This summer an important fundamental discovery was reported at the Society for Experimental Biology’s annual meeting July 3-6 in Valencia, Spain: hand gestures grew out of fish brains!

Andrew Bass, Cornell professor of neurobiology and behavior, described how he found evidence that illustrates how fish are able to vocalize and communicate via their pectorial fins:

“Using methods to understand how the brain is connected to different muscle groups, we mapped the early development of two systems in the brain that control muscles that allow fish to vocalize and to move their pectoral fins.”

“Using methods to understand how the brain is connected to different muscle groups, we mapped the early development of two systems in the brain that control muscles that allow fish to vocalize and to move their pectoral fins. We found that these systems arise from the same compartment.”

“Evidence that the evolutionary origins of the link between speech and gesturing can be traced to a developmental compartment in the caudal hindbrain of fish.”

This insight can be understood visually by notifying how the pectorial fins in fishes are usually located close to the hind brain – see picture below.

Source: 11 strange things we learned this summer

Reflexology is known as an alternative medicine involving ‘zone therapy’, which implicates the physical act of applying pressure to the feet, hands, or ears with specific thumb, finger, and hand techniques without the use of oil or lotion. Last year a study from Iran has pointed out that reflexology can produce significant results for women regarding pain intensity and the duration of labor in primiparous (women who are pregnant for the first time).

Likewise results for pregnant women had been reported from Iran in 2010.

However… it is important to be aware that there is no consensus among reflexologists on how reflexology is supposed to work; a unifying theme is the idea that areas on the foot correspond to areas of the foot, hand and ear, and that by manipulating these one can improve health through one’s qi.

Therefore it could be very well possible that these findings result from the same ‘human touch’ principles that are being used in haptonomy.

(A few more detailed hand reflexology charts are available in the article: ‘Key-elements of a hand reflexology chart‘)

 Earlier this week the BBC has presented a report about the first woman in the world who has managed to write a different language with each of her hands… simultaneously!

Chen Siyuan (24) is an ambidextrous translator from Handan in China’s northern Hebei province, and she learned herself to write with both hands at the same time, in order to complete her translation-work faster. She discovered that repetition-writing with two hands has helped her to use her time more efficient.

By the way, her talents extend to writing poetry using different hands to write consecutive sentences at the same time, and perhaps the most surprising aspect of this story is that Chen Siyuan is able to writing Chinese with one hand and English with the other.

Here’s the BBC-video report about Chen Siyuan’s rather remarkable ultimate ambidexterity writing skills: 

Two hands writing two different languages

Recent studies show that if you kept your fingers away from your face and out of your mouth-nose-eyes, you’d lower your risk of self-inoculating with opportunistic germs.

Cursing your sick colleague for the infection you can feel settling into your chest? You might want to aim the finger of blame closer to home. It’s entirely possible you may have infected yourself with whatever respiratory bug has latched onto your lungs. The same can be said about some of the stomach-wrenching gastrointestinal ailments people occasionally get.

People sometimes self-inoculate. They take germs they picked up on their hands when they were hanging onto bus poles and they deliver the bugs to places where those bugs can go from harmless to disease causing. They stick germ-coated fingers into their mouths, they rub their eyes, they are even known to poke a finger into a nostril.

Bug on skin becomes bug on mucus membrane – a much more porous surface and an easier route to a warm and welcoming place for the bug.

Handwashing and alcohol gels can slough those germs off your fingers. And that’s why public health officials repeat the handwashing mantra relentlessly.

But a group of researchers suggests there’s a part of the prevention equation that public health folks don’t stress often enough: If you kept your fingers out of your mouth-nose-eyes, you’d lower your risk of self-inoculating.

“People touch their faces, touch their mouths, pick their noses and all of that. And in those behaviours they can bring these viruses that are on their hands to the muscosa … where they can really infect us,” says Wladimir Alonso, an infectious diseases researcher at the U.S. National Institutes of Health’s Fogarty International Center.

