Thinking Differently About Left-Handedness

William with a fork in his left hand.

William with a fork in his left hand.

I’m going to go ahead and call it: My son, William, is left-handed. The pediatrician says you can’t be sure until age 4, but he eats, draws, paints, and throws with his left hand most of the time. Of course, I’m both interested in all the things he’ll do differently from his parents– we’re both right-handed–and scared about him living in a world I know is set up for righties. I’ve fought for accessibility on websites for years, will I need to fight for it in the real world now?

As a kid I heard about the stigma of left-handedness. Left-handed people were considered to be dominated by evil and kids were forced to switch hands or face persecution. One of those kids was my mother-in-law. I also remember learning that lefties were more artistic because of the association of the brain’s right hemisphere with the left side of the body. Throughout my school years I noticed how left-handed people had to hold a pencil differently, use different scissors,  and sit in different desks. As an adult, I noticed that they need to sit at the end of crowded tables so they can freely move freely while they eat.

Artistic-ability aside, I was happy to be right-handed. It’s nice to be in the majority. Of course, I never really thought it was bad to be left-handed– just that it would be harder. So, when everyone started to notice William’s left-handedness, I was worried about may ability to teach him to do things like tie his shoes, twirl spaghetti, and do cartwheels. (I worry about everything, by the way. )Then my mom got him a set of plastic golf clubs.

He loves to golf. Honestly what he does looks more like field hockey, but he loves it. Unfortunately, the striking surface of each club is on the left side. Not great if you are holding the club in your left hand. William doesn’t notice, but it seems sad to me. (If you know a good place to find toys for left-handed kids, let me know!)

So, I just did the only thing a mother can do these days. I went to Wikipedia.

I learned a few things that made me worry more:

A study published in 1991 claimed that these statistics indicate that left-handed people’s lifespans are shorter than those of their right-handed counterparts by as much as 9 years. The authors suggested that this may be the result of left-handed people being more likely to die in accidents as a result of their “affliction”, which renders them clumsier and ill-equipped to survive in a right-handed world.

The [left-handed] fetus is more likely to become left-handed, since the right hemisphere controls the left half of the body. The theory goes on to tie the exposure to higher levels of testosterone and the resultant right-hemisphere dominance to auto-immune disorders, learning disorders, dyslexia, and stuttering, as well as increased spatial ability.

But, I also learned there are some wonderful advantages to being left-handed:

In his book Right-Hand, Left-Hand, Chris McManus of University College London argues that the proportion of left-handers is rising and left-handed people as a group have historically produced an above-average quota of high achievers. He says that left-handers’ brains are structured differently in a way that widens their range of abilities, and the genes that determine left-handedness also govern development of the language centres of the brain.

In 2006, researchers at Lafayette College and Johns Hopkins University in a study found that left-handed men are 15 percent richer than right-handed men for those who attended college, and 26 percent richer if they graduated. The wage difference is still unexplainable and does not appear to apply to women.

As of 2009, three or four (counting Reagan) out of the last five presidents have been left-handed. Counting as far back as Truman, the number is five (or six) out of twelve. In the 1992 election, all three major candidates – George H. W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Ross Perot – were left-handed.

(Barrack Obama is left-handed!)

Amar Klar, a scientist who has worked on handedness, says that left-handed people “have a wider scope of thinking”, and points to the disproportionately high number of Nobel Prize winners, writers and painters who are left-handed.

Well, if that isn’t every mother’s dream, I don’t know what is.  I can imagine that going through the world left-handed makes you constantly aware of the way other people do things. You’d have to adjust small things all the time to get tasks done. Having that mental exercise every day of your life is probably great for your brain. I can see how you would become more thoughtful, adaptive, sensitive, and expressive. What wonderful qualities to have!

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2 responses to “Thinking Differently About Left-Handedness

  1. Wonderful post.

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