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J Exp Biol. 2009 Jul;212(Pt 13):2016-22. doi: 10.1242/jeb.028977.

Fingerprints are unlikely to increase the friction of primate fingerpads.

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Faculty of Life Sciences, 3.614 Stopford Building, Oxford Road, Manchester M13 9PT, UK.


It is generally assumed that fingerprints improve the grip of primates, but the efficiency of their ridging will depend on the type of frictional behaviour the skin exhibits. Ridges would be effective at increasing friction for hard materials, but in a rubbery material they would reduce friction because they would reduce contact area. In this study we investigated the frictional performance of human fingertips on dry acrylic glass using a modified universal mechanical testing machine, measuring friction at a range of normal loads while also measuring the contact area. Tests were carried out on different fingers, fingers at different angles and against different widths of acrylic sheet to separate the effects of normal force and contact area. The results showed that fingertips behaved more like rubbers than hard solids; their coefficients of friction fell at higher normal forces and friction was higher when fingers were held flatter against wider sheets and hence when contact area was greater. The shear stress was greater at higher pressures, suggesting the presence of a biofilm between the skin and the surface. Fingerprints reduced contact area by a factor of one-third compared with flat skin, however, which would have reduced the friction; this casts severe doubt on their supposed frictional function.

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