Digit Ratio Predicts Spatial Memory Performance in Women


The ratio of the length of the 2nd and 4th digits of the hand is an indicator of prenatal testosterone exposure and has been shown to be a within sex correlate of various abilities, such as visuo-spatial processing in men. However, a number of studies report such links also exist in women, whilst others show no link for either sex. Using a unique paradigm that sub-divides visuo-spatial processing into a distinct subset of component skills we found a strong correlation between finger ratio and spatial memory performance specifically under stereo viewing conditions in women. We argue that the current ambiguity regarding links between digit-ratio and visuo-spatial ability is the result of a lack of clarity between the component skills recruited in different visuo-spatial tasks. Our task independently tested a subset of the component skills used in visuo-spatial tasks such as: mental rotation, cross-dimensionality processing and feature detection. Our results show that digit-ratio, a physical parameter linked to prenatal testosterone levels, indicates performance on a distinct aspect of visuo-spatial processing in women, without contradicting previous links for visuo-spatial processing in men. These results offer an explanation for the differences in previous findings linking visuo-spatial processing in both men and women.

Share and Cite:

L. Tcheang, N. Muggleton and V. Walsh, "Digit Ratio Predicts Spatial Memory Performance in Women," Journal of Behavioral and Brain Science, Vol. 3 No. 3, 2013, pp. 296-305. doi: 10.4236/jbbs.2013.33029.

Conflicts of Interest

The authors declare no conflicts of interest.


