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Year : 2018  |  Volume : 5  |  Issue : 3  |  Page : 167-172

Dermatoglyphics: A review on fingerprints and their changing trends of use

1 Department of Anatomy, Former Prof and Head DMCH, Ludhiana, Punjab, India
2 PIMS, Jalandhar, Punjab, India

Date of Web Publication17-Jul-2018

Correspondence Address:
Apoorva Sharma
99, Basant Vihar, Jawadi, Dugri, Ludhiana - 141 013, Punjab
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/cjhr.cjhr_112_17

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Dermatoglyphics is a study of configurations of epidermal ridges on certain body parts, namely, palms, fingers, soles, and toes. The term is derived from ancient Greek: derma = skin, glyph = carving. Dermatoglyphic patterns begin to develop in the 10th week of gestation and are complete by the 24th week. Fingerprints of both hands are not the same and persist lifelong unless dermis is damaged. They are mainly under genetic control and can be used in the diagnosis of congenital malformations. Their uniqueness has led to the analyses of one's potential and preferences. During development, various creases develop on the brain and are reflected on fingerprints representing various regions of the brain and are commonly being used in dermatoglyphics mental intelligence test. Some parents have started analyzing their children' fingerprints in early age to understand their innate characters and learning potential in terms of personal, educational, or for preference in any other enterprise.

Keywords: Dermatoglyphics, fingerprints, ridge patterns, dermis

How to cite this article:
Sharma A, Sood V, Singh P, Sharma A. Dermatoglyphics: A review on fingerprints and their changing trends of use. CHRISMED J Health Res 2018;5:167-72

How to cite this URL:
Sharma A, Sood V, Singh P, Sharma A. Dermatoglyphics: A review on fingerprints and their changing trends of use. CHRISMED J Health Res [serial online] 2018 [cited 2023 Jan 27];5:167-72. Available from: https://www.cjhr.org/text.asp?2018/5/3/167/236885

  Introduction Top

“Methods of Physicians are like those of a detective, one seeking to explain disease, other a crime.”

Dermatoglyphics, a study of configurations of epidermal ridges on the volar aspect of hands and feet, is an example of this. Dermatoglyphics (from ancient Greek derma = skin, glyph = carving) is the scientific study of fingerprints, lines, mounts, and shapes of hands. Dermatoglyphic patterns can deviate from normal in a wide array of disorders.[1] For example:

  1. Autosomal aneuploidy such as mongolism, trisomy 18, and trisomy 15
  2. Aberrations of sex chromosomes such as Turner's syndrome, Klinefelter syndrome
  3. Single Gene Disorders; such as Wilson's Disease, and Huntington's Chorea
  4. Disorders with uncertain genetic transmission such as idiopathic mental retardation, congenital heart disease, psoriasis
  5. Exogenous influences such as thalidomide damaged infants, cerebral palsy, rubella.

In the third world countries with a high load of the population, the simplicity of dermatoglyphic technique and its inexpensiveness warrants its continued evaluation as a diagnostic tool. When combined with other clinical and investigative features dermatoglyphic study can serve to strengthen a diagnostic impression and can be advocated as a useful screening device.[2]

  History Top

Man's curiosity in the field of dermatoglyphics goes back through centuries when Chinese used it as a basis for fortune telling. About the same period, ancient Indians believed that the presence of ten whorls destined a person to be a Chakravarti meaning “an emperor.”[3]

In 1684, a learned and ingenious physician, Nehemiah Grew, published the first description of the epidermal ridges which make characteristic patterns when prints are taken of fingertips. These “innumerable little ridges of equal bigness and distance, and everywhere running parallel one with another,” contain the pores of the sweat glands. Grew also noted that they were disposed into “ellipticks” and “triangles.” Grew's paper was followed by the publication in Amsterdam of a brief account in Bidloo's (1685) Anatomia Humani Corporis. In the year after that in 1686, a comparable description was given by Malpighi in De Externo tactus organo.[4] For nearly a century and a half, there were no notable advances, but in 1823, Purkinje, in a thesis, again written in Latin, described nine types of patterns (or varieties of curvature) on the fingers.