Alonso and some colleagues wrote a letter to the Journal of Infectious Diseases recently to make the point. They had done a small study where they observed 249 randomly selected individuals in public spaces in Florianopolis, Brazil and on the Washington, D.C. subway system. The individuals they observed touched common surfaces and their mouth and nose area at a rate of 3.3 and 3.6 touches respectively an hour.

Their point? Handwashing alone can’t keep up with the infection potential of self-inoculation events. Or as they put it, ” … the opportunities for hand re-contamination in public settings occurs at a much higher rate than any viable hand washing frequency.”

They suggest public health campaigns should also teach people about how they infect themselves by touching their mucus membranes, so they become more aware of the role these behaviours could play in acquiring infection.

Dr. Jody Lanard likes the suggestion. A risk communications expert based in Princeton, N.J., Lanard monitors public health messaging about influenza closely, and says officials often overstate the benefits of handwashing.

That’s not to say Lanard doesn’t believe in handwash-ing. She is, in fact, a big fan of the practice. But she’d prefer it if authorities stuck to the science – and says there isn’t that much evidence handwashing cuts down on flu transmission. (That doesn’t mean it doesn’t, just that there aren’t a lot of studies showing that it does. )

Lanard thinks public health messaging should suggest that it’s plausible that frequent handwashing reduces the risk of acquiring colds and the flu.

The author of a book on hygiene says public health messages about handwashing and self-inoculation should be synergistic. “I don’t think it’s an either-or thing,” says Dr. Bonnie Henry, author of Soap and Water and Common Sense.

Henry is the medical director of communicable disease prevention and control services at the British Columbia Centre for Disease Control. She says it can be difficult to get people to think about self-inoculation.

“I think it’s inevitable that you’re going to touch your face and you really need to make sure that you clean your hands regularly because that’s what’s going to protect you at the end of the day.

“I always say, ‘It’s not having bugs on your hands that’s the issue. It’s when you go to eat your sandwich or rub your eye. That’s when you’re going to get sick from it.'”

Alonso says it’s important to keep the issue in context. He doesn’t want to turn people into hypochondriacs.

While people can self-inoculate, it isn’t going to happen every time a person puts a finger into their mouth or rubs the bottom of their nose.

That said, when there is a disease outbreak, such as a flu pandemic, having people aware of the role they can play in triggering their own infections could be helpful in slowing the spread of disease.

Via: The Windsor Star

Looking for the next Halloween-fun idea? Let’s make a Scary Ice Hand in just 5 steps:

1) Buy some latex rubber gloves, wash them and turn inside out.

2) Fill the gloves with water and tie a knot in the end.

3) Place the gloves in your freezer, make sure that the fingers a filled with the water to get the best effect.

4) When you need your hands run lukewarm water over the gloves and carefully remove the ice from the glove. Be careful you don’t break any fingers off, but if you do don’t worry, it can all add to the effect.

5) Place the hands in the punch bowl and enjoy your severed hand drink!

Have a go at this simple idea – fun to make and makes a great impact on the table at your Halloween Party!

Remember don’t take out of the freezer too early, don’t want it to have melted before your guests arrive.

Via: Family Zone

Since 2008 Global Hand washing Day is celebrated around the world every year on October 15 to activate communities, households, schools, and workplaces to wash hands with soap to hold back life-threatening diseases.

This year the theme is to “Help More Children Reach their 5th Birthday“.

The short film (above) ‘It’s in Your Hands’ is a wonderful tribute – illustrate that for many people around the world it is not normal at all to have clean water ready available at their homes.

More interesting hand hygiene reports are available at:

Hands on Hand Hygiene

The Guardian, Aug 1 – People have started speaking with hashtags. Not often, and not, in most cases, people anyone really likes, but people nonetheless. And the problem – beyond the fact that this is happening at all – is that no one seems to be quite sure how to say, for example, #spokenhashtag.

Abruptly inserting the word “hashtag” mid-sentence just won’t do. It’s far too clunky, like having to shout out “inverted commas!” before and after a suspect sentence, instead of forming a pair of air-quote bunny rabbits.

