When Hammering, Women Nail It

Any man who has ever pounded nails for a living has hit his thumb a time or two. One possible reason: he's just not that good at it. Another factor: He's probably doing it in broad daylight.

Women are more accurate at pounding nails, a new study finds. At least in the light.

Women hit the nail on the head more often in lighted conditions in a lab, but in the dark, men did better. Scientists aren't sure why, but they have a provocative idea.

In hammering out the differences between the sexes, the researchers used a mechanical plate that measured force and accuracy. They put small and large targets on the plate, to represent small and large nail heads. Then some test subjects pounded away.

"We filmed how subjects hammered, and how close the subject hammered to the target was an index of accuracy," explained study leader Duncan Irschick at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.

"On average, men were about 25 percent more accurate than women in the dark, women were about 10 percent more accurate then men in the light," Irschick said.

Irschick told LiveScience that the difference could be that men and women have different hammering strategies: Perhaps men favor force over accuracy, and women the opposite, he said. "However, if this were true, men should always be less accurate than women, which is not what occurs."

He favors this explanation:

"Men and women differ in their ability to perceive objects in light versus dark environments, and this has a subsequent effect on motor control," he speculates. "This is a provocative idea that will require a lot more data to test, and at this point, we don't have a good handle on the nature of the motor control and perceptive differences that would induce this difference, but we are excited to find out."

Irschick presented his findings today at the Society of Experimental Biology Annual Meeting in Glasgow. Jeff Lockman at Tulane University contributed to the research, which was funded by the National Institutes of Health.

Robert Roy Britt

Robert is an independent health and science journalist and writer based in Phoenix, Arizona. He is a former editor-in-chief of Live Science with over 20 years of experience as a reporter and editor. He has worked on websites such as Space.com and Tom's Guide, and is a contributor on Medium, covering how we age and how to optimize the mind and body through time. He has a journalism degree from Humboldt State University in California.