Page last updated at 00:04 GMT, Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Women have 'more sensitive touch thanks to small hands'

By Michelle Roberts
Health reporter, BBC News

Woman's hands
Higher sensitivity could improve the ability to perform tasks such as embroidery or surgery

The sense of touch is more sensitive among women than men because their fingers are smaller, a study suggests.

Researchers at McMaster University in Ontario, Canada, found greater sweat pore density in smaller fingers.

The fingertip touch receptors, which cluster around sweat pore bases, were therefore more tightly packed, they told the Journal of Neuroscience.

Higher sensitivity could improve the ability to perform tasks such as embroidery or surgery, they said.

The researchers pressed progressively narrower parallel grooves against the stationary fingertips of 100 volunteers

Those with smaller fingers, and these tended to be the women, could discern tighter grooves.

The index finger is more sensitive than the little finger - but lead researcher Dr Daniel Goldreich said this could be because sensitivity improves with continued use.

Parents and teachers may have to think twice before saying things like 'Look, but don't touch'
Dr Daniel Goldreich

He now plans to research whether children have more sensitive fingers than adults.

Dr Andy Bremner, of Goldsmiths, University of London, who has studied touch in children, said: "It could be that children find touch a particularly informative sense because it is a more sensitive modality for them due to their smaller hands and bodies.

"Parents and teachers may have to think twice before saying things like 'Look, but don't touch'."

But Dr Tiffany Field, of the Touch Research Institute at the University of Miami School of Medicine, said the findings could be the result of women's skin being softer than men's and arranged slightly differently at the cellular level.

Dr Mark Paterson, a social scientist at the University of Exeter who has been studying the role of touch, said: "This study looks at one particular type of touch receptor, but touch involves a number of receptor types working together.

"If we can understand more, it could lead to better modelling of virtual touch."

It could, for example, lead to better simulations allowing online shoppers to "touch and feel" the fabrics of clothes displayed on websites, he added.



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