Ready to have your mind blown? For a long time, scientists thought that our fingers wrinkled underwater because of osmosis — meaning the skin's cells absorbed water, causing our fingertips to shrivel up. But new research suggests another explanation for why our digits suddenly morph into raisins when wet: The wrinkles help us to better grip objects underwater, in much the same way tire treads help cars stay on the road.
Scientists were tipped off in recent years when they discovered that severed fingers didn't wrinkle underwater. This suggested the wrinkling mechanism was controlled by the nervous system, and was therefore some kind of evolutionary response.
A study in 2011 showed that the wrinkles indeed functioned like rain treads, in that the grooves helped divert water away from the fingertips. For this study, researcher Tom Smulder and his team at Newcastle University in the U.K. asked subjects to move wet and dry objects from one box to another with and without shriveled fingers. Unsurprisingly, people with wrinkled hands transferred objects 12 percent faster than those with smooth digits.
As to why our fingers aren't wrinkled at all times, Smulders says it may have something to do with maintaining our fingertips' sensitivity. Amazing stuff. The human body, ladies and gentlemen.
THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER
- It's official: The religious right is calling it quits
- 43 TV shows to watch in 2014
- Obama just kneecapped Jeb Bush and Chris Christie's 2016 prospects
- The dangerously childish morality of liberal ObamaCare supporters
- How to be the most productive person in your office — and still get home by 5:30 p.m.
- How science is accelerating our search for alien life
- The real story behind Deliver Us From Evil
- 10 classic Sesame Street moments we wouldn't show today's kids
- Inside Turkey's shadow war with ISIS
- The Hunger Games: Mockingjay — Part 1: 10 major differences between the book and the movie
Subscribe to the Week