My, what sensitive fingers I have!

New study shows sense of touch is not based on sex, as previously thought.
Written by Melanie D.G. Kaplan, Inactive on

Women. Sensitive. Those words go hand-in-hand, right? But when it comes to the fingertips, some new research shows the “why” isn’t what we think.

It turns out that women are more sensitive to touch, but not simply because we are women. It has more to do with the size of our fingers, reported the December 16 issue of Journal of Neuroscience.

The researchers, at the Department of Psychology, Neuroscience & Behavior at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, had observed that women have a finer sense of touch than men. The team first became curious about the sex difference while studying differences between blind and sighted people, according to ScienceNOW:

“They found that blind people are better than those with normal vision at distinguishing fine textures but that, within each group, women are better than men. The researchers thought that the discrepancy might be the result of brain differences between men and women, but they first wanted to see if something simpler could explain it. So they tested 50 women and 50 men on a simple task: Each person touched a small, grooved surface and tried to identify the orientation of the grooves. As the grooves got closer together, it became more difficult to determine their direction. As expected, women performed better at this task than men did, but when the scientists looked at the results by finger size, they found that the sex difference disappeared: On average, men and women with the same size fingertips perform at the same level.”

The study explained it why smaller fingertips are more sensitive. Cells in the finger called Merkel cells transmit this type of sensory data to the brain. The researchers found that all of their subjects—no matter the finger size—had the same number of these cells. Furthermore, they discovered that the sweat pores “and presumably the Merkel receptors beneath them” are packed closer together in smaller fingers. The density allows these smaller-fingered individuals to distinguish finer textures.

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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