THE CONTRIBUTIONS OF HANS-DIETER RÖSLER: PIONEER OF DIGIT RATIO (2D:4D) RESEARCH1

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Abstract

Over the past decade, the second-to-fourth digit ratio (2D:4D), a putative biomarker for the organizational (permanent) effects of prenatal androgens on the human brain, body, and behavior, has received extensive research attention in psychology. This account makes more widely accessible the contributions of the German psychologist, Hans-Dieter Rösler, an early, for a long time unnoticed, predecessor of modern 2D:4D research. In the mid-1950s, Rösler collected a massive sample of hand outline drawings, totalling nearly 7,000 individuals, ranging in age from 1 mo. to 70 yr. With regard to the distal finger-extent pattern, Rösler differentiated radial (longer index than ring finger), ulnar (reversed pattern), and intermediate hand types, which reflect higher (more female-typical), lower (more male-typical), and intermediate 2D:4D, respectively. Here is summarized Rösler’s research. In a series of investigations into the hand types, he reported on their anatomical bases, unsuitability for paternity testing, developmental changes, heritability, sex, side, and occupational group differences, and associations with left-handedness, manual dexterity, mental retardation, and clinodactyly. Based on new data from 313 male and 316 female adults, hand type is further shown to be only a weak proxy of actual 2D:4D, leaving 75% of the interindividual variation in 2D:4D unexplained. Notwithstanding these shortcomings of the hand-type method, Rösler’s work from the 1950s still has the potential to inform modern 2D:4D research, as it contains a multitude of testable hypotheses not yet picked up by current research.

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