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Personality and Individual Differences 33 (2002) 11151124

A preliminary investigation of the associations between

personality, cognitive ability and digit ratio
Elizabeth J. Austina,*, John T. Manningb,
Katherine McInroya, Elizabeth Mathewsb
Department of Psychology, University of Edinburgh, 7 George Square, Edinburgh EH8 9JZ, UK
Population Biology Research Group, School of Biological Sciences, University of Liverpool, UK

Received 4 June 2001; received in revised form 20 November 2001; accepted 18 December 2001

The ratio between second and fourth digit lengths (digit ratio) is known to be sexually dimorphic, with
males having lower values. It is believed that digit ratio acts as a marker of pre-natal testosterone exposure
and a number of studies of its correlates support this idea. In the present study, associations between digit
ratio and a number of cognitive and personality tests which are known to show malefemale score dier-
ences were investigated. Evidence for associations in the expected direction was found for sensation seek-
ing, psychoticism and neuroticism, in all cases for females only. No association was found between digit
ratio and cognitive test scores. # 2002 Published by Elsevier Science Ltd.
Keywords: Personality; Cognitive ability; Digit ratio

1. Introduction

The ratio between second and fourth digit lengths (digit ratio) is known to be sexually
dimorphic, with mean values being lower for males than for females (Baker, 1888; George, 1930;
Manning, Barley, Walton, & Lewis-Jones, 2000a; Phelps, 1952). Digit ratio is also known to be
stable between childhood and adulthood and to be determined in utero by about the 14th week
(Garn, Burdi, Babler, & Stinson, 1975; Manning, Scutt, Wilson, & Lewis-Jones, 1998; Phelps, 1952).
There is accumulating evidence that in both males and females digit ratio acts as a marker of the levels
of testosterone and oestrogen to which the developing foetus was exposed. These ndings include cor-
relations in the expected direction between digit ratio and (1) adult testosterone and oestrogen levels

* Corresponding author. Tel.: +44-131-651-1305; fax: +44-131-650-3461.

E-mail address: (E.J. Austin).

0191-8869/02/$ - see front matter # 2002 Published by Elsevier Science Ltd.

PII: S0191-8869(02)00002-8
1116 E.J. Austin et al. / Personality and Individual Dierences 33 (2002) 11151124

(Manning et al., 1998), (2) reproductive success in males and females (Manning et al., 2000) (3)
female waist:hip ratio (Manning, Trivers, Singh, & Thornhill, 1999) (4) a condition (congenital
adrenal hyperplasia) associated with high prenatal androgen (Brown, Hines, Fane, & Breedlove,
2001) and (5) negative correlations between maternal digit ratio and androgen in the amniotic
uid of the foetus (Manning, in press). It has been suggested (Manning et al., 1998) that the
underlying mechanism for such correlations is via the action of the Homeobox genes, which
control the dierentiation of digits, testes and ovaries. This common control of the dierentiation
of digits and gonads may allow aspects of gonadal function such as the production of testoster-
one and oestrogen to aect the development of the digits. However, it is possible that the sexual
dimorphism in the digit ratio may arise prenatally as the result of factors other than that of in
utero sex steroids. For example Arnold (1996) has emphasised the role that the Y chromosome
itself may play in sexual dierentiation and resultant sex dierences.
The eects of prenatal testosterone levels feature in Geschwind and Galaburdas (1985) theory
that high levels of foetal testosterone may compromise the development of the left cerebral
hemisphere (leading to left-hand preference, language impairments and autism) and facilitate that
of the right hemisphere (leading to enhanced musical, spatial and mathematical abilities). Evi-
dence linking this theory to digit ratio has been found. Left-hand preference in a peg moving task
in children has been shown to be related to low digit ratios (Manning, Trivers, Thornhill, &
Singh, 2000b), autistic children have been found to have lower digit ratio values than the general
population (Manning, Baron-Cohen, Wheelwright, & Sanders, 2001), whilst a study of male
musicians in a British symphony orchestra showed that they had lower digit ratios than controls
and that high-ranking players had lower values than their low-ranking colleagues (Sluming &
Manning, 2000). These studies show eects in the direction that would be expected from the
GeschwindGalaburda theory if digit ratio is a marker for prenatal testosterone.
There are known to be a number of replicable malefemale dierences in personality and cog-
nitive ability. The above review suggests that it is of interest to investigate the associations of digit
ratio with personality and ability traits for which mean scores dier between the sexes, especially
those for which a theoretical or empirical link to levels of sex hormones has been established. In
personality, males have consistently been found to score higher than females on psychoticism
(Eysenck & Eysenck, 1976) and on aggression scales (Harris, Rushton, Hampson, & Jackson,
1996). Males also score higher than females on sensation seeking and on the impulsive unsocia-
lised sensation seeking (P-ImpUSS) dimension derived by Zuckerman (1991). Females have been
found to score higher than males on neuroticism and on measures of depression (Eysenck &
Eysenck, 1976; Hawkins, McDermott, Sheilds, & Harvey, 1989; Sowa & Lustman, 1984) and to
have a higher incidence of diagnosis of clinical depression (Brems, 1995). In the case of aggres-
sion, associations between aggression scores and testosterone levels have been found for both
sexes (Harris, 1999; Harris et al., 1996), whilst positive associations between sensation seeking
scores and testosterone levels have been reported for males (Gerra et al., 1999). Negative asso-
ciations between testosterone levels and neuroticism have also been found in males (Dabbs,
Hopper, & Jurkovic, 1990).
In cognitive ability, a number of malefemale dierences have been documented. Males obtain
higher scores on some types of spatial task with male-female dierences being most marked on
mental rotation tasks (Voyer, Voyer, & Bryden, 1995). There is evidence that performance on
spatial tasks varies with testosterone level, but the relationship appears to be curvilinear, with
E.J. Austin et al. / Personality and Individual Dierences 33 (2002) 11151124 1117

