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Copyright 1994 by the American Psychological Association, Inc.

0735-7044/94/S3.QQ

Behavioral Neuroscience
1994, Vol. 108, No. 6,1203-1206

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Dermatoglyphic Asymmetry and Sexual Orientation in Men


J. A. Y. Hall and D. Kimura
Dermal ridges on the fingertips are formed early in fetal life and remain unchanged throughout the
life span. The researchers examined dermatoglyphic characteristics (total ridge count and
directional ridge asymmetry) in homosexual and heterosexual men. There was no difference
between the 2 groups of men in total ridge count, but more gay men demonstrated leftward
asymmetry than did nongay men. Although this effect was not accounted for by differences in hand
preference, an association was observed between leftward dermatoglyphic asymmetry and an
increased incidence of adextrality in homosexual men, but not in heterosexual men. These findings
are consistent with a biological contribution to sexual orientation and indicate that such an
influence may occur early in prenatal life.

1981) and alcohol (Quazi, Masakawa, McGann, & Woods,


1980) ingested by pregnant mothers have been shown to alter
dermal ridge configuration. In nonhuman primates, psychological stress induced by catching pregnant females affects the
dermatoglyphics of their offspring (Newell-Morris, Fahrenbruch, & Sackett, 1989). It has been suggested that human
dermatoglyphics may be affected by the intrauterine hormonal
environment (Jamison, Meier, & Campbell, 1993).
Somatic asymmetry, measured as the relative difference in
the size of the feet (Levy & Levy, 1978), or self-inspection of
breasts or testes (Kimura, 1994) is reportedly sexually dimorphic; the right side is favored in men and the left side is favored
in women. A more objective measure of asymmetry, the
difference in the number of dermal ridges on the right and left
hands, also demonstrates a sexual dimorphism. Although both
men and women have a higher average number of ridges on the
right (R) hand than the left (L), the incidence of the minority
leftward asymmetry is higher in women than in men (Kimura
& Carson, 1993). In both men and women, directional asymmetry (L> vs R > ; higher left-hand ridge count vs. higher
right-hand ridge count) is associated with different patterns of
performance on sexually dimorphic cognitive tasks (Kimura &
Carson, 1993; Kimura, 1994). The total number of ridges on
both hands is also sexually dimorphic, with men having a
higher total ridge count than do women. Because sexual
orientation demonstrates an effect on some sexually dimorphic
cognitive tasks, we questioned what pattern of dermatoglyphic
asymmetry homosexual persons might manifest. We examined
these sexually dimorphic aspects of dermatoglyphicstotal
ridge count and directional ridge asymmetryin heterosexual
and homosexual men.

A decade of research has uncovered cognitive (Gladue,


Beatty, Larson, & Staton, 1990; Sanders & Ross-Field, 1986),
neuroanatomical (Allen & Gorski, 1992; LeVay, 1991; Swaab
& Hofman, 1990), and genetic (Bailey & Pillard, 1991; Hamer,
Hu, Magnuson, Hu, & Pattatucci, 1993) correlates of human
homosexuality. Together these findings are suggestive of an
early biological contribution to adult sexual orientation. We
investigated the relationship between sexual orientation and
physical characteristicsdermatoglyphicsthat are determined prenatally.
Dermatoglyphics are the characteristics of the ridged skin
on the fingertips, palms, toes, and soles of primates and some
other mammals. In humans, volar pads form on the fingertips
by the 8th week postconception, and dermal ridges complete
their development by about the 16th week of fetal life (Holt,
1968). Only extensive mechanical damage alters them after
this time. The discrete period of development and postnatal
stability suggest a prenatal component for traits that are
correlated with dermatoglyphics.
Dermal ridges are largely genetically determined but are
subject to local environmental modification during the critical
period of ridge differentiation. The total digital ridge count is
one of the most heritable anthropometric human traits with a
correlation of .95 or greater between monozygotic twins
(Bouchard, Lykken, McGue, Segal, & Tellegen, 1990). Anticonvulsants (Andermann, Dansky, Andermann, & Loughnan,
J. A. Y. Hall and D. Kimura, Neuroscience Programme and
Department of Psychology, University of Western Ontario, London,
Ontario, Canada.
This research was supported by grants from the Medical Research
Council of Canada and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada to D. Kimura. We thank I. Silverman of
York University and S. LeVay of the Institute of Gay and Lesbian
Education, Los Angeles, California, for providing access to and space
for testing a portion of the participants in this study.
Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to D.
Kimura, Department of Psychology, University of Western Ontario,
London, Ontario, Canada N6A 5C2. Electronic mail may be sent to
kimura@uwo.ca.

