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Scientist Links Finger Lengths to Lesbianism

Aired March 29, 2000 - 2:35 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

LOU WATERS, CNN ANCHOR: A study in the journal "Nature" today offers new insight into the sexual orientation of women. The study says biology is responsible in part for lesbianism.

Don Knapp reports on a study with an unusual method that had surprising results.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DON KNAPP, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Women's hands may reveal their age or perhaps the nature of their work, but can they reveal something as intimate as sexual orientation? U.C. Berkeley psychologist Marc Breedlove used a photocopier and a list of very personal questions to try to identify groups of lesbian and heterosexual women by measuring their fingers.

MARC BREEDLOVE, PSYCHOLOGIST: Among the lesbian group, the index finger tended to be shorter relative to the ring finger in lesbians than in heterosexual women. And we think that means that those lesbians, again, as a group, were seeing slightly higher prenatal testosterone levels than were the heterosexual women.

KNAPP: That is, lesbians' fingers may look more like men's fingers.

Another researcher, Simon LeVay, says Breedlove's work confirms his own views on the causes of homosexuality.

SIMON LEVAY, NEUROSCIENTIST: It's one more contribution, if you like, to the idea that our personalities, including our sexuality and our sexual orientation, are influenced by things that happen when our brain first assembles itself before birth.

KNAPP: But U.C. Davis psychologist Gregory Herick says using finger ratios as a biological explanation for lesbianism is an oversimplification.

GREGORY HERICK, UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA DAVIS: We're going to find that there are many different ways that people become heterosexual, homosexual or bisexual as an adult. And I think that one of the problems that's associated with interpreting scientific findings of this sort is that people have a tendency to say, here's the answer. Now we know. And we're usually proven wrong. KNAPP: This woman, hearing the finger-length ratio findings for the first time, says it confirms her views of a genetic predisposition to homosexuality.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don't think it is purely choice. I think there's something in the brain or in the body that helps determine people's sexual preference.

KNAPP (on camera): And where you hear things like that, are you tempted to look at your own hands?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, I am. I wanted to look down, right now.

KNAPP (voice-over): Researcher Breedlove says his findings have scientific validity only when applied to groups, and he can't make any judgments by looking at any one person's hands.

Don Knapp, CNN, San Francisco.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

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