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31 May 2007

Finger Destiny?

According to this story, you can tell which section you'll do (or you did) better on in the SAT.
When I sat for the SAT, I was convinced that I would do better on the Verbal section than the Math; for myriad reasons. Namely that I had a few great English teachers and perhaps the world's worst pre-calc teacher who'd shaken every last bit of confidence I'd had in my mathematical ability clear out of me.
The short version of the article is that you'll do better on the Math if your ring finger in longer; better on the Verbal if your index finger is longer.
I had never really taken notice of which finger was longer than the other on my own hand, but of course I looked. My ring finger is a mite longer than my index finger.
I was as surprised at this as I was when, lo those many years ago, I opened the envelope containing my SAT results. I scored 5.2% higher in Math than Verbal. Whether my ring finger is 5.2% longer than my index is a detail I am not going to concern myself with.

The article goes on to posit that prenatal exposure to testosterone and estrogen determine finger length. Exposure to testosterone is known to make the ring finger longer.
This lends itself to another study of which I've heard that examined testosterone levels in Mathematics majors. Apparently there is no (or little) discrepancy between the sexes when it comes to mathematical ability or interest in the subject in prepubescent children. Upon the onset of puberty however, when the testosterone level in boys increases greatly, boys start to show better ability and interest where girls (again, typically not necessarily) tend to lose interest and grades start slipping below boys'.
This also, to those who study these things, may explain why Mathematics majors are overwhelmingly male.

This does not mean I subscribe to the theory that women are incapable of higher mathematics. But there is definite, empirical proof that hormone levels affect certain areas of the brain at certain stages of development, and that this will obviously affect one's ability in certain fields. Not, however, subject an individual to be excluded from a particular field due to sex.
I have a daughter, and if she's so inclined, I would be as proud as can be imagined if she chose to pursue an advanced degree in mathematics, regardless of whether her ring finger is longer than her index finger. These hormones, taken into account with family upbringing, quality (not cost) of education, incalculable social factors and, of course, her personal interest in the subject, will help determine what field she chooses. And whatever that is, I am certain only of her excellence.

A few years ago I attended an Executive Education seminar at Cornell University. I was in the hotel business at the time and there were hoteliers from around the world at this seminar. In my particular class of about twenty, there were only three Americans.
At my table there were three men and one woman, she from Japan. Two of the men were American, one from Jamaica. One of our tasks, towards the end of our conference, was to design and start our own hotel. One very important aspect of running a hotel is what to charge per room night, and this is very much a science rather than an art, taking into account what I thought was an astonishing number of factors. Charged with this task, we went straight to work, each working individually but talking to each other. We came to our figure.
The professors went about the room, telling each group how far off their number was, why it was wrong and how to correct it. Each group missed one integral aspect, each different from the other.
Our table was last, and as each group was declared wrong our chests puffed a little because we had taken into account what the others had missed. By the time we were called, our colleague from Jamaica, being the appointed one, proudly gave "our" answer.

We were the most wrong.

I can't remember what, exactly, we missed, but it was a doozy. And one of the professors helpfully pointed out that, in the real world, we'd have been lucky to have lasted a month. But the other professor who had been walking about the room during the work phase at which we were to come up with our rate, asked our female colleague what her number was. She was right. To the penny.
The class was on Team Effectiveness, and on the last day we learned that we weren't either. We also learned a bit about certain stereotypes, our female colleague, too. The professor who knew she was right chided her for not standing up and telling three proud dolts how wrong they were.
Lessons learned across the board.
Namely that I (try to) never assume a person I meet, regardless of gender, race, national origin, what have you, has any innate superiority or deficiency in any subject matter in particular.
Usually after being around someone long enough, they'll let you know what they're good at, and what they aren't.

1 comment:

Claudio said...

Does knuckle hair count?