Animated creatures generally have four fingers (including thumbs). In a real-world context what physical possible consequences would result in having only four (or 8) fingers?

Physiologically, what tasks (if any) would be rendered more difficult by having only three fingers and a thumb? Or is the human fifth finger merely unnecessary and make no significant difference?

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Which finger do you consider to be the fifth? The thumb and pinky are the most important fingers on the hand. The former lets us grip, the latter determines how hard we can grip. The ring finger seems largely unnecessary, but might just serve the same role as pinky if we only had four fingers. $\endgroup$
    – Frostfyre
    Commented Jun 21, 2018 at 12:29
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    $\begingroup$ Are talking about a human born with 4 fingers or an organism that evolved with four fingers? The latter will have little effect. $\endgroup$
    – John
    Commented Jun 21, 2018 at 14:13
  • $\begingroup$ Do you really mean "… physical possible consequences would result in having only four (or 8) fingers" or "… physical possible consequences would result from having only four (or 8) fingers"? In the former you're asking what caused having 4 fingers per hand, the latter asks what the consequences are of having 4 fingers per hand. Your wording makes it more likely that you're asking the latter, but it could be the other way around, just with somewhat worse wording. $\endgroup$
    – Makyen
    Commented Jun 22, 2018 at 1:14
  • $\begingroup$ But my question is... will cartoon characters have three fingers then? :) $\endgroup$
    – McTroopers
    Commented May 15, 2019 at 16:54

5 Answers 5


Speaking from a software guy's perspective.

If we (homo sapiens) had evolved without the pinky finger, some tasks would be more difficult, and some would become easier.

Any task that has to do with gripping would become slightly more difficult, as the pinky allows your hand to more fully encompass an object (5 areas of contact for gripping a baseball as an example). The loss of a pinky would have to be replaced with a broadening of the other fingers to increase grip surface, and perhaps even a slight offset of what is now the ring finger (similar to how the thumb is offset, though not so extreme).

On the plus side, evolution with 8 digits instead of 10 would likely introduce counting in base-8 (or octal) Which would make binary-based tasks (such as low level computing and digital information transfer/storage) much more intuitive, since 8 is a power of 2, and 10 is not.

The sudden loss of the pinky from our current state (as opposed to evolving without it) would be almost entirely detrimental though, as we evolved to utilize it.

  • 29
    $\begingroup$ A base-8 counting system sounds really convenient. Oh, the humanity! If only we had developed the concept of thumbs as parity bits earlier! (: $\endgroup$
    – xDaizu
    Commented Jun 21, 2018 at 16:10
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    $\begingroup$ @xDaizu since I'm a colossal nerd, I count in binary on my fingers. Since I'm incredibly lucky, I'll teach my children to do the same. xD $\endgroup$
    – GOATNine
    Commented Jun 21, 2018 at 16:48
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    $\begingroup$ @xDaizu if only finger parity errors could be corrected as easily as in software! $\endgroup$
    – Alexander
    Commented Jun 21, 2018 at 17:44
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    $\begingroup$ @GOATNine just don't let them use 4 in polite company. $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 21, 2018 at 18:31
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    $\begingroup$ FYI, base 12 is arguably more convenient, with 12 being dividable by 1,2,3,4,and 6, while 8 has 1,2,4. humans deal with 3 multiples and thirds a lot. We can actually count with base 12 on a hand by using the thumb and in-between points on your fingers (in-between joints). on one hand you can count to 12 this way. We would no longer have this ability with the loss of a finger. $\endgroup$
    – Krupip
    Commented Jun 21, 2018 at 19:08


  • Little fingers disappears as evolutionary trait, it means that hand will be smaller, to optimize use of remaining fingers, or index, middle finger and anular will become broader to accomodate this change. But since, again, this would be the result of evolution, the species wouldn't even care, if not on a scientific curiosity. it's not as if we, ourselves, go try being quadruman with feet that no longer serve that function.

