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January 12, 2009 11:18 pm
Scientists will on Tuesday give banks a new tool for gauging the money-making prowess of financial traders – the lengths of their fingers.
Researchers at Cambridge university have found a strong statistical link between the profitability of male traders at a London bank and the ratio of index to ring fingers on their right hand. The longer the fourth digit in relation to the second, the more money the traders are likely to make.
This ratio, known as “2D:4D”, is affected by the amount of male hormone to which people are exposed while growing in their mother’s womb.
Previous research has shown that higher prenatal exposure to testosterone and other male hormones leads to a lower 2D:4D ratio. Finger ratios have been used to predict performance in competitive sports.
“We were surprised to find that exposure to hormones in the womb had such a strong influence on future trading performance,” said John Coates, lead author of the study, which is published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a leading US journal.
Traders with the lowest 2D:4D ratios had an average annual income of £680,000 – 11 times higher than those with the highest ratios. The ratios, measured from photocopies of volunteers’ hands, ranged from 0.90 to 1.02.
The 49 traders who volunteered for the experiment came from an unnamed bank, which employs about 200 men on its high-frequency trading floor – and just three women. They try to make money from fleeting price anomalies and hold their positions for minutes, or even seconds.
Last year, the same Cambridge researchers reported the results of a different experiment in which they found that traders with the highest levels of testosterone in their body during the morning went on to make the most profit during the day.
Dr Coates, who ran a trading desk for Deutsche Bank before moving to academia, denied that the research would lead to hiring on Wall Street and in the City being decided by “biomarkers” such as finger ratios.
“Population statistics such as ours give average effects over a population but can be tricky when applied to individuals,” he said.
The next stage in the Cambridge research will be to look at other types of financial trading. “When it comes to long-run investments, we may well find that successful individuals have higher, more feminine digit ratios,” he said.
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