Scientists have recently revealed that human fists evolved across the ages, with the main purpose of being used in direct combat, for punching adversaries.
Prior studies had suggested that human hands achieved their modern-day proportions so that they could be more effective in manipulating tools.
Unlike other primates such as chimpanzees, humans possess much shorter and delicate palms and fingers, but with longer, more flexible and powerful thumbs.
It had been believed that this evolution occurred in order to supply our prehistoric predecessors with better manual dexterity and coordination when completing their day-to-day tasks, such as hunting or food preparation.
However, a controversial theory published on October 21 in the Journal of Experimental Biology suggests that other more violent factors may have been at play also.
Researchers at the University of Utah have shown that in fact clenching one’s hand into a fist causes more damage to one’s rival, while at the same time diminishing one’s own risk of suffering an injury.
This theory was proven by conducting a macabre experiment, using 9 cadaver arms which had been acquired through body donor programs.
Fishing lines were attached to the tendons in order to easily manipulate the forefingers, thumb and wrist. Also, strain gauges were placed on the metacarpal bones, located between the finger phalanges and the wrist.
These fragile palm bones are usually the most exposed during fist fights, and researchers wanted to discover exactly how much damage they would sustain.
In the experiment, the hands were connected to a swinging platform, and placed so that they would throw punches at a padded dumbbell, which had an embedded accelerometer.
Thus, the team of experts could assess the force of the fist, when the hands were positioned in 3 different ways: with palms wide open, as a relaxed fist and as a clenched fist.
Overall, scientists discovered that curling one’s fingers tightly into a fist is the most effective way of carrying out hand-to-hand combat, because it allows the delivery of more effective punches, without breaking one’s own metacarpals.
Strikes are 55% more powerful with fully clenched fists than with unclenched fists, and 2 times as damaging than when using an open hand slap.
Therefore, it might be that our ancestors evolved to have such hand shapes so that they could fight off their adversaries and attract mates, a behavior that’s commonly encountered among modern-day primates. Human fists offer an advantage primarily during brutal physical confrontation, and not during more peaceful pursuits.
“If our anatomy is adapted for fighting, we need to be aware we always may be haunted by basic emotions and reflexive behaviors that often don’t make sense – and are very dangerous – in the modern world”, explained study author David Carrier, comparative physiologist at the University of Utah.
This theory has been under attack lately because critics claim it condones aggressive behavior, by saying it’s biologically linked to our past.
For example, Brian Switek, who regularly writes fro National Geographic’s Phenomena blog, has qualified Carrier’s prior studies as “bro science – dudes pummeling each other driving human evolution”.
In response to these accusations, the lead researcher insists that this type of evidence doesn’t in any way justify violence, but simply helps understand it more precisely.
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