[1] S. A. Berenbaum, K. K. Bryk, N. Nowak, C. A. Quigley and S. Moffat, “Fingers as a Marker of Prenatal Androgen Exposure,” Endocrinology, Vol. 150, No. 11, 2009, pp. 5119-5124. doi:10.1210/en.2009-0774
[2] J. Manning, “Digit Ratio: A Pointer to Fertility, Behavior, and Health,” Rutgers University Press, New Brunswick, 2002, p. 173.
[3] J. Coolican and M. Peters, “Sexual Dimorphism in the 2D/4D Ratio and Its Relation to Mental Rotation Performance,” Evolution and Human Behavior, Vol. 24, No. 3, 2003, pp. 179-183. doi:10.1016/S1090-5138(03)00010-2
[4] G. Sanders, T. Bereczkei, A. Csatho and J. Manning, “The Ratio of the 2nd to 4th Finger Length Predicts Spatialability in Men but Not Women,” Cortex, Vol. 41, No. 6, 2005, pp. 789-795. doi:10.1016/S0010-9452(08)70297-1
[5] M. Peters, J. T. Manning and S. Reimers, “The Effects of Sex, Sexual Orientation, and Digit Ratio (2D:4D) on Mental Rotation Performance,” Archives of Sexual Behavior, Vol. 36, No. 2, 2007, pp. 251-260. doi:10.1007/s10508-006-9166-8
[6] J. M. Coates, M. Gurnell and A. Rustichini, “Second-toFourth Digit Ratio Predicts Success among High-Frequency Financial Traders,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, Vol. 106, No. 2, 2009, pp. 623-8. doi:10.1073/pnas.0810907106
[7] E. Austin, J. Manning, K. Mcinroy and E. Mathews, “A Preliminary Investigation of the Associations between Personality, Cognitive Ability and Digit Ratio,” Personality and Individual Differences, Vol. 33, No. 7, 2002, pp. 1115-1124. doi:10.1016/S0191-8869(02)00002-8
[8] A. Csathó, “Spatial Navigation Related to the Ratio of Second to Fourth Digit Length in Women,” Learning and Individual Differences, Vol. 13, No. 3, 2003, pp. 239-249. doi:10.1016/S1041-6080(02)00093-6
[9] X. J. Chai and L. F. Jacobs, “Digit Ratio Predicts Sense of Direction in Women,” PLoS One, Vol. 7, No. 2, 2012, p. e32816. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0032816
[10] M. L. Collaer, S. Reimers and J. T. Manning, “Visuospatial Performance on an Internet Line Judgment Task and Potential Hormonal Markers: Sex, Sexual Orientation, and 2D:4D,” Archives of Sexual Behavior, Vol. 36, No. 2, 2007, pp. 177-92. doi:10.1007/s10508-006-9152-1
[11] D. Puts, M. McDaniel, C. L. Jordan and S. M. Breedlove, “Spatial Ability and Prenatal Androgens: Meta-Analyses of Congenital Adrenal Hyperplasia and Digit Ratio (2D:4D) Studies,” Archives of Sexual Behavior, Vol. 37, No. 1, 2008, pp. 100-111. doi:10.1007/s10508-007-9271-3
[12] C. Gouchie and D. Kimura, “The Relationship between Testosterone Levels and Cognitive Ability Patterns,” Psychoneuroendocrinology, Vol. 16, No. 4, 1991, pp. 323334. doi:10.1016/0306-4530(91)90018-O
[13] S. D. Moffat and E. Hampson, “A Curvilinear Relationship between Testosterone and Spatial Cognition in Humans: Possible Influence of Hand Preference,” Psychoneuroendocrinology, Vol. 21, No. 3, 1996, pp. 323-337. doi:10.1016/0306-4530(95)00051-8
[14] D. B. Hier and W. F. Crowley, “Spatial Ability in Androgen-Deficient Men,” The New England Journal of Medicine, Vol. 306, No. 20, 1982, pp. 1202-1205.
[15] D. F. Halpern and M. L. Lamay, “The Smarter Sex: A Critical Review of Sex Differences in Intelligence,” Educational Psychology Review, Vol. 12, No. 2, 2000, pp. 229-246. doi:10.1023/A:1009027516424
[16] L. A. Burton, D. Henninger and J. Hafetz, “Gender Differences in Relations of Mental Rotation, Verbal Fluency, and SAT Scores to Finger Length Ratios as Hormonal Indexes,” Developmental Neuropsychology, Vol. 28, No. 1, 2005, pp. 493-505. doi:10.1207/s15326942dn2801_3
[17] J. M. Andreano and L. Cahill, “Sex Influences on the Neurobiology of Learning and Memory,” Learning & Memory, Vol. 16, No. 4, 2009, pp. 248-266. doi:10.1101/lm.918309
