The variation of seven

Below is a picture of the IE team. Not all of them, just those based at the India Develoment Center (IDC).

Apart from their lovely smiles, I noticed something completely trivial about this picture – the number of different ways each has chosen to symbolize the number ‘seven’.

They all mean the precisely same thing, but the variation amongst the team members on how they communicate the number is quite varied.  Of the 13 team members in total:

  • 5 hold the ‘two’ digits in their right hand

  • 8 hold the ‘five’ digits in their left hand

  • on the hand when two digits are displayed:

    • 10 use the index and middle fingers

    • of the other two people (we can see) one uses their little finger and the other uses his thumb

    • all use sequential digits

  • 11 are pointing all digits upwards, 2 are pointing them towards the photographer

  • 12 have bent their arms

  • 1 showed eight digits (!) – (thanks to eagle-eyed Peter for pointing out)

At this point, you might very well think I’ve lost my mind. You could well be right. But I find these little things quite fascinating.

Here (sadly) is what I’m asking myself:

  • Are these number symbolization method ‘preferences’ learnt or not. Are they genetic?

    • As I wrote this I ‘did’ the number seven to see how I did it: to my own surprise I used my index finger and thumb – only 1 of the 13 in the pic did it like this.

    • If we could ask their parents, syblings and children to show the number seven what would we see? (I’m going to bug my own parents, brothers and sister this weekend and see)

    • Would we see pattens across regions (e.g those raised in Bangalore vs. Dehli), countries, continents or cultures?

  • If you are left handed (I am) are you more likely to hold the two digits in you left or right hand?  I used my right hand for the ‘two’ – again in the minority: 5 of 13 showed the ‘two’ with their right hand

  • Is there a ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way of doing this? Is their an ‘eek’ factor involved when seeing someone doing it a certain way?

Try it out. Try not to think about it, and let me know what happened by leaving a comment.  Tell me where you are from and whether you’re right or left handed.

The IE IDC Team

Update: Mauricio Diaz has been given all this a lot of thought.

Comments (8)

  1. "Is there a ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way of doing this?"

    Yep – the girl on the far right seems to be doing 8!

    To me, it makes sense to work from left to right, since this is the way we read. Hence, five fingers on the left hand and the thumb and index finger of the right hand.

  2. Hi Alex,

    First the answer to your poll: I’m right handed and to symbolize number seven I’d normally show the five fingers of my left hand and the index and middle fingers of my right hand.

    I was also going to comment on the questions you were asking yourself, but the comment got rather long. So instead of "polluting" your blog, I decided to post the comment in mine ( in case you’re interested.

  3. MSDNArchive says:

    Peter, you’re quite right, lol!

  4. badri says:

    Being from india, I can also tell you that no. 2 and no. 4 from the right top are actually pointing that way to make horns for the people below them. Just something people do over there quite often.

  5. MSDNArchive says:

    Thanks Mauricio, i’ve updated to my post to link to yours.

    Badri – there’s more to this pic than intially meets the eye! Nice info, thanks.

  6. Raymond says:

    I am from Norway, I am left handed, and I show the digit seven the same way as Mauricio. Oh, and I physically squirmed when I saw the way the tall guy on the left did it. Using the pinkie like that just seemed wrong, and I don’t know why I react like that.

  7. X.Static says:

    Same as Mauricio, though it’s worth mentioning that I’m right handed pretty much only when I write, I do most other stuff left handed (including playing drums). I’m also left footed (when I play soccer, always play left wing).

  8. Matt says:

    Interesting observation. I’m right handed, and I display the five on my left hand, and the two using the thumb and index finger on my right hand.

    One thing I know, though, is that several years ago, I would have used the index and middle finger to display the two. But then I went and lived in Hungary for awhile, where it seemed more common to use the thumb in counting the numbers between one and four (the thumb for one, the thumb and index for two, etc.). I picked up that habit and have used it ever since. I find it requires slightly less dexterity. I suspect, too, that the reason I show the five in my left hand is (a) it requires less dexterity to show the number five (an open hand), so I assign that task to my less dexterous left hand, and (b) when displaying a number such as seven, the five is sort of a "base" number that I don’t really consider active in the displaying of the numbers; all of the activity is happening in the displaying of the two additional fingers; so I assign the less active role to my left hand, and the more active role to my right hand.