optimum performance being found when testosterone levels are in the low male range (studies in
this area are reviewed by Kimura, 1996). Females are found to score higher than males on some
verbal tasks. One example of a task with superior female performance is verbal uency, although
the eect size is small (Kimura, 1999).
From the above discussion it is possible to formulate hypotheses about the expected signs of the
correlations between digit ratio and personality and cognitive tests. Assuming that personality
and cognitive scores which show malefemale dierences are aected by pre-natal testosterone
levels, the prediction is for negative correlations with digit ratio for tests for which male scores
have been found to be higher (mental rotation, aggression, sensation seeking, psychoticism) and
for positive correlations for traits where female scores have been found to be higher (verbal u-
ency, neuroticism, depression-proneness). In the case of mental rotation a previous study (Man-
ning & Taylor, 2001) has found that performance was negatively correlated with digit ratio in a
male sample.
In this paper two studies on relationships between digit ratio and personality and cognitive
ability measures are described. Although some measures were common between the two studies,
we do not present any combined data, as a preliminary ANOVA analysis indicated signicant
group dierences in digit ratio. Since such a dierence might be related to gene frequency dier-
ences in the two populations sampled, the use of separate analyses is appropriate.

2. Study 1

2.1. Participants

The participants were 165 undergraduate students (79 male, 86 female) at the University of
Edinburgh. The mean age of the males was 20.1 years (standard deviation 1.1 years) and the
mean age of the females was 20.6 years (standard deviation 2.5 years).

2.2. Measures

2.2.1. Verbal uency

Two short tests of verbal uency were administered. Participants were rst asked to write down
as many words as they could think of beginning with the letter F in 1 min (Miller, 1984). In the
second test participants were given 2.5 min to write down as many shorter words as they could
compose from the word miscellaneous; this test was devised for the present study as a putative
alternative measure of verbal uency.

2.2.2. Mental rotation

The re-drawn version (Peters, Laeng, Latham, Jackson, Zaiyouna, & Richardson, 1995) of the
Vandenburg and Kuse (1978) Mental Rotation Test was used. In this test participants are asked
to identify two rotated versions of a target item out of four alternatives. Each item was scored as
correct only if both choices were correct; this method minimises the contribution to the total
score from guessing and has been shown to maximise the malefemale dierence (Voyer et al.,
1995). The test is presented as two subtests of 12 items. Participants were given as long as they
1118 E.J. Austin et al. / Personality and Individual Dierences 33 (2002) 11151124

required to complete the instruction and example problems, and were then given three minutes to
complete each subtest.

2.2.3. The Eysenck Personality QuestionnaireRevised

(EPQ-R; Eysenck, Eysenck, & Barrett, 1985). This is a 48-item inventory with a yes/no response
format providing measures of the traits of psychoticism, extraversion and neuroticism, together
with a lie scale.

