Menus Subscribe Search

Findings

womb-artists

Are Artists Created in the (Testosterone-Rich) Womb?

• June 16, 2014 • 8:00 AM

(Photo: agsandrew/Shutterstock)

New research suggests artists may begin their journey toward creative achievement before they are born.

Why certain people become artists is a question that perplexes evolutionary theorists, who see no obvious way that making art helps perpetuate the species. While their attempts to explain this apparent paradox remain controversial, researchers in this field have discovered a tantalizing bit of information: Artists are apparently more likely to emerge from wombs that contain a greater concentration of testosterone.

At least, that’s the conclusion of psychologist Danae Crocchiola of the University of Messina, who discovered this correlation among artists living in a culturally rich New Mexico city. Her findings echo those of a 1999 study, which found a similar pattern among musicians in a British orchestra.

There are intriguing differences between the two studies. While the British researchers found this phenomenon only among male musicians, Crocchiola reports it held true for both male and female visual artists in her study.

Since “high levels of testosterone in men advertise good genes, fitness, fertility”—traits women tend to find attractive—it’s plausible that artistic ability evolved as a way for men to advertise these desirable attributes.

These findings—which need to be duplicated in a larger sample—suggest a prenatal testosterone boost may propel at least some people into creative pursuits.

Crocchiola collected data on 25 male and 25 female visual artists in Las Cruces, New Mexico, measuring the ratio of the length of their second and fourth fingers. There is considerable evidence that this ratio is a marker for prenatal testosterone levels.

After examining their right and left hands, she found both male and female artists had significantly lower second- to fourth-digit ratios than non-artists. “Surprisingly,” she adds, “no significant differences between the mean digit ratios of male and female artists were recorded in our sample.”

“These results support the hypothesis that art may represent a sexually selected, typically masculine behavior that advertises the carrier’s good genes within a courtship context,” Crocchiola concludes.

She argues that, since “high levels of testosterone in men advertise good genes, fitness, fertility”—traits women tend to find attractive—it’s plausible that artistic ability evolved as a way for men to advertise these desirable attributes.

The theory, however, does not explain why the female artists had taken similarly strong testosterone baths before emerging from the womb. That unexpected finding will undoubtedly reinforce the skepticism of those who see the evolutionary explanation as reductive.

Nevertheless, it’s a fascinating finding, one deserving of further research. If nothing else, it helps explain why so many artists feel a sense of calling or mission: Their appetite for art may have been instilled even before they were born.

Tom Jacobs
Staff writer Tom Jacobs is a veteran journalist with more than 20 years experience at daily newspapers. He has served as a staff writer for The Los Angeles Daily News and the Santa Barbara News-Press. His work has also appeared in The Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, and Ventura County Star.

More From Tom Jacobs

A weekly roundup of the best of Pacific Standard and PSmag.com, delivered straight to your inbox.

Recent Posts

July 23 • 4:00 AM

Our Fear of Immigrants

Why did a group of fourth graders rally in support of an undocumented classmate while the citizens of Murrieta, California, tried to stop immigrant children from entering their town?


July 22 • 4:00 PM

Can Meditation Really Slow Aging?

Is there real science in the spiritualism of meditation? Jo Marchant meets a Nobel Prize-winner who thinks so.



July 22 • 2:00 PM

The Alabama Judge Who Refuses to Let Desegregation Orders Go Ignored

A federal judge in Alabama says a local school board has failed to meet legal mandate to integrate.


July 22 • 12:00 PM

On the Destinations of Species

It’s almost always easier to cross international borders if you’re something other than human.


July 22 • 10:51 AM

The Link Between Carbs, Gut Microbes, and Colon Cancer

Reduced carb intake among mice protected them from colon cancer.


July 22 • 10:47 AM

Irrational Choice Theory: The LeBron James Migration From Miami to Cleveland

Return migrants to Cleveland have been coming home in large numbers for quite some time. It makes perfect sense.