The first systematic study of the whole subject, however, was carried out by Galton (1892) around the year 1890. His early interest was in the value of fingerprints for personal identification, for they persist throughout the life. He was the first to study dermal patterns in families and racial groups.[5] It was further elaborated and improved by Sir Edward Richard Henry of Scotland Yard for identifying criminals.[6] It was realized that uniqueness of fingerprints can serve as valuable indexes of human variation, and they are increasingly used in anthropology, medicine, and genetics. Dermatoglyphics, as Harold Cummins of Tulane University, named the study of epidermal ridges in 1926, cuts across all these disciplines.[7]

For many years, evidence has accumulated, which suggest that fingerprint patterns are determined by heredity. Yet qualitative analysis and other features of fingerprint patterns such as form and direction led to inconclusive results.[8] In 1950, Cherrill published a paper on fingerprints and diseases. As a result of examination of the hands of decomposed cadavers over a long period, he noticed that the muscles and skin of the left-hand exhibit signs of greater decomposition than the right.[9] Cherill's work was followed by Fang's “A note on a-b ridge count and intelligence.”[10]

During the 1950s, the most relevant paper to appear was Walker's, “The use of Dermal Configurations in the Diagnosis of Mongolism” (1957), which extended the knowledge of dermatoglyphics in this condition and attempted to quantify dermal configurations for use as a meaningful diagnostic tool.[11]

In the past 50 years, a lot of work has been done on various aspects of dermatoglyphics and developmental disorders, to name a few: on rudimentary palms of infants damaged by Thalidomide.[11] “A dermal configurations in the diagnosis of Down syndrome;”[12] “Unusual dermatoglyphic associated with major congenital malformations;”[13] Palmar and digital dermatoglyphics in Congenitally deaf subjects.[2]

  Morphology Top

The surface of the skin and its deeper structures show various linear markings. Over 35 different names, many of them synonyms, have been applied to such lines, relating to various systems of grooves, raised areas, preferred directions of stretching, lines of nervous occurrence, and spread of infection. Some of these are clearly evident in intact skin, others only appear after some sort of intervention, for example, pinching, while the actual existence of others is debatable.[14]

Cummins and Midlo classified various pattern types on fingertips as:

  1. Arch
  2. Loop
  3. Whorl
  4. Composites.

They also advocated ridge counting in biological studies and its application to various pattern types as a measure of pattern size. The palmar surface is divided into dermatoglyphic areas, which are hypothenar, thenar, and the four interdigital areas numbered I to IV. There are four digital triradii and one or two axial triradii (t).[15]

Uchida et al., classified fingerprints into arch, loop, and whorl. Ridge count was used as a dermatoglyphic indicator. Digital triradii a, b, c, d, and axial triradius “t” were described. The position of “t” was described by measuring “atd” angle. Three major palmar flexion creases were mentioned alongwith a full or partial Simian crease present in some. They also worked on and described dermatoglyphic patterns in chromosomal abnormalities.[16]

In 1971, Bali and Chaubewrote on the formation of palmar creases and classified them as single radial base crease (SRBC), double radial base crease (DRBC), or triple radial base crease (TRBC).[17]

  Classification of Dermatoglyphics on Fingertips Top


A triradius is located at the meeting point of three opposing ridge system [Figure 1].
Figure 1: Whorl pattern (a) Tri-radii, (b) Tri- radii

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There are three main types of patterns:-


The ridges pass from one margin of the digit to the other with a gentle, distally bowed sweep. There is no triradius [Figure 2].
Figure 2: Fingerprints showing different types of patterns. (a) Whorl (b) arch (c) loop

Click here to view


It possesses only one triradius. The ridges curve around only one extremity of the pattern, forming the head of the loop [Figure 2]c. From the opposite extremity of the pattern, ridges flow to the margin of the digit, this extremity of the pattern may thus be described as 'open'. According to this, loops may further be of two types:

  • Ulnar loop – When the loop opens to the ulnar margin
  • Radial loop – When the loop opens to the radial margin.


