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Why Are Women More Sensitive To Touch Than Men?

Women are more sensitive to touch than men, but not because of their gender, according to Peter and his colleagues of McMaster University in Toronto, Canada. It seems that this observed difference is not an effect of age, but an effect of size.
Here’s the abstract of the study:

We have observed that passive tactile spatial acuity, the ability to resolve the spatial structure of surfaces pressed upon the skin, differs subtly but consistently between the sexes, with women able to perceive finer surface detail than men. Eschewing complex central explanations, we hypothesized that this sex difference in somatosensory perception might result from simple physical differences between the fingers of women and men. To investigate, we tested 50 women and 50 men on a tactile grating orientation task and measured the surface area of the participants’ index fingertips. In subsets of participants, we additionally measured finger skin compliance and optically imaged the fingerprint microstructure to count sweat pores. We show here that tactile perception improves with decreasing finger size, and that this correlation fully explains the better perception of women, who on average have smaller fingers than men. Indeed, when sex and finger size are both considered in statistical analyses, only finger size predicts tactile acuity. Thus, a man and a woman with fingers of equal size will, on average, enjoy equal tactile acuity. We further show that sweat pores, and presumably the Merkel receptors beneath them, are packed more densely in smaller fingers.

Link to the original study.

  1. WeAreGeek
    10/01/2010 at 04:21

    So, I’m a guy. Medium height (1.80m), light-weight (58kg). I can tell you: I am rather sensitive when it comes down to tactile encounters. Just point a finger at me and I will curl up giggling and begging for you not to tickle me.

    On the other hand: cut me with a knife, hit me in the face or put me in an environment of -20˚C… Will I feel it? Sure. Will I classify it as pain? Oh yes! But will it bother me? Hell no! Although I believe that the state of mind has a lot to do with this: stab me in the stomach when I’m being chased by a wolf and I won’t squeak; prick me with a needle while I’m watching my favourite movie I’ll jump up and screem.

    This research might come in handy when it comes down to the size of fingertips, but even then: since I’m a guitarist I have quite some calluses on my finger tips, so I won’t feel a thing 😉

  1. 03/01/2010 at 16:55

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