Polydactylism: Six fingers and toes may be better than five

central polydactyly causing person to have six fingers image credit wilhelmy march
Credit: Wilhelmy

In a thrilling paper published recently in Nature Communications, researchers set out to study the abilities of people with extra fingers. This condition, known as polydactyly, affects roughly two in every 1,000 newborns.

And by studying a mother and son pair who opted to keep their left and right hands’ sixth finger, the researchers made a series of discoveries about its function. These discoveries speak to a remarkable flexibility on the part of the brain and body and suggest that biological variability should be celebrated rather than scorned.

The scientists found that each of the subjects’ six fingers were represented by distinct areas of the brain’s motor cortex. Consistent with these findings, the subjects had awareness of where in space all six digits were, even when they could not see their hand. Finally, using a cleverly designed video game, the researchers showed that their six-fingered subjects could perform tasks with one hand that most people would need both hands to achieve. Together, these findings suggest that the brain is not hardwired for five fingers but could foreseeably represent as many digits as might appear on a body.

Related article:  Scientists dive deep into how the brain processes vision

Read full, original post: Studying the Superhuman

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