abilities in sport, academics have taken a closer look at the connection. Professor John Manning of the University of Central Lancashire in particular has spent a fair mount of time studying the 2D:4D ratio among athletes of different sports, including hockey, rugby, martial arts, tennis, squash, swimming and running. While the results are interesting and worth reading about, the study we care the most about is the one he conducted on footballers (including 304 professional athletes from England and 99 from Brazil).