[18] N. Nowak and S. Moffat, “The Relationship between Second to Fourth Digit Ratio, Spatial Cognition, and Virtual Navigation,” Archives of Sexual Behavior, Vol. 40, No. 3, 2011, pp. 575-585. doi:10.1007/s10508-010-9668-2
[19] N. Geschwind and A. M. Galaburda, “Cerebral Lateralization,” MIT Press, Cambridge, 1987.
[20] M. P. Bryden, “Measuring Handedness with Questionnaires,” Neuropsychologia, Vol. 15, No. 4-5, 1977, pp. 617624. doi:10.1016/0028-3932(77)90067-7
[21] C. Hardyck, R. Goldman and L. Petrinovich, “Handedness and Sex, Race, and Age,” Human Biology, Vol. 47, No. 3, 1975, p. 369.
[22] C. Porac and S. Coren, Lateral Preferences and Human Behavior. Springer-Verlag, New York, 1981. doi:10.1007/978-1-4613-8139-6
[23] R. D. Nebes and G. G. Briggs, “Handedness and the Retention of Visual Material,” Cortex, Vol. 10, No. 3, 1974, pp. 209-214. doi:10.1016/S0010-9452(74)80012-2
[24] S. A. Burnett, D. M. Lane and L. M. Dratt, “Spatial Ability and Handedness,” Intelligence, Vol. 6, No. 1, 1982, pp. 57-68. doi:10.1016/0160-2896(82)90020-4
[25] K. Van Orden and J. W. Broyles, “Visuospatial Task Performance as a Function of Twoand Three-Dimensional Display Presentation Techniques,” Displays, Vol. 21, No. 1, 2000, pp. 17-24. doi:10.1016/S0141-9382(00)00024-X
[26] W. McWilliams, C. J. Hamilton and S. J. Muncer, “On Mental Rotation in Three Dimensions,” Perceptual and Motor Skills, Vol. 85, No. 1, 1997, pp. 297-298. doi:10.2466/pms.1997.85.1.297
[27] A. C. Neubauer, S. Bergner and M. Schatz, “Twovs. Three-Dimensional Presentation of Mental Rotation Tasks: Sex Differences and Effects of Training on Performance and Brain Activation,” Intelligence, Vol. 38, No. 5, 2010, pp. 529-539. doi:10.1016/j.intell.2010.06.001
[28] P. Horan and R. Rosser, “A Multivariable Analysis of Spatial Abilities by Sex,” Developmental Review, Vol. 4, No. 4, 1984, pp. 387-411. doi:10.1016/0273-2297(84)90023-6
[29] R. Halari, T. Sharma, M. Hines, C. Andrew, A. Simmons and V. Kumari, “Comparable fMRI Activity with Differential Behavioural Performance on Mental Rotation and Overt Verbal Fluency Tasks in Healthy Men and Women,” Experimental Brain Research, Vol. 169, No. 1, 2006, pp. 1-14. doi:10.1007/s00221-005-0118-7
[30] D. Voyer, S. Voyer and M. P. Bryden, “Magnitude of Sex Differences in Spatial Abilities: A Meta-Analysis and Consideration of Critical Variables,” Psychological Bulletin, Vol. 117, No. 2, 1995, pp. 250-70. doi:10.1037/0033-2909.117.2.250
[31] D. Voyer, A. Postma, B. Brake and J. Imperato-McGinley, “Gender Differences in Object Location Memory: A Meta-Analysis,” Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, Vol. 14, No. 1, 2007, pp. 23-38. doi:10.3758/BF03194024
[32] I. Ecuyer-Dab and M. Robert, “The Female Advantage in Object Location Memory According to the Foraging Hypothesis: A Critical Analysis,” Human Nature, Vol. 18, No. 4, 2007, pp. 365-385. doi:10.1007/s12110-007-9022-0
[33] T. Hartley, C. M. Bird, D. Chan, L. Cipolotti, M. Husain, F. Vargha-khadem and N. Burgess, “The Hippocampus Is Required for Short-Term Topographical Memory in Humans,” Hippocampus, Vol. 17, No. 1, 2007, pp. 34-48. doi:10.1002/hipo.20240
[34] A. Ardila, F. Ostrosky-Solís and B. Bernal, “Cognitive Testing toward the Future: The Example of Semantic Verbal Fluency (ANIMALS),” International Journal of Psychology, Vol. 41, No. 5, 2006, pp. 324-332. doi:10.1080/00207590500345542
[35] R. C. Oldfield, “The Assessment and Analysis of Handedness: The Edinburgh Inventory,” Neuropsychologia, Vol. 9, No. 1, 1971, pp. 97-113. doi:10.1016/0028-3932(71)90067-4
