April 27, 2009

Show of Hands?

So here's a weird study I read last week:

If you are going to be tested on rote memory, and you are right-handed, you may want to first sweep your eyes back and forth for thirty seconds. It will help you remember more.

If you're a lefty, it won't really help.

Weird, huh? Apparently the eye-sweeping helps because it improves communication between the brain's hemispheres, which seems to aid in recall.

And so why does this trick work better with people who are strongly right-handed, like I am?

Because apparently our two hemispheres suck when it comes to communicating with each other! Well, at least compared to lefties or more ambidextrous folks. We extreme righties are more likely to benefit from tricks that get the two sides talking.

Otherwise, apparently our left hemispheres are all: "shut up, right brain, I don't have to listen to you, I'm dominant!" and our right hemispheres are all "oh, sorry, I didn't mean to interrupt, but I just thought you might want to know this thing I noticed which was..." but then our bossy left brains are still like "Get lost! Lists of words are my department. Didn't I tell you I got this?" And then meanwhile all the ambidextrous people and the lefties have finished up the word memorization task and have gone on to get elected president or whatever.

Yeah, he's a smarty-pants lefty.

OK, so I may not have gotten the physiological details exactly right.

I did try to do some research on this whole handedness and hemisphere stuff. Alas, I ended up more confused when I finished than when I started.

But at least I can try to pass along some interesting answers to questions I never thought to ask: like, for example: who's smarter and earns more money, a righty or a lefty? And who's more likely to be a schizophrenic or a pedophile?

First Off, How Right or Left Handed Are You?

Of course "handedness" is more of a continuum than a flat out category. Folks vary to the degree in which they prefer one hand or one side over the other. There's a handedness test here, although for me, this was not exactly a difficult question.

I am SO right-hand/left hemisphere dominant that none of the questions even came close to soliciting a left-handed answer. I do everything with my right hand. I also chew on the right side of my mouth, and favor my right eye even though my left eye actually sees better. When I go to the gym, I can lift more weight with my right arm even though I'm supposed to stop doing that and wait for my sissy left arm to catch up. (I've tried, but it never does. I finally decided: screw it, the right arm is more awesome and it gets to have bigger muscles. Deal with it, left arm. You get to wear the watch and the wedding ring, ok?)

But how about you guys--righties, lefties, or somewhere in between?

Handedness and Hemispheres

According to an interesting article over at How Stuff Works, the two hemispheres of the brain mostly process the same information, with data passing back and forth between them. But a few tasks, like language processing, tend to take place in one hemisphere or the other. While righties primarily use the left hemisphere for language processing, many lefties process language using both hemispheres of the brain.

And, so good news for you lefties: apparently you guys "have brains that are more conducive to simultaneous, bi-hemisphere processing of information."

Drawing from the Right Side of the Brain or Whatever

I went to look for the whole "right vs. left side of the brain" research, and specifically, how you can you get your hemispheres to talk to each other better? (Maybe intra-cranial couples counseling?) But it all got way too confusing. I was remembering all those books and articles from the 80's about how we need to use our intuitive creative right brains more, and not so much our uptight, linear, logical left brains. And how if we use our left hands for things and breath in through our left nostril we'll be the next Vincent Van Gogh.

Alas, there seem to be a lot of folks now saying: er, the left brain, right brain differences other than language aren't that big. We use both sides for most things. And a cranky Scotttish neuroscientist (a man after my own heart) claims that much of this brain training stuff is a waste of time.

Being a lazy blogger and not a fancy University Professor, I decided to put off further investigation for another time. Instead, how about some goofy facts about the difference between right handed and left handed people?

Lefties Have Some Cognitive Advantages

And not just in rote memorization. A recent left handed psychiatric research roundup (written by a leftie, btw), noted that:

Left-handed Pakistani subjects were significantly more intelligent than right-handed Pakistani subjects.

Left-handed college-educated men earned 15 percent more than right-handed college-educated men did.

