“Oh, you are left-handed? You must be good at drawing and other creative activities! I have a sibling/ relative/ friend who’s also left-handed.”
This is a quote that many left-handers have heard over their lifetime. If you have subscribed to pages which provide quizzes from time to time, you probably would have come across a quiz or two about lateralization such as “Are you left-brained or right-brained?” which assess whether or not you lean more towards the creative or logical side with the choices you make. Now, before we put more thoughts into the brain area specificity, let’s take a step back and think, “Are there any basis for these claims?”
Scientific explanations aside, being left-handed used to be associated with evilness and bad omens. In Buddhism, the left path is believed to be the wrong way of life, while in the Islamic society, eating with the left hand is wrong due to its historical usage for cleaning certain body parts. Even in tarot cards, the Justice card depicts a sword in the right hand, while the Devil is shown to be left-handed. With about 85% to 90% of the world population being right-handed, what’s left for the left-handed people?
Myth #1: Handedness is Fixed
Hand preference in tasks or comparison of task performances using one hand and then the other is the easiest way to measure handedness. Some activities have very strong hand preferences, the most evident of which is through writing and drawing, while the less prominent ones that we wouldn’t immediately think of are activities such as throwing a ball or hammering a nail (Porac, 2016). Handedness is only relatively more fixed in some activities as compared to others. Ambidexterity – the ability to use both hands just as well – aside, most of us would have difference hand preferences in different activities. You would probably use the same hand to write most of the time but switch hands every now and then when you are petting your pet or combing your hair, as an example. In fact, our handedness gets more and more mixed up as we get older! This was showed in a study carried out by Tobias Kalisch and colleagues involving individuals aged 20 – 90 years old who were strongly right-handed in their younger days. Whereas the participants used to be dominantly right-handed in various activities, their use of left-hand increases with age, although sadly the increase in handedness flexibility was due to a decline in their right-hand performance that comes with aging.
Myth #2: Right-handedness = Left-brained = Superior Language Abilities
Here’s something you should know, if you didn’t. Language fluency has been mapped to two areas in the brain, namely Broca’s area and Wernicke’s area. These areas are found on the left hemisphere of the brain, and like our visual system, most of our bodily functions are mapped to opposite sides of the brain; that is, our left hemisphere takes information mostly to and from the right parts of our body, and vice versa. As such, it was firmly believed for a long while that the right-handed people have better language abilities, since that would mean that the person is, so called, left-brained. But studies carried out by Springer & Deutsch among other researchers about handedness showed that like hand preference, the active areas for language dominance is also not as fixed as previously thought. If indeed language was lateralized to only one brain hemisphere, then the left-handed people would have stronger language dominance in the right hemisphere. Instead, it was found that while 95% of right-handers have left-hemisphere language dominance as predicted, only 19% of left-handed people have right-hemisphere language dominance. Handedness only makes a difference if an infant (age 6-14 months) have indicated a more regular right-hand preference consistency as compared to children that did only display consistent left/right-handedness as toddlers (age 18-24 months) (Nelson, Campbell, & Michel, 2014).
Myth #3: Lefties are Artsy and Creative
Bringing back the lateralization of brain functions, there were indeed some famous artists, music composers, and even presidents or whatnot who are left-handed and thus, their handedness was associated with their creativity and intelligence. However, this myth has been debunked all the way back in 1985 by Witelson. The creativity was not caused by their handedness or brain hemisphere dominance but rather, could be due to a part of the brain called the corpus callosum which was found to be about 11% bigger in left-handers and ambidextrous people. The corpus callosum is the main bridge that connects the two brain hemispheres, facilitating information transfer between them to share and communicate some jobs. While that part of the brain being bigger does not necessarily mean that it is better, it showed difference in the brain structures of people with different handedness. Possibly, the bigger corpus callosum would facilitate the information transfer more efficiently, connecting language and logical thinking in the left hemisphere with spatial and musical perception in the right hemisphere better than normally-sized corpus callosum.
Whether you are a left-handed, right-handed or ambidextrous person, the amount of actual differences in our genetic makeup is not all that much. While there are indeed some statistically significant differences in various aspects for people with different handedness, it should be kept in mind that handedness should not be seen as another way for the community to be further segregated than it already is, and we should all celebrate, accept and embrace our differences in their natural states.
Last but not least, if you came across an article on Mouthwire which states that left handers are not eligible for a disability status, please note that the article was satire-based and not to be taken seriously.