Method
Subjects
We recruited 182 heterosexual and 66 homosexual men. All heterosexual men and 20 of the homosexual men were paid undergraduate
students from the University of Western Ontario in London and York
University in Toronto, who were recruited through campus newspaper

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Table 1
Dermatoglyphic Characteristics
Total ridge count"

Directional asymmetryb

Group

SD

L>

Lnot >

Heterosexual
Homosexual

33.0
32.6

8.6
7.7

26
20

156
46

Note. L > = Subjects with higher left-hand ridge counts.


3
Thumb and little finger c
N= 248) = 8.225,p < .01.

and poster advertisements. The remaining 46 homosexual men were


volunteers recruited during Gay Pride festivities in West Hollywood,
California in June, 1993.

paring sexual orientation and direction of ridge asymmetry


(L> vs. L not >) was significant; x2 (1, N = 248) = 8.225,p <
.01; indicating that more gay men possessed the minority
leftward asymmetry than did nongay men. A test for the
direction of ridge asymmetry (L> vs. L not >) between the
homosexual men and an archival group of 128 heterosexual
women (Kimura & Carson, 1993) was not significant; x2 (1,
N = 192) = 2.012, ns, although a slightly larger percentage of
homosexual men than heterosexual women demonstrated
leftward asymmetry.
Dermatoglyphics and Dextrality

All of the homosexual subjects and 96 heterosexual subjects made a


self-declaration of their sexual orientation and completed the Kinsey
scales (Kinsey, Pomeroy, & Martin, 1948; both fantasy and experience), which rank sexual orientation from 0 (exclusively heterosexual)
to 6 (exclusively homosexual).
Each subject's fingers were rolled on an inked glass and then onto a
standard fingerprint form. Laser photocopies, enlarged 10%, were
made from the originals. The Henry classification system (Holt, 1968)
was used to determine triradial and core points on the photocopies. A
magnifier with a Henry glass, which has a line etched in it, was used to
join the two points, and all intersecting ridges were counted. Because
the middle three fingers have a higher incidence of a pattern with no
triradial point (count = 0), only the thumb and little finger were
scored. This has been found to be a valid indication of the total ridge
count since the ridges on the fingers of each hand are highly correlated
(Holt, 1968). A designation of rightward or leftward asymmetry was
made when the sum of the ridges on the two fingers of one hand
exceeded those of the other by at least 2. An interrater reliability of .97
for the ridge count of both hands was achieved by two independent
ridge counters, one of whom was unaware of the subjects' sexual
orientation.
Hand preference in the student sample was assessed by a questionnaire that asked subjects to mime eight unimanual tasks (Kimura,
1973). Those who responded with their left hand for two or more items
were classified as adextral. Because of time constraints, hand preference in the West Hollywood sample was assessed by simply asking
which hand was used to write. Thus our estimate of the number of
adextrals in this group is likely to be conservative.

Homosexuals have been reported to possess an increased


incidence of adextrality (Lindesay, 1987; McCormick, Witelson, & Kingstone, 1990). The heterosexual participants of this
study were not recruited randomly for handedness. (We first
recruited right-handed men and then a sample of left-handed
men), thus a comparison with the homosexual men in this
regard is not meaningful. The incidence of adextrality in our
homosexual group is greater than 16% in contrast to the 10%
or less typically found in heterosexual male samples (Bryden,
1982).
We questioned whether this measure of cerebral asymmetry
might be related to dermatoglyphic asymmetry. Table 2 contains the subjects' dextrality in terms of their dermatoglyphic
asymmetry.
A chi-square comparing the distributions of directional
asymmetry (L > vs. L not > ) in dextral and adextral homosexual men was significant; x2 (1, N = 61) = 6.143, p < .02.
Within heterosexual men, the association between dermatoglyphic asymmetry and handedness was not significant; x2 (1.
N = 182) = 1.379, ns; nor was it significant within the archival
heterosexual women. Adextrality and an increased incidence
of leftward asymmetry appear to be associated in homosexual
men but not in heterosexual men or women. If the sexual
orientation-related difference in dermatoglyphic asymmetry
were reducible to differences in the frequency of adextrality,
then a comparison within adextrals should abolish this effect.
However, the minority leftward pattern of asymmetry is seen
more often in gay men than nongay men, even when this
comparison is restricted to adextrals, p = .034, Fisher's exact
test.

