Fingerprints Do Not Improve Grip

A study by biomechanicist (apparently, there's such a thing) Roland Ennos and Peter Warman of the University of Manchester, UK, has just blown away decades of conventional knowledge: fingerprints do not increase our grip - instead, it reduces it!

Rather than singe the prints off an unlucky student to compare hands with and without prints, Ennos rigged Warman's fingers to a special device that slides a weighted sheet of Perspex across a finger and measures the resulting frictional force.

Ennos and Warman determined that the amount of friction generated went up as more of the fingerprint was touching the sheet, but not by as much as expected. This indicated that the skin was behaving like rubber, where friction is proportional to the contact area between the two surfaces.

So, if not for increasing grip, then why do we have fingerprints? Scientists think that fingerprints may improve tactile sensitivity, help water wick off fingers, and reduce shear stress.

Link - via GeekPress


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The characterization of skin as rubber is a good result. The interpretation that this means fingerprints do not increase grip is invalid.

Frictional behavior in rubber is known to be highly dependent on wetness and macroscopic roughness, especially in dynamic loading (sounds dirty). The study does not encompass any of these variables.
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Once upon a time, I was doing a little metalworking in my garage. I grabbed a hot piece of steel (sans gloves) and burned all of my fingerprints off most of my fingers. For about a week, I had an impossible time at my day job. Part of my job involved separating the yellow copies from the white copies on carbon-copy receipts.

I can assure you, fingerprints were indeed useful for that. I did the same tasks with and without fingerprints, and I noticed a difference.
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Bad science indeed. Only checking against an extremely smooth surface? There are very few, flat, glassy smooth, and dry surfaces in nature. Do that same experiment with a natural stone, a tree branch, etc. and they will have drastically different results.

Since we did not evolve with Perspex, then it is doubtful that a surface like that has anything to do with fingerprints. I read another case (can't remember the researchers of course) and they found that slightly sweaty bare hands and feet produced a superior grip when climbing trees.

I love Neatorama, and know it is mostly about entertainment, but please don't act like the "real" media and report on any study that is published. The national news does this constantly. Anybody can set up a study to produce skewed results, that's why science relies on repetition of studies to compare results.
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