Folding hands - why prefer a certain way?

Richard Norman rsnorman at
Sat Nov 3 13:38:06 EST 2001

Why don't I do the right thing from the start?  I get irritated when
my students search the internet instead of the scientific literature.
But that is just what I did!  Here are some results from Entrez-PubMed

Reiss M.
The genetics of hand-clasping--a review and a familial study.
Ann Hum Biol 1999 Jan-Feb;26(1):39-48  

Hand-clasping refers to the preferential tendency for individuals to
clasp the hands together. This paper reviews the previous literature
on family data and twins, and reports new data. In this study about
55% of the population are left-hand-claspers, 44% are
right-hand-claspers, and the remaining 1% report that they have no
preference or are indifferent. Familial data suggest that
hand-clasping may be under genetic control: although the data do not
fit any straightforward recessive or dominant Mendelian model, they
are compatible with the type of model invoking fluctuating asymmetry
which has been used to explain the inheritance of handedness and
arm-folding. It is possible that hand-clasping, as for example
arm-folding, may be an idiosyncrasy due to or influenced by physical
bilateral differences in the hands. All data together are suggestive
of a genetic basis, although environmental influences are also

J Lourie added a comment in Ann Hum Biol 2000 Nov-Dec;27(6):635-6,
but I don't have the journal and PubMed did not have an abstract for
the comment.


Reiss M.
[Hand clasping--an overview].
Anthropol Anz 1999 Jun;57(2):165-84
[Article in German]

The literature concerning the asymmetry clasping hands is reviewed
based on 192 studies. This paper describes the incidence, sex
differences, age differences and genetical problems including
twinning. The incidence of left hand clasping ranges from 30% to 75%
(mean 43%). The review confirms the so-called east-west-gradient and
there is a predominance of the left type in Europe. Age and sex
differences are only small. There is only a small relationship between
hand clasping and handedness. 18 authors examined hand clasping in
families and 4 in twins. The family data suggest that hand clasping
may be under genetic control, yet it is clear that no simple genetic
model for the inheritance can be applied. Both monozygotic and
dizygotic twins show a low concordance and the R-R, R-L and L-L pairs
in monozygotic and dizygotic twins are in binomial distribution.

On Sat, 03 Nov 2001 18:26:00 GMT, Richard Norman
<rsnorman at> wrote:

>Again, I don't really have any evidence.  It is just used as a
>genetics example in many introductory biology courses.  I found at
>least a half dozen references to it on the web, but none give any
>reference (nor do we in our introductory biology lab manual).  But
>I'll keep looking.
>For example
>On Sat, 03 Nov 2001 17:59:46 GMT, "Glen M. Sizemore"
><gmsizemore at> wrote:
>>Why do you think it is genetic? It may very well be. I'm not being
>>contentious, I just wonder why you say that.
>>"Richard Norman" <rsnorman at> wrote in message
>>news:c3n17ssip64vo19b9rkp97kmii0dupk0fj at
>>> 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
>>> >Many do it when praying. Maybe someone can tell me why the latter is done
>>> >all.
>>> >
>>> >But my primary question is another one: People usually prefer a certain
>>> >of folding their hands, out of the two possible positions. When
>>> >one's fingers, the decision has to be made whether to put the right or
>>> >left thumb on top. (With the position of the other fingers directly
>>> >resulting from this choice, assuming one wants the fingers of the two
>>> >to "take turns".) Apparently (as I gathered from asking others), each
>>> >has a definite (usually subconscious, automatic) preference for one of
>>> >possibilities, and experiences a certain awkwardness when forcing "the
>>> >order of fingers".
>>> >
>>> >Does anyone have a reasoned guess whether this preference is genetically
>>> >determined (possibly caused by anatomic differences between the two
>>> >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
>>> >thumb on top. I do so myself. :-)
>>> >
>>> >Urs
>>> >
>>> 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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