Scientists believe technophobia starts in the womb

October 13, 2010

Having a good grasp of, or an aversion towards, using technology can be predicted by the hormones we are exposed to in the womb, researchers at the University of Bath have discovered.

Pre-natal testosterone exposure has been argued to have an effect on the way the develops that makes it either easier or more difficult to understand technology.

Researchers in the Department of Psychology found that levels of pre-natal testosterone exposure were higher in Computer Science students who achieved higher scores in their computer programming assessments.

They measured this by looking at the students’ finger, or digit, ratio – the relative length of the ring finger compared to the index finger – which has been found to indicate levels of pre-natal testosterone exposure.

Twin fetuses learn how to be social in the womb
Computer Science students with a relatively longer ring finger, which indicates higher exposure to pre-natal testosterone, obtained higher grades on their university programming course.

The study compared the finger lengths of 150 students who were studying Computer Science at the University over a number of years, undertaking a range of programming assignments and found a clear link between a student’s grades and the relative lengths of their index and ring fingers on all occasions.

The team also looked at non-Computer Science students to see if aversion to using technology was related to relative finger length. The study comprised of 119 social science students and found that a relatively shorter ring finger related to greater feelings of anxiety about using technology.

The research suggests that lower exposure to pre-natal testosterone relates to a general ‘anxiety sensitivity’, that is, being particularly sensitive to any sensations of anxiety that arise.

Dr. Mark Brosnan, leading the research, said: “It is fascinating that this index of prenatal testosterone exposure is impacting upon university grades twenty years later.

“Lower levels of pre-natal testosterone exposure were related to anxieties concerning the use of new technologies, such as computers. We have come across many technophobes during our research and this will help us better address their computer-related anxieties.

“The relationship between pre-natal exposure and sensitivity to anxiety may prove to be useful in understanding how a biological index can relate to anxiety concerning new technologies.”

Explore further: High testosterone may mean shorter lives

More information: This research will appear in a special issue on digit ratio research in the academic journal Personality and Individual Differences.

Related Stories

Men's testosterone levels predict competitiveness

December 4, 2006

After a man loses a challenge, whether or not he is willing to get back into the game depends on changes in his testosterone levels, according to new research at The University of Texas at Austin.

Hormone that affects finger length key to social behavior

November 4, 2009

The hormones, called androgens, are important in the development of masculine characteristics such as aggression and strength. It is also thought that prenatal androgens affect finger length during development in the womb. ...

Recommended for you

Cow embryos reveal new type of chromosome chimera

May 27, 2016

I've often wondered what happens between the time an egg is fertilized and the time the ball of cells that it becomes nestles into the uterine lining. It's a period that we know very little about, a black box of developmental ...

How the finch changes its tune

August 3, 2015

Like top musicians, songbirds train from a young age to weed out errors and trim variability from their songs, ultimately becoming consistent and reliable performers. But as with human musicians, even the best are not machines. ...

Shaving time to test antidotes for nerve agents

February 29, 2016

Imagine you wanted to know how much energy it took to bike up a mountain, but couldn't finish the ride to the peak yourself. So, to get the total energy required, you and a team of friends strap energy meters to your bikes ...


Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

2.3 / 5 (3) Oct 13, 2010
A correlation between testosterone and finger length somehow informs a correlation between finger length and technical ability/comfortableness which again somehow turns into a correlation between testosterone and technical ability/comfortableness. Seems like a little bit of a stretch, though admittedly this by no means invalidates the conclusion.
5 / 5 (1) Oct 13, 2010
It is a bit of a stretch, but this is just an hypothesis at this point. There will be follow-up studies, other avenues of attack, and the case will either get stronger or weaker.

I personally think this is the type of factor that would get swamped by larger effects, so even if technically true it'll be largely irrelevant. Forget about IT HR people measuring your ring finger before hiring you...
not rated yet Oct 13, 2010
Given the only measurables were finger ratio and absence / presence of technophobia you don't need to rely on the prenatal testosterone levels to draw a conclusion.

The observation remains that the finger ratio seems linked to strength of fear of technology.

I expect if this survives it's more a predictor of base level anxiety rather than base level anxiety specific to learning about technology. I've read elsewhere about it's predicting aggression, perhaps this is another such manifestation, they're less likely to quit when presented with a challenge?

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.