2.2.4. The Aggression Questionnaire (Buss & Perry, 1992)

This is a 29-item questionnaire with responses on a 15 scale. In addition to a total aggression
score, subscale scores for physical aggression, verbal aggression, anger and hostility can be
obtained from this measure.

2.2.5. Zuckermans Sensation Seeking Scale (Form V)

(Zuckerman, Eysenck, & Eysenck, 1978). This is a 40-item scale with yes/no response format
which gives a total sensation seeking score, together with subscale scores of thrill and adventure
seeking, experience seeking, disinhibition and boredom susceptibility.

2.2.6. The Zung Self-Rating Depression Scale

(Zung, 1965). This state depression measure comprises 20 items with responses on a four-point scale.

2.3. Procedure

Participants were tested in groups of size ranging from two to 12 under quiet conditions. The
cognitive tests were administered rst under timed conditions, followed by the personality tests,
which were presented in a booklet that took approximately 3040 min to complete. The lengths
of the 2nd and 4th digits from the basal crease of the digit to the tip of the digit on each partici-
pants right hand were measured using Vernier callipers and digit ratio calculated. This
measurement was repeated twice for 17 subjects to assess measurement repeatability.

2.4. Results

2.4.1. Sex dierences

A series of t-tests were performed to investigate sex dierences between the measured variables.
The results are shown in Table 1. The digit ratio dierence between males and females was not
signicant in this sample. The dierence between digit ratio calculated from the rst and second
measurements on a sub-group of participants was found to be non-signicant, t (16)= 1.49,
P=0.16. Males scored signicantly higher than females on mental rotation, psychoticism, physi-
cal aggression, verbal aggression, total aggression, total sensation seeking and all sensation-
seeking sub-scales except experience-seeking. Females scored signicantly higher than males on
neuroticism. The expected malefemale dierences in verbal uency and depression scores were
not found. The two verbal uency tests were signicantly correlated with each other (r=0.38, P
<0.001) and not signicantly correlated with mental rotation score. This nding provides some
preliminary evidence of the convergent and discriminant validity of the miscellaneous task.
E.J. Austin et al. / Personality and Individual Dierences 33 (2002) 11151124 1119

Table 1
Sex dierences for Study 1a

Maximum possible score Mean (SD) males Mean (SD) females t P

Digit ratio 0.970 (0.003) 0.974 (0.004) 0.70 0.49

FluencyF words 13.08 (3.51) 13.50 (3.95) 0.73 0.47
Fluency Miscellaneous 14.46 (5.18) 14.57 (5.52) 0.14 0.89
Mental Rotation 24 13.20 (4.68) 8.37 (3.69) 7.40 < 0.001
Psychoticism 12 3.77 (2.16) 2.06 (1.72) 5.55 < 0.001
Extraversion 12 7.51 (2.99) 8.34 (3.19) 1.68 0.10
Neuroticism 12 5.49 (3.39) 6.84 (2.89) 2.72 0.007
Lie Scale 12 2.78 (2.27) 3.18 (2.07) 1.12 0.25
Depression 80 36.80 (6.90) 38.14 (6.67) 1.25 0.21
Physical Aggression 45 23.90 (7.17) 18.62 (6.36) 4.97 < 0.001
Verbal Aggression 25 15.00 (4.09) 13.69 (3.91) 2.10 0.04
Anger 35 17.05 (5.98) 17.34 (5.52) 0.31 0.75
Hostility 40 20.84 (6.02) 20.37 (5.32) 0.52 0.61
Total Aggression 145 76.96 (18.14) 70.30 (17.16) 2.35 0.02
SS-Thrill 10 6.35 (2.55) 5.58 (2.43) 2.00 0.05
SS-Experience 10 5.90 (2.04) 5.80 (1.94) 0.30 0.76
SS-Disinhibition 10 6.15 (2.40) 4.65 (2.04) 4.25 < 0.001
SS-Boredom 10 3.77 (1.89) 2.97 (1.68) 2.89 0.004
SS- Total 40 22.08 (5.63) 18.91 (5.24) 3.62 < 0.001
SD=standard deviation, SS=Sensation-Seeking, Thrill=Thrill and adventure seeking, Experience=Experience
seeking, Boredom=Boredom susceptibility.