[36] K. Schweizer, F. Goldhammer, W. Rauch and H. Moosbrugger, “On the Validity of Raven’s Matrices Test: Does Spatial Ability Contribute to Performance?” Personality and Individual Differences, Vol. 43, No. 8, 2007, pp. 1998-2010. doi:10.1016/j.paid.2007.06.008
[37] L. Jenkins, J. Myerson, J. A. Joerding and S. Hale, “Converging Evidence that Visuospatial Cognition Is More Age-Sensitive than Verbal Cognition,” Psychology and Aging, Vol. 15, No. 1, 2000, pp. 157-175. doi:10.1037/0882-7974.15.1.157
[38] S. Hale, N. S. Rose, J. Myerson, M. J. Strube, M. Sommers, N. Tye-Murray and B. Spehar, “The Structure of Working Memory Abilities across the Adult Life Span,” Psychology and Aging, Vol. 26, No. 1, 2011, pp. 92-110. doi:10.1037/a0021483
[39] F. Fiore, E. Borella, I. C. Mammarella and R. De Beni, “Age Differences in Verbal and Visuo-spatial Working Memory Updating : Evidence from Analysis of Serial Position Curves,” Memory, Vol. 20, No. 1, 2012, pp. 14-27. doi:10.1080/09658211.2011.628320
[40] L. A. Brown, J. R. Brockmole, J. Alan and I. J. Deary, “Processing Speed and Visuospatial Executive Function Predict Visual Working Memory Ability in Older Adults,” Experimental Aging Research, Vol. 38, No. 1, 2012, pp. 1-19. doi:10.1080/0361073X.2012.636722
[41] A. Field, “Discovering Statistics Using SPSS (Introducing Statistical Methods S.),” Sage Publications Ltd., London, 2005.
[42] H. Lin, M. Yeh and Y. Kang, “An Investigation of the Relationship between Digit Ratio,” Proceedings of the 3rd International Conference on Internationalization, Design and Global Development: Held as Part of HCI International 2009, San Diego, 19-24 July 2009, pp. 266-273.
[43] M. Kozhevnikov, J. Royan, O. Blazhenkova, A. Gorbunov, J. S. Gero and A. K. Goel, “The Role of Immersivity in Three-Dimensional Mental Rotation,” In: J. S. Gero and A. K. Goel, Eds., Design Computing and Cognition’08, Springer Netherlands, Dordrecht, 2008, pp. 143-157. doi:10.1007/978-1-4020-8728-8_8
[44] R. Shepard and J. Metzler, “Mental Rotation of ThreeDimensional Objects,” Science, Vol. 171, No. 3972, 1971, pp. 701-703. doi:10.1126/science.171.3972.701
[45] B. Sanders, J. R. Wilson and S. G. Vandenberg, “Handedness and Spatial Ability,” Cortex, Vol. 18, No. 1, 1982, pp. 79-89. doi:10.1016/S0010-9452(82)80020-8
[46] T. G. Reio, M. Czarnolewski and J. Eliot, “Handedness and Spatial Ability: Differential Patterns of Relationships,” Laterality, Vol. 9, No. 3, 2004, pp. 339-358. doi:10.1080/13576500342000220
[47] J. T. Manning, R. L. Trivers, R. Thornhill and D. Singh, “The 2nd:4th Digit Ratio and Asymmetry of Hand Performance in Jamaican Children,” Laterality, Vol. 5, No. 2, 2000, pp. 121-132. doi:10.1080/135765000396744
[48] J. T. Manning and M. Peters, “Digit Ratio (2D:4D) and Hand Preference for Writing in the BBC Internet Study,” Laterality, Vol. 14, No. 5, 2009, pp. 528-540. doi:10.1080/13576500802637872
[49] J. S. Janowsky, B. Chavez, D. Brian and E. Orwoll, “The Cognitive Neuropsychology of Sex Hormones in Men and Women,” Developmental Neuropsychology, Vol. 14, No. 2-3, 1998, pp. 421-440. doi:10.1080/87565649809540719
[50] E. Kemps and R. Newson, “Patterns and Predictors of Adult Age Differences in Mental Imagery,” Aging, Neuropsychology, and Cognition, Vol. 12, No. 1, 2005, pp. 99-128. doi:10.1080/13825580590925152
[51] I. E. Dror and S. M. Kosslyn, “Mental Imagery and Aging,” Psychology and Aging, Vol. 9, No. 1, 1994, pp. 90102. doi:10.1037/0882-7974.9.1.90

Copyright © 2023 by authors and Scientific Research Publishing Inc.

Creative Commons License

This work and the related PDF file are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.