  • Anular and middle finger unite so we have a hand with a larger finger than the other. And again, we'd have adapated to its use. Would it be clumsier or not? The inhabitants of this parallel world wouldn't know, since they wouldn't care about the 'before' of eons ago.

And mathematics wouldn't change radically. Arab didn't introduce the 0 to count to ten. And 0, like 1, in informatics, serve to define a state of an input, not as part of a countdown -speaking of which, yes, that would start with Eight.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Minor correction: 0 was invented in India (Arabs spread it around) $\endgroup$
    – Dhara
    Commented Jun 22, 2018 at 9:10

A disadvantage would be much simpler music.

Most musical instruments utilize all our fingers, to produce richer sounds. Our music would be much more simple with 20% less fingers.

  • $\begingroup$ I think you're overstating the impact a little. Most musicians produce more complex music by joining a band! $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 22, 2018 at 3:49
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    $\begingroup$ I don't think it's overstated. Most musicians play by themselves, not in a band, and even in a band, it's harder to achieve a rich sound by adding more musicians than it is if each individual musician can produce a rich sound. I think bluegrass banjo would suffer, as would Travis style guitar picking. It would be a blow to jazz piano. The woodwinds would suffer. $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 22, 2018 at 4:30
  • $\begingroup$ Perhaps the wording "Some of our instruments would be simpler and some music would be simpler " would be better. Not all instruments utilise all 10 fingers. A keyboard instrument could be the same, but could only be played with 20% less fingers. Woodwinds on the other hand could still use the 6 or seven hole flutes as the basis and potentially develop different mechanics for chromatic notes (or have differently tunes instruments - one for C, one for C#, one for D and so on). This type of instrument would require a bit more skill for the same kind of playing - either build or play skill $\endgroup$
    – A.D
    Commented May 16, 2019 at 10:14

Like earlier answers I would agree that from an evolutionary standpoint, it wouldn't make too much of a difference to the individuals who never knew any different. Imagine if you had a sixth finger, just to flip your perspective. A four fingered hand would likely be slightly different in proportion though. The fingers would almost certainly be larger in order to compensate for the loss of gripping ability. That could take the form of either thicker fingers on an equivalent palm, or longer fingers on a smaller one. Possibly even a combination of the two.

This could have various affects depending on which direction you take, it's really up to you. Maybe longer fingers means you have increased dexterity. This could mean the species has an advantage when manipulating intricate objects, think a spider manipulating prey caught in its web (although 5 fingers also allows us certain advantages in manipulation). Or maybe thicker fingers means they have more muscle and are thus stronger. This could be handy (excuse the pun) if the species does quite a bit of climbing or needs the strength to crush hard food sources like coconuts or shellfish.

Either of those could evolve into any number of differences in technology for a more advanced race. Think of the things that we need tools to help us that wouldn't be necessary for beings with hands like that.

From a mental perspective there really shouldn't be any difference except for the also previously mentioned use of base 8 math. After all, we think in 10s because we have 10 fingers, if we had 8 it only makes sense that we would think in 8s. This could however lead to various technological differences because base 8 math is in many ways more efficient than base 10, and is after all a different type of math. Basic arithmetic should be pretty much the same, but any advanced math would change drastically. And that would even more drastically change the development of almost any advanced technology.

These are just a few of my own thoughts on the subject, but rereading your question I now realize that you were asking for disadvantages, not possible advantages. I suppose if the hand had no change in proportion, and differed only in number of digits, the hand would then have losses in the above alternatives. There would be a decrease in both dexterity and strength. The fifth finger (whichever finger you choose as the fifth) provides both increased points of contact for grip and manipulation, as well as the simple addition of more muscle. A person with 4 fingers on a hand would thus have weaker hands and be less agile when performing complex tasks.


Advantages for having 5 fingers:

  • More redundancy just in case you lose a finger or two.
  • The odd number of fingers allows the middle finger to act as an anchor/pivot so that your hand doesn't pronate or supinate inadvertantly.

Advantages for having 4 fingers:

  • Simpler musculature.
  • Probably finer dexterity since you fewer fingers to focus on.

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