It is distinguished by concentric design. The majority of the ridges make circuits around the core. True whorls typically possess two triradii [Figure 2]a. There are also composite patterns in which two or more designs are combined in one pattern area. They have two or more triradii. They are included under whorls.

Open fields (O)

These are configurations in which the ridges are essentially straight, and therefore, form no patterns.

Vestiges (V)

They lack the sharp recurvature of ridges which distinguish true patterns. It is merely a local disarrangement of ridges.

Pattern intensity

This is the number of triradii on all the ten fingers of an individual. The value ranges from 0 to 20.

Ridge count

These are made from triradii point to point of the core. After locating the triradii point and point of the core, as outer and inner termini of the count, the line is set in position to connect them [Figure 3]. Triradial point and print of core are not included in the count. As there are two counts in whorls, only the higher one is used. In single arches, the score is “zero.” The count on the ten fingers of each individual is then summed up to give a single value, the total ridge count.
Figure 3: Magnified views of three basic patterns (a) No line of count in arch pattern. Ridge count score is zero. (b) White line joining centre of pattern to point of tri-radius. The number of ridges cutting the line is 13. (c) Ridge count on the left of the pattern is 17, ridge count on the right is 8

Click here to view

  Classification of Dermatoglyphics on Palm Top

Interdigital areas

Interdigital intervals, the clefts between digits, are numbered in sequence beginning with the interval between the thumb and index finger. The palmer surface is divisible into dermatoglyphic areas or configurational fields, which are hypothenar, thenar and the four interdigital areas numbered I to IV. Each area is a topographic unit, and there is in some palms a discrete pattern and partial boundaries formed by triradii and their radiants for each area. Characteristically, there are four “ digital triradii” located in proximal relation to the bases of digits II, III, IV, and V. In radioulnar sequence, they are named a, b, c, and d [Figure 4]. Axial triradius (t) is located at or near the proximal margin of the palms, in the interval between thenar and hypothenar eminences. The configurational area lying between digital triradii “a” and “b” is interdigital II, that between triradii “b” and “c” is interdigital III, and the area between triradii “c” and “d” is interdigital IV [Figure 5]. When a digital triradius fails or is much displaced the midpoint of the base of the corresponding digit affords a landmark separating the interdigital areas on either side. The configuration may be a true pattern (whorl or loop), a vestige or an open field. Whenever there are two patterns in an area, the one on the radial side is written first.
Figure 4: Impression of right hand showing all four digital tri-radii (a-d)

Click here to view
Figure 5: Impression of right hand showing triple radial base palmar crease

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Whorls are designated as “W”; loops as “L” or “l” if the pattern is small (ridge count is less than six), vestiges are 'V' and open fields “O.”

Palmar flexion creases

The main flexion creases-distal transverse, proximal transverse and radial longitudinal – are classified by their common point of origin as SRBC, DRBC or TRBC [Figure 6]. The DRBC can be further divided into two groups on the basis of its distal and proximal positions.
Figure 6: Impression of left hand showing simian crease

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Hypothenar patterns

There are three primary true patterns in the hypothenar area: whorls, loops, and tented arches.

“atd” angle

It is formed between lines drawn from the triradii at the bases of the index and little fingers to the axial triradius [Figure 5]. The more distal the axial triradius, the larger is the angle. Positions of the axial triradii forming angles greater than 56° are designated “distal.” If more than one axial triradius is present, the most distal one is used in the analysis.

Simian line

Usually, three flexion creases are present on the palm. In some cases, however, the two distal horizontal creases are fused to form a single horizontal crease. This line is designated as a simian crease.