July 22 • 9:32 AM

This Time, Scalia Was Right

President Obama’s recess appointments were wrong and, worse, dangerous.


July 22 • 8:00 AM

On Vegas Strip, Blackjack Rule Change Is Sleight of Hand

Casino operators are changing blackjack payouts to give the house an even greater advantage. Is this a sign that Vegas is on its way back from the recession, or that the Strip’s biggest players are trying to squeeze some more cash out of visitors before the well runs dry?


July 22 • 6:00 AM

Label Me Confused

How the words on a bag of food create more questions than answers.


July 22 • 5:07 AM

Doubly Victimized: The Shocking Prevalence of Violence Against Homeless Women

An especially vulnerable population is surveyed by researchers.


July 22 • 4:00 AM

New Evidence That Blacks Are Aging Faster Than Whites

A large study finds American blacks are, biologically, three years older than their white chronological counterparts.



July 21 • 4:00 PM

Do You Have to Learn How to Get High?

All drugs are socially constructed.


July 21 • 2:14 PM

The New Weapon Against Disease-Spreading Insects Is Big Data

Computer models that pinpoint the likely locations of mosquitoes and tsetse flies are helping officials target vector control efforts.


July 21 • 2:00 PM

Why Are Obstetricians Among the Top Billers for Group Psychotherapy in Illinois?

Illinois leads the country in group psychotherapy sessions in Medicare, and some top billers aren’t mental health specialists. The state’s Medicaid program has cracked down, but federal officials have not.



July 21 • 12:00 PM

What Makes You So Smart, MacArthur Genius?

Noah Davis talks to Yoky Matsuoka about youth tennis, wanting to be an airhead, and what it’s like to win a Genius Grant.


July 21 • 11:23 AM

People Are Clueless About Placebos

Doctors know that sometimes the best medicine is no medicine at all. But how do patients feel about getting duped into recovery?


July 21 • 10:00 AM

How Small-D Democratic Should Our Political Parties Be?

We need to decide how primaries should work in this country before they get completely out of hand and the voters are left out entirely.


July 21 • 8:00 AM

No, Walking on All 4 Limbs Is Not a Sign of Human ‘Devolution’

New quantitative analysis reveals that people with Uner Tan Syndrome don’t actually walk like primates at all.


July 21 • 6:00 AM

Sequenced in the U.S.A.: A Desperate Town Hands Over Its DNA

The new American economy in three tablespoons of blood, a Walmart gift card, and a former mill town’s DNA.


July 21 • 5:00 AM

Celebrating Independence: Scenes From 59 Days Around the World

While national identities are often used to separate people, a husband-and-wife Facebook photography project aims to build connections.


July 21 • 4:00 AM

Be a Better Person: Take a Walk in the Park

New research from France finds strangers are more helpful if they’ve just strolled through a natural environment.



Follow us


Subscribe Now

The Link Between Carbs, Gut Microbes, and Colon Cancer

Reduced carb intake among mice protected them from colon cancer.

The New Weapon Against Disease-Spreading Insects Is Big Data

Computer models that pinpoint the likely locations of mosquitoes and tsetse flies are helping officials target vector control efforts.

People Are Clueless About Placebos

Doctors know that sometimes the best medicine is no medicine at all. But how do patients feel about getting duped into recovery?

No, Walking on All 4 Limbs Is Not a Sign of Human ‘Devolution’

New quantitative analysis reveals that people with Uner Tan Syndrome don't actually walk like primates at all.

Why Didn’t California’s Handheld Phone Ban Reduce Motor Accidents?

Are handheld cell phones as dangerous as they have been made out to be?

The Big One

Today, the United States produces less than two percent of the clothing purchased by Americans. In 1990, it produced nearly 50 percent. July/August 2014

Copyright © 2014 by Pacific Standard and The Miller-McCune Center for Research, Media, and Public Policy. All Rights Reserved.