Digit ratio (2D:4D) and the spatial representation of magnitude

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Abstract

Digit ratio (as a putative indicator of prenatal androgen exposure) is related to a range of sexually dimorphic abilities, including spatial skills and mathematical ability. This study examined a phenomenon known as the SNARC effect (Spatial Numerical Association of Response Codes), which is taken as evidence of a mental representation of magnitude along a left–right-oriented number line, with low magnitudes associated with the left side of space, and high numbers with the right side of space. Participants made a parity judgement of numbers with responses made with a left key to odd numbers and a right key to even numbers. This was reversed for a second block of trials. Response times to numbers one to nine with both the right and left hand were calculated, and regression analyses conducted to analyse whether lower magnitudes were responded to faster with the left hand and higher magnitudes with the right hand. Participants with lower (more masculine) digit ratios on the right hand showed a stronger SNARC effect compared to participants with high digit ratios. This pattern of results was also found when the analyses were conducted separately for men and women. Results from left hand digit ratios indicated that only low digit ratio females showed a significant SNARC effect. These findings add to a growing literature on the relationship between digit ratio and cognitive abilities; in this case, simple cognitive representations that are accessed automatically rather than complex skills such as mental rotation or ‘mathematics’ where a variety of solution strategies may be utilised.

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