Why do we fold our hands differently?

For the second consecutive year, Hillestad School is walking off with the victory for 'Nysgjerrigper of the Year'. This time, the winner is Grade 5. They wondered about and investigated the question of why we fold our hands differently.

13. jun 2007 00:00
Folde hender. Nysgjerrigperprosjekt 2007.

By Grade 5 at Hillestad School at Holmestrand in Vestfold County. Winner of 'Nysgjerrigper of the Year' 2007.

This is what I wonder about

Last year, some other pupils at the school performed research on a type of chocolate called Non Stop. As a result, this year several pupils wanted to research other sweets: Just imagine getting to eat lots of sweets at school - legally!

However, they quickly realised that any such project would be too much like what was done last year, so they finally agreed on a project that would focus on something they really wondered about. At least, no one seemed to know the answer to the question "Why do we fold our hands differently?". The children quickly confirmed their suspicions. Just by testing themselves, they found that they fold their hands with different thumbs on top. It made no difference whether or not the pupils were left-handed, and it didn't appear to have anything to do with gender.


The children had many spontaneous suggestions, but they decided first to write letters to a number of people who might possibly be able to help them. Most of the people are doctors. The responses poured in, and the pupils had lots of new questions for investigation.

Elevarbeid. Nysgjerrigperprosjekt 2007. The pupils decided to test several of the claims in the letters before formulating hypotheses. One of the doctors claimed that people have a dominant hand, and a dominant eye, foot and ear. The kids checked this on themselves, but couldn't find any distinct pattern.

Someone else had given them suggestions about how to check the way they cross their legs and arms. The class' results were very similar to what a neurologist had explained to them: nearly 60 per cent cross their legs with the right foot on top. Here too, they felt it was difficult to find a pattern to determine whether the crossing of legs and arms is related to how they fold their hands.

To get a larger sample, they check how all the children in their school fold their hands. The results were quite equally divided between the genders and by how the children fold their hands.

After extensive preliminary investigations, the class was left with a great deal of new knowledge, but without any answer as to why we fold our hands differently. However, they had enough background material to make four hypotheses:

  • The way you fold your hands is hereditary.
  • The way you fold your hands is due to the size of your hands.
  • The way you fold your hands is a motor habit.
  • The way you fold your hands is governed by which half of your brain is dominant.

Plan how to investigate the question

To continue their research, the pupils contacted the hospital again. They wanted to meet a neuroscientist that they established good contact with at the very beginning of their project.

Collect information

Elevarbeid, intervju. Nysgjerrigperprosjekt 2007. The neuroscientist was positive to meeting the pupils and invited them to a research symposium at Vestfold County General Hospital. Everyone had prepared questions and statements. The class was also contacted by the local newspaper (Tønsberg Blad) and the local TV station (TV Vestfold), which wanted to accompany them on their visit to the hospital.

As a result of the media attention, one man rang the school and reported that he had heard that everyone born between midnight and noon folded their hands with the left thumb on top. When they checked their times of birth, the pupils found that was not true.

They drew family trees, investigating the way family members folded their hands, and disproved the hypotheses that the way you fold your hands is hereditary. They thought that measurements of the size of hands might be significant, so they researched that idea. They also researched the hypothesis that the folding of hands is a motor habit developed at about age two. Otherwise, the hypothesis that the folding of hands is governed by the dominant hemisphere of the brain was laid to rest.

They pursued the hypotheses they had the most faith in, testing about 200 children in daycare. They also measured the volume of their own hands.

This is what we found out

5. klasse, Hillestad skole. Vinnere av Årets Nysgjerrigper 2007. Of their four main hypotheses, the class was ultimately left with the hypothesis that they thought was the most probable explanation for why we fold our hands differently: "The way you fold your hands is a motor habit that you learn when you are little, about 3 or 4 years old. In their first years of life, children can't manage to fold their hands by intertwining every other finger. Correct intertwining of the fingers develops with age, and it appears that children develop fairly stable folding patterns once they reach the age of three. By that time, most people put the same thumb on top whenever they fold their hands."

Pass it on

Once their work was done and the report finished, the pupils organised a press conference at their school. They also posted their report on the school website and made it available at the school library. The class won the children's research competition as a result of the good work they did.

Download the project report in Norwegian (pdf).

Download the appendix (pdf).

Translation: Linda Sivesind