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Water-induced finger wrinkles improve handling of wet objects

Lookup NU author(s): Ric Kareklas, Professor Daniel Nettle, Dr Tom SmuldersORCiD


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Upon continued submersion in water, the glabrous skin on human hands and feet forms wrinkles. The formation of these wrinkles is known to be an active process, controlled by the autonomic nervous system. Such an active control suggests that these wrinkles may have an important function, but this function has not been clear. Recently, Changizi and colleagues proposed the hypothesis that wrinkles serve to improve handling of wet or submerged objects by removing water from between the fingers and the objects, much like rain treads remove water from between a tyre and the road surface. In this study, we show that, consistent with the rain-tread hypothesis, wrinkles improve the handling of submerged objects. Participants manipulated submerged objects more quickly with wrinkled fingers than with unwrinkled fingers, while wrinkles made no difference to manipulating dry objects. These findings support the hypothesis that water-induced finger wrinkles are an adaptation to handling objects in wet conditions and provide the first empirical support of any functional explanation for this well-known phenomenon.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Kareklas K, Nettle D, Smulders TV

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Biology Letters

Year: 2013

Volume: 9

Issue: 2

Print publication date: 08/01/2013

ISSN (print): 1744-9561

ISSN (electronic): 1744-957X

Publisher: Royal Society Publishing


DOI: 10.1098/rsbl.2012.0999


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