An “air hashtag” also looks tricky: attempting to draw out the # symbol with a finger takes four time-consuming strokes, and makes you look as if you’ve paused mid-thought to bust out a hand-jive to the imaginary music in your head.

Trying it with two fingers and two quick strokes – one horizontal and one vertical – just looks like an effete mimed raptor attack, while going all-out with two slashes of both hands risks being mistaken for a bizarre attempt at semaphore without flags.

They would all also require you to say “hashtag” while doing them anyway. At least at first, until people caught on.

No, we need standardisation. We need – drumroll please – a hashtag tone of voice. Sarcasm, after all, has one. Why not the humble hashtag? It’s the new gesture-language, and it appears a matter of time before you’ll tweeting fingers everywhere!

Here’s a fun experiment: stop what you’re doing and use your hands to count to ten. Done? Good. Now remember how you did it, because we’re about to analyze your technique; as it turns out, how you count with your hands may say a lot more about you than you think.

So, how do you count?

Many cultures use some variation of what psychologists call the “closed fist method”, wherein one starts with a closed fist, and begins counting by unfurling the fingers of his or her hand. But the similarities end there.

“The degree of cultural diversity in finger counting… has been grossly underestimated,” write psychologists Andrea Bender and Sieghard Beller in the latest issue of  Cognition.


What finger-counting says about you and your brain

Wearing your heart on your sleeve is merely an adage, but most people do display their emotions – even if unintentionally – on their faces. Women tend to be better than men at reading other people’s subtle facial cues, especially cues from the eyes. Because of the gender difference in cognitive empathy – the ability to notice and correctly interpret body language – psychobiologistsscientists that study psychology from a biological perspective, or vice versa have hypothesized that testosterone – a sex hormone present in much higher levels in males versus females levels – could play a role in “mind reading” ability, or lack thereof.

A new study in PNASProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences validates this hypothesis by demonstrating that a dose of testosterone can make women lose some of their cognitive empathy. Researchers recruited 16 young women (age 20-25) to participate in their study. The women were given either a testosterone pill or a placebo, and then tested on their ability to assess emotions based on photographs of eyes. The test the women took is called the Adult Eyes Test, and is available for free from the Autism Research Center at the University of Cambridge. Here’s a sample question (formatting is slightly modified):

For the correct answer, click here.

Each woman was tested twice – once with placebo and once with real testosterone (in random order; they didn’t have any idea which was which). 75% of the women performed worse on the “mind reading” test after taking testosterone than after taking a placebo. So to a first approximation, an artificial increase in testosterone levels impaired women’s abilities to interpret facial expressions.

But the results aren’t quite that simple. Some women were less affected by the extra testosterone than others, and the researchers had a hunch that this could relate to their exposure to testosterone in the womb. All fetuses are exposed to testosterone while developing, but to different extents. There is a simple way to qualitatively measure fetal testosterone exposure – this parameter is believed to be correlated to the adult ratio of ring finger length to index finger length (see picture at the top of this post).

Larger ratios of ring finger to index finger lengths correspond to higher fetal testosterone levels. This study showed no difference between the inherent expression-reading ability of women exposed to higher vs. lower doses of testosterone in the womb. However, the women with longer ring fingers (higher fetal testosterone) seemed to be more easily impaired when given a dose of testosterone in pill form.

Thus, this study demonstrated that (1) testosterone administered to women can impair their ability to read facial expressions, and (2) women who experienced more testosterone in the womb are more sensitive to the effects of testosterone administered as adults. Nothing further can be definitively gathered from these results, but they seem to suggest that men’s testosterone levels could be to blame for their increased confusion about what others (especially women!) are thinking/feeling.
PS. A brand new study reported by researchers from Florida has recently (sep 2011) presented proof that fingers have hormonal receptors!
Via: ICanHasScience

The following finger length study presents a likewise effect:

How lingerie can sharpen the financial mind

As a research scientist, Dr. Erina Lee is responsible for the international relationships research at eHarmony. In the following article she described how to use hands in building relationships!