2.4.2. Correlations with digit ratio

Table 2 shows correlations between digit ratio and the personality and cognitive ability mea-
sures. Signicant negative correlations as predicted are found between digit ratio and total sen-
sation-seeking score and also the thrill seeking and disinhibition subscales for females only. For
females the correlation between digit ratio and psychoticism is also negative as predicted, and of a
similar magnitude to the sensation-seeking correlations but failed to reach signicance.

3. Study 2

3.1. Participants

The participants were 49 male and 51 female students at the University of Liverpool. The mean
age of the males was 19.1 years (standard deviation 0.99 years) and the mean age of the females
was 21.8 years (standard deviation 7.7 years).

3.2. Measures

3.2.1. The Eysenck Personality Questionnaire-Revised

As in Study 1.
1120 E.J. Austin et al. / Personality and Individual Dierences 33 (2002) 11151124

Table 2
Correlations of personality traits and ability test scores with digit ratio, Study 1a

Whole sample Males Females

FluencyF words 0.07 (0.35) 0.13 (0.27) 0.05 (0.68)

FluencyMiscellaneous 0.05 (0.57) 0.15 (0.19) 0.03 (0.82)
Mental Rotation 0.03 (0.72) 0.10 (0.38) 0.03 (0.76)
Psychoticism 0.08 (0.31) 0.07 (0.54) 0.20 (0.07)
Extraversion 0.04 (0.64) 0.08 (0.52) 0.03 (0.82)
Neuroticism 0.01 (0.88) 0.09 (0.42) 0.04 (0.75)
Lie Scale 0.03 (0.69) 0.03 (0.79) 0.02 (0.83)
Depression 0.03 (0.67) 0.14 (0.22) 0.16 (0.16)
Physical Aggression 0.04 (0.63) 0.02 (0.88) 0.06 (0.62)
Verbal Aggression 0.00 (1.00) 0.04 (0.72) 0.01 (0.91)
Anger 0.01 (0.93) 0.02 (0.84) 0.00 (0.99)
Hostility 0.06 (0.45) 0.02 (0.83) 0.10 (0.39)
Total Aggression 0.02 (0.83) 0.06 (0.60) 0.01 (0.93)
SS-Thrill 0.09 (0.24) 0.08 (0.50) 0.21 (0.05)
SS-Experience 0.04 (0.61) 0.21 (0.06) 0.09 (0.43)
SS-Disinhibition 0.12 (0.14) 0.04 (0.75) 0.24* (0.03)
SS-Boredom 0.14 (0.06) 0.16 (0.18) 0.13 (0.24)
SS-Total 0.12 (0.13) 0.08 (0.49) 0.27* (0.02)
SS=Sensation-Seeking, Thrill=Thrill and adventure seeking, Experience=Experience seeking, Boredom=Boredom
* P< 0.05, two-tailed.

3.2.2. The Aggression Questionnaire

As in Study 1.

3.3. Procedure

Digit ratio was measured as for Study 1, and measurement was blind to questionnaire results.
Both left and right hands were measured and all hands were measured twice to assess measure-
ment repeatability. Participants were tested in groups of size ranging from two to ve under quiet

3.4. Results

3.4.1. Sex dierences

Table 3 shows the results of t-tests performed to investigate sex dierences. In this sample digit
ratio for both right and left hands diered in the expected direction between males and females.
Dierences between digit ratios calculated from the rst and second measurements were non-
signicant, t(99)= 1.00, P=0.32 (left hands), t (99)= 1.74, P=0.09 (right hands). Females
scored signicantly higher than males on neuroticism, whilst males scored signicantly higher on
psychoticism and aggression.
E.J. Austin et al. / Personality and Individual Dierences 33 (2002) 11151124 1121

3.4.2. Correlations with digit ratio

Table 4 shows the correlation between digit ratio and personality. For the whole sample sig-
nicant correlations in the expected direction were found for psychoticism and neuroticism (left
hands only). It is however more appropriate to examine the male and female groups separately as
the overall correlations confound within- and between-group eects. For psychoticism the within-
sex correlations were not signicant. For neuroticism the correlation for females, left hands was
in the expected direction but failed to reach signicance.

