After being in a pool for some time, we have all seen our fingers get wrinkly, but until now, no one has really understood why this happens. In a new study published today, Jan. 9, in Biology Letters by the Royal Society, researchers from Newcastle University set out to solve this mystery and see if having wrinkly fingers gives us any advantages.”We have shown that wrinkled fingers give a better grip in wet conditions — it could be working like treads on your car tires which allow more of the tire to be in contact with the road and gives you a better grip,” said Tom Smulders of the Institute of Neuroscience of Newcastle University in a press release.
Researchers previously thought that the wrinkling of the fingers was due to osmosis, where water entered the upper layer of skin, causing it to swell and create all these ridges. In actuality, this is an active process controlled by the autonomic nervous system, where the narrowing of blood vessels reduces the amount of volume in your fingertips. Knowing it’s an active process must mean it serves a purpose.
“Going back in time this wrinkling of our fingers in wet conditions could have helped with gathering food from wet vegetation or streams. And as we see the effect in our toes too, this may have been an advantage as it may have meant our ancestors were able to get a better footing in the rain,” Smulders said.
To test this theory, researchers asked 20 participants to move 45 wet or dry objects with wrinkly or normal fingers.
Transferring dry objects with either wrinkly or normal fingers resulted in the fastest completion times, while transferring wet objects took 17 per cent more time. Transferring wet objects with wrinkled fingers took 12 per cent less time than with normal fingers.
Having wrinkly fingers improved the grip on wet objects, but made no difference when handling dry objects.
Smulders says, “This raises the question of why we don’t have permanently wrinkled fingers and we’d like to examine this further. Our initial thoughts are that this could diminish the sensitivity in our fingertips or could increase the risk of damage through catching on objects.”
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