  Embryology Top

A lot of work has been published on the formation of the papillary ridges.[7],[15],[18] Volar pads appear first of all in the second, third, and fourth interdigitals at about the 6th week of gestation and reach maximum size by about 12 weeks, and start regressing by the 13th week. The ridges are unalterable in the later part of pregnancy. The fetal epidermis, thin to begin with, gradually thickens through cellular proliferation and there is papillary modeling of epidermis and dermis. The ridges develop in a craniocaudal direction, those on hands being completed before those on feet. In later life also they do not change, except enlarge in size.

In 1965, Penrose emphasized that in the human fetus the permanent configuration is the result of laying a carpet of parallel lines, in some way as economically as possible, over the contours presented by the fetal hand.[19] This observation was also confirmed in nonhuman primates by Mulvihill and Smith. They also concluded in their study that character of fetal pad bears a relationship with final fingertips ridge patterns. According to them, fetal pads which are mound-shaped collections of mesenchymal tissue deep to the epidermis determine the ridge patterns. For example, if the fetal pad is high, the pattern formed is whorl.[20]

In 1970, Popich and Smithdid embryological studies on crease development. They indicated that digital and palmar creases are secondary features which are related to flexion movements in the developing hand between the 7th and 14th weeks of development.[21]

  Inheritance of Finger Patterns Top

It is suggested that finger patterns are determined by Heredity.[8],[16],[22],[23] Cummins while studying ontogenic factors with reference to epidermal ridge configurations suggested that the demonstrated heritable characters in configurations are to be regarded as manifestations of inheritance of particular fetal contours. The existence of racial variation in configurations was recognized.[22] The homolateral differences in monozygotic twin pairs in terms of standard deviation is documented in the literature. A progressive reduction in the degree of similarity is demonstrable in comparisons involving lessening relationships, the totality of pattern characteristics is not transmitted.[24] The total ridge count is an inherited metrical character. The diversity of ridge-count from finger-to-finger is also under genetic control.[8] It is also stated that the presence of extra chromosomes, minor structural aberrations all influence the development of these patterns.[16] Alter felt that nongenetic factors may also exert an influence on the inheritance of dermatoglyphic patterns. It is not compatible with any single gene model, and environmental factors (or modifier genes) also play an important role.[23]

In 1967, Gibbs worked on general heritable aspects of dermatoglyphics and commented about the hereditary absence of epidermal ridges. He emphasized that individuals may be born without fingerprints, in which case, tips of fingers are absolutely smooth. He also added a note on medical uses of dermatoglyphics by co-relating fingerprint abnormalities with chromosomal aberration as well as environmental infection in utero, such as rubella.[24]

In one of the pilot studies of neonates of low birthweight, higher frequency of Simian crease was found, both typical and transitional types. This pilot study sought dermatoglyphic findings in a group of low birth weight infants on the premise that intra-uterine disturbances leading to the ultimate birth of a “small for dates” infant might also cause unusual dermatoglyphics. The study may be regarded as an extension of the work of Davies, who found an increased incidence of prematurity among neonates with a single transverse palmar crease.[25]

  Dermatoglyphics in Genetics Top

Dermatoglyphic studies have been done with respect to a number of genetic disorders and diseases where heredity may be playing some part. To name a few, studies of dermatoglyphics in cancer patients, psoriasis, medical diagnosis, and congenital heart malformations are well documented.[26],[27],[28],[29]

In 1973, Fuller suggested that many genes which take part in the control of finger and palm dermatoglyphic development may also predispose to the development of malignancy.[29] Borgaonkar et al. mentioned that chromosomal imbalance of any kind has an effect on the dermatoglyphic pattern, as they found out in Down Syndrome.[30]

Ridges-of-the End Syndrome in two families and the Nelson Syndrome, both of which are dermatoglyphic syndromes, probably inherited as autosomal dominant traits have been described by David.[31]

  Dermatoglyphics in Forensic Sciences Top

The dermatoglyphics importance in forensic sciences is due to their important feature that fingerprints are unchanged in due course even after death. Three types of fingerprints are technically studied in addition to morphological types such as, plastic impressions (made in soft material like butter, soap, etc.), visible prints (prints made when fingers have been covered in blood, dirt, oil, paint, etc.) and latent prints (prints not visible to the human eye, hidden, unseen until treated). Automated fingerprint identification system scan is used in various setups. Fingerprints are put into a computer database, which transforms it into digital minutiae. This is then used to identify unknown prints with several possible matches. In the end, a technician still makes the final ID of the unknown to the known print.

