A left-handed view

Left-handedness has been a burden to carry over the centuries. In the significant minority, left-handers have been seen to be significantly different, and often inferior to, right-handers. Research tells us that left-handers do have a slightly different world view compared to right-handers but now a new study suggests that the differences might be easily changed.

Originally the Latin word sinistra meant “left”, but over time the word came to mean “evil” or “unlucky” and now in modern English we have the word “sinister” to reflect that evolution. This synonymy of left with evil has had some clear expression over the years. Left-handers have been regarded as being naturally disposed to criminality and of having dealings with the devil. In decades past left-handed children have been “re-educated” into right-handers.

An intriguing fact about left-handers despite all the prohibitions, is that the proportion of them in the population has stayed relatively constant over time. Research utilising cave paintings and other information over time suggests that left-handers have made up ten per cent of the population for millennia. In turn of course, right-handers are constant at around 90 per cent.

We know some things about “handedness” but not a lot. There does seem to be a different distribution of function between the right and left hemispheres of the brain between left and right handers. For instance, right-handers predominantly process language in the left hemisphere. A lot of left-handers also have left-sided language dominance but a significant proportion of left-handers also have language either evenly spread across both hemispheres or located predominantly on the right.

The fluid nature of the impact of handedness however, has been shown in a new study.

In speech we tend to identify “right” with positive and “left” with negative. We want to be “in the right” and we don’t want to be coming from “left field”. In a similar way we associate space with goodness, or positivity, but it depends on whether we are left or right handed.

New research has shown that when asked which of two objects to buy or which of two people to hire or which of two aliens looks more intelligent, right-handers choose whatever is seen on their right and left-handers choose whatever is seen on their left. So for right-handers the right side of space is “good” and for left-handers the left of the world is “good”.

This divide between left and right though is not as hard and fast as it may seem.

In the new study healthy university students were asked to perform a motor fluency task while wearing a bulky heavy glove on their left hand (to preserve their right-handedness) or on their right hand to temporarily turn them into left-handers. After just twelve minutes of this left-handed experience natural right-handers started to show a “left is good” bias.

So the effect of handedness on perception seems somewhat fluid. Just using your “other” hand for quarter of an hour can change your perception of the world. The concepts and judgements that you thought were stable and fixed can be changed with the donning of a glove. Change is the basis of everything and even your sense of self can shift. All of which makes taking an “entrenched position” seem the act of a fool.

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The WellBeing Team

The WellBeing Team

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