Table 3
Sex dierences for Study 2a

Mean (SD) for males Mean (SD) for females t P

Digit ratio (left) 0.973 (0.003) 0.990 (0.003) 3.01 0.003

Digit ratio (right) 0.972 (0.003) 0.993 (0.003) 3.37 0.001
Psychoticism 4.14 (1.83) 3.33 (1.99) 2.12 0.04
Extraversion 9.22 (3.16) 9.84 (2.50) 1.09 0.28
Neuroticism 3.94 (2.75) 5.18 (2.74) 2.26 0.03
Lie Scale 3.28 (2.31) 3.69 (3.29) 0.74 0.46
Aggression 79.22 (13.18) 72.51 (16.43) 2.26 0.03
SD=standard deviation.

Table 4
Correlations of personality traits with digit ratio, Study 2

Whole sample Whole sample Males Males Females Females

(Left) (Right) (Left) (Right) (Left) (Right)

Psychoticism 0.21* (0.03) 0.13 (0.21) 0.19 (0.18) 0.02 (0.90) 0.14 (0.34) 0.16 (0.29)
Extraversion 0.11 (0.27) 0.17 (0.09) 0.12 (0.39) 0.19 (0.18) 0.19 (0.18) 0.27 (0.07)
Neuroticism 0.27** (0.01) 0.18 (0.07) 0.18 (0.22) 0.05 (0.72) 0.27 (0.06) 0.20 (0.17)
Lie Scale 0.06 (0.58) 0.04 (0.70) 0.00 (0.98) 0.03 (0.86) 0.07 (0.62) 0.05 (0.72)
Aggression 0.09 (0.39) 0.12 (0.25) 0.04 (0.77) 0.11 (0.43) 0.01 (0.96) 0.21 (0.15)

* P< 0.05
** P< 0.01.

4. Discussion

The two studies presented here extend the study of the correlates of digit ratio to investigate its
associations with personality traits where mean scores dier between the sexes. Some evidence for
associations in the expected direction for sensation seeking, psychoticism and neuroticism was
found. No signicant associations were found for the cognitive tests, with the association between
digit ratio and mental rotation performance found by Manning and Taylor (2001) not being
replicated. In the Study 1 data a signicant correlation of the predicted sign (negative) was found
between digit ratio and the disinhibition subscale of the sensation-seeking scale and also for total
1122 E.J. Austin et al. / Personality and Individual Dierences 33 (2002) 11151124

sensation-seeking score, in both cases for females only. The correlation between digit ratio and
psychoticism was also negative and of similar magnitude but failed to reach signicance; again
this was found for females only. The ndings for psychoticism and sensation seeking are not fully
independent since these measures have a considerable degree of construct overlap and are posi-
tively correlated (r=0.50, P< 0.001 in this study). In Study 2 an eect which failed to reach sig-
nicance but was in the expected direction was found for neuroticism, again in females only.
These preliminary ndings should be interpreted with caution given the large number of per-
sonality traits measured and the possibility of type 1 errors. It should also be noted that a number
of predicted eects were not found, for example there were no signicant associations between
digit ratio and aggression, mental rotation or verbal uency. There was also an anomaly with the
Edinburgh sample in that the expected sex dierence in digit ratio was not found. The reasons for
this nding are not clear and it may simply reect a statistical anomaly. However, it is known that
digit ratio shows marked variation between ethnic groups and nationalities (Manning et al.,
2000a) and that dierences in composition of the two samples could account for the signicant
group dierences which motivated the decision to analyse results for the two groups separately.
In order to study such eects in more detail it would be appropriate to obtain information on
ethnicity, nationality and regional origin of participants in future studies of this type.
However, taking the present ndings at face value does provide some pointers for future work.
Correlations between personality and digit ratio appear to be weak with magnitude of 0.2 or less,
hence larger samples are required for any attempt to replicate or extend these ndings. As an
indication of required sample sizes, samples of 194, 347 and 783 would be required to detect
correlations of size 0.2, 0.15 and 0.1 respectively at a signicance level of 0.05 (two-tailed) and
80% power. Alternatively, results from smaller studies using the same measures could be com-
bined using meta-analysis. The nding of eects for females only is a surprising one and requires
further investigation. In addition to examining the measures used in this study, future work could
include other personality measures which show sex dierences (e.g. measures of masculinity/femi-
ninity). In cognitive tests, the inclusion of a spatial memory task and a test of synonym uency would
be of interest; females show superior performance on both tasks and the eect size for synonym
uency is larger for the letter uency task used in the present study (Hines, 1990; Kimura, 1996).


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