But Lefties Are Also A Bit Nuttier

Sorry, lefties, but research suggests you're more likely to have certain mental disorders.

Like, a unusually large percentage of left-handed or ambidextrous people have autism, dyslexia, stuttering, or neurodevelopmental disorders.

Oh, and, um, schizophrenia, post-traumatic stress disorder, and pedophilia.

(The numbers are still really small though. But just in case you were feeling all cocky about the being smarter and more financially successful than us poor right handed folks.)

So where do you all fall on the left/right continuum? Done any brain training, and did it help make you more intuitive or creative? And for the lefties, I imagine being left-handed in a right-handed world comes with some challenges that we righties don't even realize?


  1. hmmmm. Im a right'y but the sister is a lefty.

    nuttier? who can say.

    Methinks it's a tie---for now :)


  2. I am dominantly left handed I only do a few things with my right hand.

    No mental disorders yet...unless you want to count the PTSD I suffered after being hit by the mack truck.

  3. dragonmamma/naomiApril 27, 2009 at 7:41 AM

    My husband and I are both left-handed, but both the kids are right-handed. We don't know where we went wrong.

  4. I am very dominantly right-sided. The left side of my body hates me. Seriously. That's even where my blood clots - left leg.

    Also, "intra-cranial couples counseling" made me choke on my coffee.

  5. I'm a righty...this is good stuff!


  6. hahah! This is why I love research! Awesome.

    Oh and I'm totally a righty all the way.

    Interesting side note: I watched a discovery channel special that said that left-handed people are the surviving half of a set of twins. Their twin died early on in the gestation process & the lefty reabsorbed their sibling. So you can add cannibal to the list;)

  7. I am right handed, but a few years back I developed a severe case of "mouse are" and started using the mouse with my left hand. It took a bit of getting used to, but now I can switch back and forth with no problem. I don't think it has made me any more crazy than I already was. :)

  8. I'm ambi. But not an ambi-turner.

  9. The test put me in the middle though I am largely a dexter. I do some things sinister including, but not restricted to, opening jar lids, playing with watercolors, and coloring in a coloring book. (I'm 50. Coloring is good.) I do the artistic stuff left-handed because I have no talent and depend wholly on being creative when I do it. And it feels good.

  10. I am totally and completely -100.00.
    South-paw. Come from a long line of 'em. Well, okay, not really. My father's mother was left-handed, too. And out of 26 of us, at least 3 other cousins are lefties.

    Charlotte - really?! Cannibal?! (At least now I know why I'm so fat.... I'm supposed to be two people!)

  11. I wonder if left-handed people have an advantage because they're forced to use their non-dominant hand so frequently in a right-dominated world? Maybe I could become smarter/president just by forcing myself to open doors/use scissors and my mouse with my left hand.

  12. "simultaneous, bi-hemisphere processing of information." Go, me!

    If I interpreted the test results right I'm more ambi than I thought. I cannot write legibly with my right hand, but my LH writing is not too great in that department either. I can use a mouse or trackpad equally well with either hand. I can throw things equally badly with either hand.

  13. Innnnteresting research, Crabby.
    My evil sister, the one who eats broken bottles and conducts human sacrifice at the time of the full moon not the nice sister who likes to pet kittens and work for World Peace, is a lefty.

  14. So left handed you could cut off righty and the only way I'd even notice would be when i tried to shift gears.

  15. I'm selectively ambidextrous (yes, that's the real term). Meaning that although I use both my right and left hands, I use them for specific things and don't tend to swap them out. Mostly I'm right-handed, but I do more with my left than most righties do.

    I write with my right hand, but I fasten jewelry with my left (so I wear my watch on the right side). I throw with my right, but catch with my left. That sort of thing. And God help me if I try to switch it up; I get all klutzy.

  16. I'm pretty much all right handed. With a lot of practice I can do some tasks with my left hand (some cooking stuff and lab stuff).

    I usually study by writing and rereading, with music on...guess I've been doing it right.

