On the other hand; ‘Facts’ (and fictions) of the left-handed

August 13th was International Left-Handers Day, so we decided to do some research


About one in ten of us is left-handed.

No-one really knows why although there are numerous theories ranging from the possible (the dominant hemisphere of the brain) to the downright ludicrous (a mother’s exposure to moonlight while pregnant).

The most likely reason is genetic, but the genes that influence our dominant hand have yet to be identified.

A child born to parents where one is left-handed is no more likely to inherit the trait than any other, which may mean the gene is recessive, like blue eyes and red hair.

Even a child born to two left-handed parents is only 25% more likely to be left-handed themselves.

To all intents and purposes then, the matter is an arbitrary one decided by your God, fate or cosmic chance, depending on your point of view.

So it is hardly surprising, given the historical propensity of the human race to demonstrate its inherent distrust of ‘difference’ and ‘outsiders’ that the bigoted majority developed an entire folk-lore attached to the condition.

Even the word ‘sinister’ derives from the Latin word for ‘left’, which in medieval Christian philosophy came to be regarded as a source of foreboding and evil; ‘right’, by comparison, became a synonym for ‘correct’.

Similarly the French phrase for ‘on the right’ or “adroit” has become an English word for skilful and dextrous while the French for left - “gauche” - has entered our language as a description of clumsy awkwardness.


Throughout the middle ages a left-handed child was thought to be touched by the devil.

The ‘left-hand path’ was code for black magic and the occult.

When English illustrators depicted the figure of Joan of Arc for propaganda they showed her carrying her sword in her left hand, a sure sign of evil intent and satanic origin.

There’s a reason why Eve is usually pictured standing to the left of the Tree of Knowledge when she hands the apple to Adam.

Even in classical and neoclassical imagery and art the left hand is usually used to depict passive or ‘feminine’ characteristics and so justice, as depicted in the statue above the Old Bailey, has a sword in her right hand and scales in her left.

Likewise the Statue of Liberty carries the torch of liberty in her right hand and a book of law in her left.


Oddly enough left-handers are actually more likely to be male than female.

As late as the post war years in Britain’s schools, children who were left-handed were ‘encouraged’ to learn to write with their right hand, often with brutal physical inducements to change.

In China, Taiwan and many other parts of the Far East left-handed children are still taught to write with their right hand; though it is also suggested that using Chinese characters is much more difficult with the ‘wrong’ (left) hand.

Some of the past misguided beliefs about left-handedness have found their way into current ‘urban myths’ helped by pseudo-scientific attempts to prove them.

In 1903 Cesare Lombroso, an Italian criminologist, claimed that criminals were more often left-handed than right.

He further claimed that his studies demonstrated that ‘lunatics’ were almost exclusively left-handed.

There are court records that show cases where the left-handedness of a defendant was used as evidence of their ‘criminal nature’.

Even the most cursory research explodes this theory, of course, which should be used as a prime example of the corruption of science to reinforce prejudice.


To this day some of these beliefs persist in the backwaters of scientific discourse.

In 1988 (yes, only 28 years ago) two scientists, Diane Halpern and Stanley Coren, published a paper in the Nature journal alleging that left-handed people have a shorter lifespan.

Subsequent research has completely debunked the theory.

What is true is that there seem to be more left-handers being born today than ever before, a trend that began in the second half of the twentieth century.

No-one has yet to explain why but it may well account for the reduction in prejudice and antipathy towards left-handed people.


There are claims that being left-handed denotes greater cleverness, creativity and leadership

They cite the likes of Einstein, Aristotle, Alan Turing, Julius Caesar, Charlamagne, Alexander the Great, Michelangelo, Leonardo Da Vinci, Henry Ford, Bill Gates, Judy Garland, Marilyn Monroe, Oprah Winfrey, Robert De Niro, Steve McQueen, Robert Redford, Tom Stoppard, Peter Ustinov, Douglas Adams, Lewis Carrol, Mark Twain, HG Wells, Lenny Bruce, Mozart, Beethoven, Prokofiev, Paul Simon, Jimi Hendrix, Paul McCartney, David Bowie, both of the Everly Brothers, Marie Curie, Napoloen, Winston Churchill, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama.

This list is by no means exhaustive.

It does seem to be a group that punches way above its 10% ratio weight but then, on the other hand, is every other famous name and high achiever you’ve ever heard of…

There seems little empirical data to support any qualitative assessment of whether it is better to be one or the other.

We know from research that left-handers tend to have better spatial awareness and short term memory, but this is a boost rather than a defining characteristic.


Analysts will continue to try and identify distinctions that largely make no difference.

A 2006 study by researchers at Lafayette College and John Hopkins University found that left-handed college graduates earned 10-15% more than their right-handed counterparts.

Yet in 2014 a study from the Harvard National Bureau of Economic Research found that left-handed people earn 10-12% less over the entire course of their working lives than right-handers.

God knows what these people would make of the ambidextrous…those wierdos.


Meno Time Inline

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