Second to fourth digit ratio and male ability in sport: implications for sexual selection in humans

Evol Hum Behav. 2001 Jan;22(1):61-69. doi: 10.1016/s1090-5138(00)00063-5.


Fetal and adult testosterone may be important in establishing and maintaining sex-dependent abilities associated with male physical competitiveness. There is evidence that the ratio of the length of the 2nd and 4th digits (2D:4D) is a negative correlate of prenatal and adult testosterone. We use ability in sports, and particularly ability in football, as a proxy for male physical competitiveness. Compared to males with high 2D:4D ratio, men with low ratio reported higher attainment in a range of sports and had higher mental rotation scores (a measure of visual-spatial ability). Professional football players had lower 2D:4D ratios than controls. Football players in 1st team squads had lower 2D:4D than reserves or youth team players. Men who had represented their country had lower ratios than those who had not, and there was a significant (one-tailed) negative association between 2D:4D and number of international appearances after the effect of country was removed. We suggest that prenatal and adult testosterone promotes the development and maintenance of traits which are useful in sports and athletics disciplines and in male:male fighting.