Results

Discussion

Procedure

Sexual Orientation
As expected, there was a large significant difference between the men on the mean Kinsey scores (fantasy + experience/2); f(160) = 49.475,/> < .001.

Because dermal ridges develop early in fetal life and


because the direction of dermatoglyphic asymmetry is associated with sexual orientation, our data are consistent with
Table 2

Dermatoglyphic Characteristics
Table 1 contains the total ridge count and directional ridge
asymmetry for both groups of men. There was no significant
difference between gay and nongay men on total ridge count,
/(246) = 0.350, ns. Moreover, homosexual men, like heterosexual men and women, demonstrated a preponderance of
rightward directional asymmetry. However, a chi-square com-

Dermatoglyphic Asymmetry and Dextrality


Lnot >

L>
Group
3

Heterosexual
Homosexual11

Dextral

Adextral

Dextral

Adextral

20
11

6
6

134
40

22
4

Note. L> = subjects with higher left-hand ridge counts.


a 2
X (l.W = 182) = 1.379, ns. b x 2 (l,AT = 61) = 6.143,p < .02.

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suggestions (Gladue et al., 1990; Hamer, Hu, Magnuson, Hu,


& Pattatucci, 1993; LeVay, 1991) of an early biological
contribution to adult sexual orientation in men. Ridge differentiation appears to be under both genetic and epigenetic
influences; hence either or both factors may contribute to the
increased leftward asymmetry.
Altering the early hormonal environment of some laboratory animals alters the sexual differentiation of the body and
brain (Dohler et al., 1983), as well as the sexual behavior
displayed in adulthood (Brand, Kooren, Mos, & Slob, 1991;
Brand & Slob, 1991). Data from some clinical populations
exposed to atypical levels of sex hormones in utero suggest that
human sexual orientation may also be affected by the early
hormonal environment (Money, Schwartz, & Lewis, 1984).
Because dermatoglyphic characteristics may be hormone sensitive (Jamison et al., 1993), future studies examining the
dermatoglyphics of populations known to have experienced an
atypical early hormonal environment might elucidate the
potential relationship between these factors.
The fact that homosexual men demonstrate an association
between hand preference and directional asymmetry, whereas
heterosexual men and women do not, suggests that early
processes that contribute to handedness may be different for
the homosexual and heterosexual populations. A measure of
cerebral speech lateralizationdichotic listeningis also related to dermatoglyphic asymmetry in homosexual men (Hall
& Kimura, 1993). The leftward pattern of asymmetry is thus
associated with a more bilateral representation of both speech
and handedness.
Somatic asymmetry is a common biological phenomenon
(Levy & Levy, 1978; Kimura, 1994). The association between
dermatoglyphic and functional brain asymmetries may result
from a general lateralized growth common to the body and
brain, which fosters asymmetric development of specific functions. Alternatively, our measures of cerebral laterality could
be influenced by functional differences in commissural systems
connecting the two hemispheres. The anterior commissure, a
possible conduit of auditory information, is reportedly larger in
homosexual men than heterosexual men or women (Allen &
Gorski, 1992). Increased interhemispheric connectivity in
some gay men may account for the observed differences on
dichotic listening. Interestingly, the anterior commissure begins to develop around the 7th week of fetal life (Larsen,
1993), which is also within the period of ridge differentiation.
It is possible that other commissural systems that transmit
motor commands and thus influence dextrality (Witelson &
Goldsmith, 1991) may also manifest sexual orientation-related
differences.
The total ridge count does not demonstrate an effect of
sexual orientation. The dermatoglyphics of gay men are
therefore composites of some male-typical (total ridge count)
and some female-typical (directional asymmetry) characteristics. The performance of gay men on sexually dimorphic
cognitive-motor tasks demonstrates a similar phenomenon;
they score like heterosexual men on some tasks and like
heterosexual women on others (Hall & Kimura, in press). Thus
somatic differences associated with sexual orientation resemble neuroanatomic and cognitive differences in that only
some components appear to be affected. Additionally, the

relationship between dextrality and dermatoglyphics displayed


by homosexual men is atypical of either sex, which parallels
some other neuroanatomic data.
Regardless of the exact mechanism, the association between
dermatoglyphic asymmetry and sexual orientation suggests
that sexual orientation in at least some men is linked to
biological events that occur early in fetal life. It should be
stressed that the leftward pattern of asymmetry is not indicative of sexual orientation per se because gay men, like
heterosexual men and women, most often manifest rightward
dermatoglyphic asymmetry.

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Received May 5,1994


Revision received June 20,1994
Accepted June 20,1994

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