  Dermatoglyphics Today Top

It helps in discovering learning Style and teach children accordingly. The counselors are suggesting the remedies on behalf of the tests. The expectation can be set right. The benefits of dermatoglyphics multi-intelligence test (DMIT) for children/students and in the corporate sector are many. The test helps in identifying his/her inborn talents and weaknesses, tailor-make any child's learning programs and help in the subject and educational stream selection. It helps in discovering one's own abilities and choose right career path. Emotional quotient, the intelligent quotient, adversity quotient, creativity quotient, etc., can be assessed. For jobs, it may help in identifying the most suitable learning and leadership styles. At many places, it is being used for preemployment screening. DMIT is done in three easy steps by the combination of new computer technology and science using DMIT software.[32]

  • Step-1: Fingerprint Scan
  • Step-2: Analyze fingerprints, for example, ATD angle has been in use for selecting many athletes in China, Taiwan, Malaysia, Japan, Russia, etc. Less than 35° ATD angle predicts the potential of a person as a born Athletes, Sharp Observer, Agile task performer. An angle of more than 46° and above considered being a slow learner.
  • Step-3: Counseling.

In recent years, US, Japan, and Taiwan have applied dermatoglyphics to diagnose congenital disorders, genetic abnormalities, educational fields, human resources, management, etc.

In a nutshell, this review brings out the importance of dermatoglyphic studies in various fields. We all are unique, and our fingerprints are major predictors of that. The modern study of the hand through decades of scientific research has come to be recognized as a powerful tool in the diagnosis of psychological, medical, and genetic conditions. It remains the main predictor of person' identity (Adhar card-Indian Identity card). DMIT is a remarkable offshoot of Harward Gardner' theory of multi-intelligence and the discoveries have made a firm empirical basis for the modern study of chirology.

Financial support and sponsorship


Conflicts of interest

There are no conflicts of interest.

