August 2013 E-News: Science of the Southpaw!

There’s no denying it. Left-handers are the odd men out.

Sure, lefties make up about 10 percent of the population — but, frankly, it seems like society has forgotten about them. Right-handed gadgets, awkwardly designed desks, cooking tools that fit comfortably in your right hand make the modern day conveniences not so convenient for those that are left-hand dominant.

What causes someone to become left-handed or often referred to as a southpaw? Scientists aren’t exactly sure, but research points to a complex collaboration between genes and environment. While no exact set of “leftie genes” have been discovered, people who dominantly use their left hands do have more left-handed family members. And researchers have found different brain wirings in righties vs. lefties. But no matter what it is that drives someone to be ambilevous, science has also uncovered a particular set of personality traits that left-handed people tend to have. 

So for all of you lefties, leftie-loving righties and ambidextrous folks out there — it’s time to brush up on your left-handed knowledge and help put an end to leftie discrimination once and for all. This month we say… let’s hear it for the Lefties!

1. Loud & Clear: Lefties hear speeches differently. 


People who are using their left hands when listening may more easily hear rapidly changing sounds than those who are using their right hands. Georgetown University researchers who conducted the study found that the left and right hemispheres of the brain specialize in different kinds of sounds — the left hemisphere, which controls the right hand, likes rapidly changing sounds like consonants, while the right hemisphere, which controls the left hand, likes slowly changing sounds, like syllables or intonation.

According to their study, if you’re waving an American flag while listening to a presidential candidate, the speech will sound slightly different to you depending on whether you’re holding the flag in your left or right hand. The research could ultimately result in better treatment for stroke and language disorders.

2. How You Handle Your Health: Does hand dominance determine your health?


Only about 10 percent of the population is left-handed. Now, here’s some food for thought: About 20 percent of people with schizophrenia dominantly use their left hands. Coincidence? Probably not, say scientists, who have also found an increased risk for dyslexia, ADHD, and certain mood disorders in left-handed people, according to a recent Wall Street Journal article. 

Researchers are not exactly sure how to explain it, but many believe it’s related to how the brain is wired. Your noggin is divided into two halves — the left side and the right side. Most people (righties and lefties alike) rely on the brain’s left hemisphere for tasks like language functioning. However, about 30 percent of left-handed folks are either partial to the right hemisphere or have no dominant hemisphere at all. According to scientists, having one hemisphere dominate is much more efficient — and that’s why some left-handers are at an increased risk for learning impairments and brain disorders.

However, lefties may be in luck when it comes to other health conditions: A survey of more than 1.4 million participants, which was published in the journal Laterality, found that left-handers had lower rates of arthritis and ulcers.

3. Left Wing or Right Wing? Either way, we vote for Left-Handers!


Doesn’t matter which way they swing politically: A surprisingly high percentage of recent U.S. Presidents were on the left (in terms of handedness, of course).

The lengthy list of left-handed leaders includes four of the last seven commanders in chief — President Obama, Bill Clinton, George H.W. Bush, and Gerald Ford — as well as past presidents James Garfield and Harry Truman. In fact, there’s a rumor that Ronald Regan was born a leftie, but stringent school teachers converted him to a righty when he was young.

Should right-handed presidential wannabes fake it? Our penchant for left-handed U.S. Leaders is probably pure coincidence; however, some science suggests that left-handed politicians actually have an advantage in televised debates. As a whole, people tend to associate right-handed gestures with “good” and left-handed gestures with “bad,” according to the researchers. Since television presents a mirror image, the lefties are the ones who appear to gesture with their right hand (the “good” hand).

4. Out of Left Field: Southpaws Will Beat You In Sports. 

Golf legend Phil Mickelson; tennis ace Rafael Nadal; boxing champ Oscar de la Hoya — did you know that a number of your favorite sports superstars are lefties? 

Actually, left-handers may have the advantage in sports that involve two opponents facing each other, such as tennis, boxing and baseball, according to an MSNBC review of the book “The Puzzle of Left-Handedness” by Rik Smits. The author chalks it up to the fact that those sporty Southpaws get a lot more opportunity to practice against their dominant right handed opponents than vice versa (since there are so many more righties out there).

Talk about a homerun for lefties!

5. Leave the Celebrating to the Lefties: They Have Their Own Day! 

Mark your calendar — August 13 is International Left-Hander’s Day.

Lefties across the globe will be celebrating the event, which was first launched in 1992 by the UK-based Left-Hander’s Club to increase awareness about the left-handed lifestyle. According to the group’s Web site, it’s a day “when left-handers everywhere can celebrate their sinistrality and increase public awareness of the advantages and disadvantages of being left-handed.” If you’re a righty, don’t worrythis holiday doesn’t discriminate against dominance.

How should you observe the occasion? Create a “leftie zone” — a designated area of personal space where everything must be done in a left-handed fashion, from your workspace setup to the way you use cutlery. And that rule also extends to any right-handers who happen to enter the leftie zone!

Don’t get left out of the celebration! Check out these free resources for great ways to get involved with your own activities or Left-Hander’s Day Party! 

All over the planet, nine out of 10 people, on average, favor their right hand for writing, throwing and so on. Despite more than a century and a half of research, scientists have yet to find an exact answer for what determines a person’s handedness. But, did you know that hand dominance stretches way beyond the bounds of being human. Many mammals, including our closest living relatives the chimpanzees, bonobos and gorillas, exhibit a preferred hand. Dogs do too!

But the shocking science doesn’t stop there! You can discover much more fascinating facts about your left-handed friends at  From cavemen to can-openers to left-handed staircases, check out these great resources to learn even more incredible things about your left-handed friends: Why Lefties are So Rare

Look Mom – Both Hands! The Science of Life’s Extremes: Right vs. Left Handed

What Makes a Lefty: Myths and Mysteries Persist

Explain It! The Truth About Left-Handed People