By: TIME: By Jeffrey Kluger
Thursday, May 14, 2009
No one knows whether Plato ever flipped anyone the bird - but he might have. People have been raising their middle finger to indicate something other than "Does this cuticle need trimming?" since the time of the ancient Greeks. Like democracy and feta cheese, it spread around the world.
The middle finger isn't the only digit with a message. The thumb talks too, but generally in happier tones, with an upward point indicating approval, good news or some other nicety. That pleasant gesture is thought to have sprung from the grim business of gladiatorial combat, when spectators in the Roman Coliseum would give a thumbs-up or down to determine whether a beaten competitor should live or die. What began in Rome similarly went global.
Billions of people may speak this digital lingo - and plenty of scientists have tried to study it. Most recently, psychologists Jesse Chandler and Norbert Schwarz came at it in a new way. In a study published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, they explored the effect that finger gestures have not on the people at whom they're aimed, but on the bird-flippers and thumbs-uppers themselves.
To read the entire news release, see the TIME's website at http://www.time.com/time/health/article/0,8599,1881743,00.html.