Whether they’re soft and manicured, strong and calloused, weathered and wrinkled—hands come in all shapes and sizes and can often say a lot about you. They can reveal the tattered fingernails of nervous nail biter, the orange fingers of a cheese puff lover, or the worn hands of a grandmother. And when you look even closer at the many lines and wrinkles, is it possible that your hands can reveal even more? Some people believe that clues to our basic selves can be found in the details of our hands. But do our hands really tell us anything of importance about who we really are? Is it possible that the numerous bumps and ridges unique to every hand hold some insight into our level of intelligence or into our love lives?

In an eternal quest for self-discovery, people have looked towards hand readers, among other mystics, to see if the lines in their hands really tell them something meaningful about themselves and their future. In current times, people turn to internet quizzes and online hand reading to make sense of the heart and life lines and the shape of their hands. Although these tests and quizes can be fun, when put to the test of empirical science, most of these claims and predictions cannot be verified. Furthermore, these uncorroborated predictions about personality traits and future events leave palm reading in the category of a pseudoscience.

Despite the inaccuracy of palmistry readings, however, there are aspects of the hands that have been studied empirically, including finger length. When looking at the palm of your hand, fingers straight together, you will likely notice a difference between your second (index) and fourth (ring) fingers. On average women have longer index fingers, compared to ring fingers while men have longer ring fingers compared to index fingers. This association between the two fingers, called the 2D:4D ratio, is related to levels of androgen exposure (a sex hormone higher in men) in the womb. That means that the amount of male hormones a fetus is exposed to determines this very specific detail of finger length in the hands. The precise mechanism by which androgen works is not entirely clear, but in general most theorists believe that increasing androgen exposure will masculinize a fetus. There is also some evidence suggesting that either too much or too little androgen can be feminizing to the fetus.

Because androgen exposure is related to sexual development and masculinization, researchers have begun to wonder if the 2D:4D ratio, as a marker of hormone exposure, may also predict other characteristics. Hormone exposure has been linked to things like general physical health, cognitive abilities, personality, job preferences, attractiveness, and sexual orientation. While the 2D:4D ratio may relate to these developmental characteristics, thus far the evidence supporting such a link is at best described as mixed. For example, there has been much attention dedicated to whether the 2D:4D ratio relates to sexual orientation. While there have been several studies in this area, some have shown no differences between heterosexual and homosexual men in their 2D:4D ratios (e.g., Williams et al., 2000), and others, like Lippa, have shown heterosexual men having lower 2D:4D ratios compared to homosexual men. Similarly with other characteristics like personality and attraction, the research findings have been fairly inconsistent.

Another aspect of the hands that have been conclusively studied are the ridges, the ones that cover the palms and fingers, the ones that make up our unique fingerprints. The study of these ridges is called dermatoglyphics. Similar to the finger length, these ridges are known to be established earlier in the embryonic development, while the fetus is still in the womb. Researchers have shown dermatoglyphic differences between non-deficient people and those with cognitive or genetic abnormalities, like schizophrenia, Down’s syndrome, and intellectual disability. For example, individuals diagnosed with schizophrenia show fewer ridges between two specific points under the second and third fingers [a-b ridge count] compared to non-schizophrenic controls (Bramon et al., 2005). These findings support the idea that changes in the prenatal environment can display its effects in multiple ways, including changes in cognitive development and ridges of the hands. However, the findings do not assume that all people with fewer ridges have cognitive deficiencies.

To summarize, we do know that specific details in our hands are affected by early hormonal exposure and other environmental influences in the womb. And we know that this early exposure also affects other aspects of our development. While it is intriguing to speculate further that details in our hands can predict aspects of our personality or behavior, these conjectures have not been empirically supported. It’s also likely that there are more direct measures of personality, intelligence, and behavioral traits rather than the hands. But even though you can’t currently rely on your hands to unlock all of your mysteries, one thing you can count on is more studies and discussion about them to come.