When a couple is expecting a baby, one of the most common questions they hear is whether they're having a boy or a girl. Some people like to wait until the birth and be surprised. Others try all sorts of things to predict the sex of the baby before it's time for an ultrasound.
There are few recent studies on how many expectant parents want to find out the sex of their unborn child, but a 2007 Gallup Poll found that 51 percent of Americans said they would wait until the baby was born, while 47 said say they would want to know before.
And while science can determine a baby's sex in utero as soon as 10 weeks into a pregnancy, there are old wives' tales that have been passed down that tell parents-to-be how to guess the gender even sooner. Some swear by these tests, and some of us just do them for fun. Let's take a closer look at one of the more popular: the ring test.
How Do Your Perform the Ring Test?
To perform the ring test, take an important ring that belongs to the woman who is pregnant (a wedding ring for instance) and tie it to a thread or string. Have the expectant mother lay down, and let someone dangle the ring over her baby bump.
According to the ring test, if the ring swings in a circle, the baby will be a girl. If it swings back and forth, the baby is a boy. Of course, as with many stories and folktales that have been repeated over the years, some people say the exact opposite: If the ring swings in a circle means it means the baby is a boy and if it swings back and forth it's a girl.
Of course, there is no scientific method to determine the sex of an unborn baby other than working with an obstetrician. In fact, the ring test method is so old, there's really no way to even determine its origins.
Is the Ring Test Accurate?
So if there's no basis to this old wives' tales, can it be accurate?
Researchers at Johns Hopkins School of Public Health wanted to find out, too. In 1999, they asked 104 pregnant women to predict the sex of their unborn babies, using whatever method they preferred — the ring test, dreams or any other hunch. The women had a 55 percent success rate, which is about the same as taking a wild guess. So it seems the ring test, and others like it, can't predict a baby's gender any better than flipping a coin.
But like all superstitions or folklore, our brains are wired to want to believe. Engaging in superstitious behavior can provide a sense of control. Maybe the mother-to-be wants a girl, so she wills the ring to spin in circles. That's coincidence, though — not magic.
So why do we keep doing it? It's fun? It's wishful thinking? Both? It's harmless, too, even if it's probably not accurate.
Originally Published: Aug 18, 2015