Facts and Myths About Left-Handed People
Joseph R. Anticaglia MD
Medical Advisory Board
I attended a lecture given by a surgeon who said, “If you plan to do microsurgery and you’re right hand dominant, you need to be skillful using the other hand as well.” To become more comfortable using the left hand he suggested, “Start by shaving with your left hand and use it more frequently.”
Shortly thereafter and after a few nicks and scratches, I clumsily finished shaving with my left hand for the first time. Years later, in the middle of a summer vacation, my wife and I were having breakfast and I was using my left hand to eat. We welcomed a fellow traveller who sat down at our table and remarked,
“I see you’re left handed?”
“Yes, I use my left hand. Why do you ask?”
“Today is August 13, International Left Handers Day. As you probably know, left-handed people are better athletes, more creative and smarter.”
“Really?” A conversation followed about the facts and myths surrounding left handed people.
About 90% of the population is predominantly right handed and the rest is left handed. This statistic seems to cross all national borders and has remained rather constant for thousands of years. We all use both hands to some degree, but lefties seem to be better at it.
Why there’s a tendency to be right or left handed (handedness) remains a mystery. There are no definite answers offered by researchers interested in this subject. Is it genetic, cultural, environmental or a combination of these factors? Theories abound but clear evidence is lacking why one hand dominates the other.
With no firm scientific conclusions, cultural myths and stereotypical notions take center stage about lefties. My breakfast fellow traveller made me think about his assertions that left handers people are smarter, more creative and better athletes.
Are Left Handers Smarter?
Hardyck and co-workers tested 7688 school children and reviewed numerous studies about left-handedness. They (and others) have concluded there is no difference “in intellectual performance between right and left handed subjects.” The notion that lefties are smarter than right-handed people is a myth.
Are Lefthanders More Creative?
The right side of the brain (right hemisphere) is associated with creativity, imagination, music awareness plus other functions. It’s been reported that in left handed individuals, the right hemisphere is more developed and the bundle of nerves that connect the left and right hemisphere (corpus callosum) are larger in lefties.
The hemispheres are crossed wired so that the right hemisphere controls movements on the left side of the body, including the left hand. If a right handed person has a stroke involving the right side of the brain, the left side of the body is paralyzed. This situation is a bit more complicated if a left handed person has a stroke.
Paul McCartney is probably the most famous southpaw in popular music. But some people have leaped to the conclusion that because of the brain’s asymmetry and since other lefties such as Mark Twain, Mozart and Bill Gates were/are left handed, “Lefties are creative types.” Psychologist Christian Jarrett references the book Right Hand, Left Hand by Chris McManus, the latter who writes, “although there are recurrent claims of increased creativity in left handers, there is very little to support the idea in the scientific literature.” The idea that lefties are more creative is a myth.
Are Lefthanders Better Athletes?
Many lefties have an advantage when they compete one on one in certain sports. There are many examples where left handed athletes have risen to the pinnacle of success in their respective sports: Marvin Hagler in boxing, Ted Williams in baseball, Jimmy Connors and Martina Navratilova in tennis. Fencing is another sport where the advantage goes to the left-handers. It’s a fact; certain sports favor lefties.
Most of the literature about left and right handedness is anecdotal. The assertions that left handed individuals are introverted, susceptible to immune diseases, are prone to have certain mental problems or die young are myths.
Left handers have adjusted to the world designed for righties. Can openers, school desks, three ring binders, guitars are inconvenient items for southpaws. If you’re right-handed, try brushing your teeth with your left hand or cutting a piece of paper using scissors with your left hand. Inconvenient?
Takeaway: There’s nothing fundamentally special about being left-handed. Just being left handed does not make one a creative genius, a great leader or evil. You’re just folks like everybody else… But being left handed may serve as a valuable tool for parents to encourage a left handed child with an artistic ability to pursue and fulfill their natural talent. There are many great role models who were or are left handers.
- Grimshaw GM, Wilson MS; A sinister plot? Facts, beliefs, and stereotypes about the left-handed personality; Laterality. Jan 20, 2013
- Christian Jarrett Ph. D Three Myths and Three Facts About Left-Handers; Psychology Today, March 23, 2013
- Halpern, Diane and Coren, Stanley; Left-Handedness and Life Expectancy, NEJM, October, 3 1991
- Hardyck C, Petrinovich LF, Goldman RD; Left-handedness and cognitive deficit; Cortex. Sept. 12, 1976
- Florian Loffing Left-handedness and time pressure in elite interactive ball games; Biology letters Nov 2017
- M. Raymond, and C. Faurie;; Why are some people left-handed? An evolutionary perspective; Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci; Apr 12, 2009
- Stefan Gutwinski, Understanding Left-Handedness; Dtsch Arztteb Int, Dec, 2011
This article is intended solely as a learning experience. Please consult your physician for diagnostic and treatment options.