Research conducted at the University of Granada (UGR) has found a statistically significant relation between the performance of university students on a mathematics course and exposure to testosterone in the womb.
This relation could prove that genetic and biological factors, among others, may play a leading role in academic achievement on a first-year course in mathematics in undergraduate programmes taught in the Faculty of Economics and Business Sciences (Business Administration and Management, Economics, Finance and Accounting, and Marketing and Market Research).
The study, published in the journal Learning and Individual Differences, has been conducted by Ángeles Sánchez, José Sánchez-Campillo, Dolores Moreno-Herrero and Virginia Rosales–all members of the “Public economics and globalization” research group of the UGR Department of Applied Economics.
The ratio between the length of the index finger (2D) and the ring finger (4D) is known as the ‘digit ratio’ (2D:4D). It is widely recognized as a biomarker of prenatal exposure to testosterone, that is testosterone affecting the fetus in the womb.
A high androgen load in the womb results in a longer ring finger (4D) relative to the index finger (2D) in the adult human hand. Males receive greater exposure than females, resulting in a lower digit ratio among men.
The results of this study show a statistically significant relation exists between performance on a first-year mathematics course in the Faculty of Economics and Business Sciences and exposure to testosterone in the womb.
The higher or lower the ‘digit ratio’, the worse a student’s marks
The research shows that a quadratic relationship exists between scores in mathematics and the digit ratio. Low scores in mathematics are associated both with high and low digit ratios. The highest mathematics scores are associated with intermediate digit ratio values.
However, the relationship between 2D:4D and mathematics scores is the same for both sexes, which means there is no gender difference.
As Ángeles Sanchez–principal author of the research–explains, “we found no association between digit ratio and marks obtained in other first-year subjects, which means there is a quadratic relationship between the mathematics scores and the digit ratio, regardless of whether or not the student analyzed has a high grade point average”.
The process of measuring the digit ratio of first-year students was conducted under the direction of UGR professor Pablo Brañas Garza.
The sample used for this research consisted of 516 participants (304 women). In the study, the digit ratio was calculated as the mean ratio of both hands.