Folding hands - why prefer a certain way?

Richard Norman rsnorman at
Sat Nov 3 12:35:29 EST 2001

On Sat, 3 Nov 2001 16:16:50 +0100, "Urs Enke" <urs.enke at> wrote:

>When they don't know where to put their hands, people may fold their hands.
>Many do it when praying. Maybe someone can tell me why the latter is done at
>But my primary question is another one: People usually prefer a certain way
>of folding their hands, out of the two possible positions. When intertwining
>one's fingers, the decision has to be made whether to put the right or the
>left thumb on top. (With the position of the other fingers directly
>resulting from this choice, assuming one wants the fingers of the two hands
>to "take turns".) Apparently (as I gathered from asking others), each person
>has a definite (usually subconscious, automatic) preference for one of the
>possibilities, and experiences a certain awkwardness when forcing "the other
>order of fingers".
>Does anyone have a reasoned guess whether this preference is genetically
>determined (possibly caused by anatomic differences between the two hands)
>or maybe depends on the way one folded one's hands early in life and thus
>got used to it?
>As far as my "private statistics" tell, there is no correlation to
>handedness or gender. Rather clearly, though, the majority prefers the right
>thumb on top. I do so myself. :-)

I don't know the source, but we have long used "which thumb on top"
as an example of a simple Mendelian characters in introductory
biology.  I don't remember which way was dominant (I don't have my lab
manual at home with me).  I have no idea where to find a citation.
But it is used as frequently as other traits like "attached earlobe"
(ear attachment) , "widow's peak" (forehead hairline pattern) and
"hitchhiker's thumb" (degree of backward bending of thumb).

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