  References Top

Alter M. Dermatoglyphic analysis as a diagnostic tool. Medicine (Baltimore) 1967;46:35-56.  Back to cited text no. 1
Sharma A, Singh P, Sood V. Palmar and digital dermatoglyphics in congenitally deaf subjects. JPAFMAT 2007;7:10-9.  Back to cited text no. 2
Athanikar KA. Dermatoglyphics in deaf-mute – An early diagnostic tool. Indian J Otolaryngol 1986;38:1-5.  Back to cited text no. 3
Penrose LS. Medical significance of finger-prints and related phenomenon. Br Med Bull 1968;2:321-5.  Back to cited text no. 4
Thompson MW. Genetics in Medicines. 4th ed. USA: W.B. Saunders Company;1986.  Back to cited text no. 5
Parikh CK. Parikh's Textbook of Medical Jurisprudence and Toxicology. Delhi: CBS Publishers; 1985.  Back to cited text no. 6
Penrose LS. Dermatoglyphics. Sci Am 1969;221:72-84.  Back to cited text no. 7
Holt SB. Quantitative genetics of finger-print patterns. Br Med Bull 1961;17:247-50.  Back to cited text no. 8
Fang TC. A note on the a-b ridge count and intelligence. J Ment Sci 1952;98:185-6.  Back to cited text no. 9
Miller JR. Dermatoglyphics. J Invest Dermatol 1973;60:435-42.  Back to cited text no. 10
Davies PA, Small PV. The single transverse palm crease in infants and children. Dev Med Child Neurol 1963;5:491.  Back to cited text no. 11
Berkman L, Gustavson KH, Norring A. A dermal configurations in diagnosis of Down syndrome. Basel 1965;15:3.  Back to cited text no. 12
Achs R, Harper RG, Harrick NJ. Unusual dermatoglyphics associated with major congenital malformations. N Engl J Med 1966;275:1273-7.  Back to cited text no. 13
Bannister LH. Integumental system. In: Williams PL, Bannister LH, Berry MM, Breathmach A, Dayson M, Fentiman I, et al., editors. Gray's Anatomy. 38th ed. New York, Edinburgh, London, Tokyo, Madrial, Melbourne: Churchill Livingstone; 1995. p. 378-80.  Back to cited text no. 14
Cummins H, Midlo C. Fingerprints, Palms and Soles: An Introduction to Dermatoglyphics. New York: Dover Publication Inc.; 1961.  Back to cited text no. 15
Uchida AI, Soltan HC. Evaluation of dermatoglyphics in medical genetics. Pediatr Clin N Am 1963;10:409-22.  Back to cited text no. 16
Bali RS, Chaube R. On the formulation of palmer creases. Z Morph Anthrop 1971;63:121-30.  Back to cited text no. 17
Penrose LS. Dermatoglyphic topology. Nature 1965;205:544-6.  Back to cited text no. 18
Mulvihill JJ, Smith DW. The genesis of dermatoglyphics. J Pediatr 1969;75:579-89.  Back to cited text no. 19
Popich GA, Smith DW. The genesis and significance of digital and palmar hand creases: Preliminary report. J Pediatr 1970;77:1017-23.  Back to cited text no. 20
Cummins H. Epidermal-ridge configurations in developmental defects, with particular reference to the ontogenetic factors witch condition ridge direction. Am J Anat 1926;38:89-151.  Back to cited text no. 21
Alter M, Schulenberg R. Dermatoglyphics in the rubella syndrome. JAMA 1966;197:685-8.  Back to cited text no. 22
Gibbs RC. Fundamentals of dermatoglyphics. Arch Dermatol 1967;96:721-5.  Back to cited text no. 23
Dar H, Carney FE Jr., Winter ST. Dermatoglyphics and the simian crease in infants of low birth weight. A pilot study. Acta Paediatr Scand 1971;60:479-81.  Back to cited text no. 24
Atasu M, Teletar H. Cancer and dermatoglyphics. Lancet 1968;1:861.  Back to cited text no. 25
Gibbs C, Warburton D. Studies of dermatoglyphics in psoriasis. J Invest Derm 1968; 51(1): 259-261.  Back to cited text no. 26
Mutalik GS, Lokhandwala VA. Application of dermatoglyphical studies in medical diagnosis. J Assoc Physicians India 1968;16:925-32.  Back to cited text no. 27
Preus M, Fraser FC, Levy EP. Dermatoglyphics in congenital heart malformations. Hum Hered 1970;20:388-402.  Back to cited text no. 28
Fuller IC. Inherited predisposition to cancer? A dermatoglyphic study. Br J Cancer 1973;28:186-9.  Back to cited text no. 29
Borgaonkar DS, Bolling DR, Herr HM. Evaluation of dermal patterns in the diagnosis of the Down syndrome by predictive discrimination. II Variations due to sex and ethnic background and its effect on the use of indices. Hum Hered 1973;23:442-53.  Back to cited text no. 30
David TJ. Ridges-off-the-end syndrome in two families, and a third family with a new syndrome. Hum Hered 1973;23:32-41.  Back to cited text no. 31
Abhimanyu MP, Bottiger W, Singh GD. An exploratory study about client satisfaction in dermatoglyphics multiple intelligence test. IJAR 2016;2:802-6.  Back to cited text no. 32


  [Figure 1], [Figure 2], [Figure 3], [Figure 4], [Figure 5], [Figure 6]

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