  17. As the parent of one lefty and one righty, they are both their own kind a crazy, funny, witty, and smart. Lefty is faster with a sarcastic quip, but righty is "sneaky funny". What does that say? I, on the other hand, can eat and drink ambidexterously. :)

  18. I have no idea what this means but I'm a 3rd left decile according to that test.

    I'm a lefty, the only one in my family. When I was a youngin' my dad tried to make me do things right handed until my mom told him to stop. I still write left-handed but I do a lot of things right handed (cutting with scissors, holding a bat/golf club) and some things I can do with either (holding a fork and knife).

  19. POD - you may be right all the time, but only lefties are in their right minds..... :)

  20. I'm left side of the middle range (-15 according to the handedness questionnaire). There are some things I do right-handed because of the bias of the tool -- scissors, for instance, and even opening a door with a key (ignition is on the right side of the steering column on most vehicles I've owned and I suspect I am just used to turning the key with that hand). I write, eat, swing a bat/golf club as a leftie. I throw, swing a squash/tennis racquet, and hit the space bar on a keyboard as a rightie. Therefore, I'm totally confused!

    I have a t-shirt that proclaims: if the left side of the brain controls the right side of the body, then only left-handers are in their right minds.Good post.

  21. "Like, a unusually large percentage of left-handed or ambidextrous people have autism, dyslexia, stuttering, or neurodevelopmental disorders."
    Yes. Yes, they do.

  22. I am a righty. But always wanted to be a lefty. What does that say about me? lol

  23. 3rd Left Decile reporting for duty.

    So this is funny; I work in a biomedical engineering department, where about 70% of all the researchers are lefties to one extent or another. Because I have a background in neurobiology, I hae given this set of explanations to my colleagues about a hundred times. Funny to see it here.

    Yep; we're all wealthy and nutty here! LOL ;)

  24. I am a righty mostly. I may not be making a lot of money but at least I am no a "nut job". Well, some may not agree with that!

  25. I'm a right- handed ( sorry I didn't mean to do it person), but Mr. Redbush swears that I have a lot of left brain activities going on! Interesting study!

  26. I'm a righty for sure. But sometimes want to use my left. My parents tell us stories of the good old days and as a baby I was they tell me I would reach with my left hand for things, but my Big Sis wanted me to be just like her so she would move my fork/pencil/whatever I had to my right hand. Hmmm makes me wonder...what if she just left me alone!!!

  27. really great post.

    I took the test and it says I'm right in the middle (38). I always considered myself a righty, but thought it was weird that I shoot pool with my left hand and am left eye dominant (found this out while shooting down range a few summers ago). I never even considered all the other things.

    on the other hand you said "Like, a unusually large percentage of left-handed or ambidextrous people have autism, dyslexia, stuttering, or neurodevelopmental disorders.

    Oh, and, um, schizophrenia, post-traumatic stress disorder, and pedophilia." I am so using this as gold against the bf. It explains so much. :-)

  28. I'm in the middle. I do write with my left hand, but perform a lot of other tasks with my right hand. I remember being especially frustrated in school, when teachers would assume that because I wrote with my left hand, I would do everything else that way (scissors, throwing, kicking, etc.). I am truly ambidextrous when it comes to eating, however. :-)

  29. Fascinating stuff, Crabby! I'm a lefty, but I've taught myself to be ambidextrous for many tasks because ambidexterity makes things easier for a lefty in a right-handed world. And I do have a very good memory, both for what I read and for what I hear.

    I am, however, terribly absent-minded. But that's a different kettle of fish.

  30. righty. i try occasionally to do stuff with my left hand, but mostly forget.

    oh, and in hockey, i shoot righty while technically, i should shoot lefty. explanation: a right-handed shooter means the left hand is at the top of the stick. so, in theory, one's dominant hand should be in that position for poke checks and the like, which you do one-handed with your stick. i do it with my non-dominant left hand and seem to do okay though, so whatever.


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