UCare generously supports MinnPost’s Second Opinion coverage; learn why.

Shattering some myths about left-handedness

REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
Lefties like President Obama can take comfort in some of the findings in a new article posted on the Psychology Today website.

Writing on the Psychology Today website, British psychologist and science writer Christian Jarrett knocks down several of the most pervasive myths about left-handedness.

He has some good news and, well, disappointing news for the 10 percent or so of people who prefer using their left hand for most tasks, such as writing and drawing, brushing their hair or throwing a ball.

Lefties will be disappointed to learn that they are neither more creative nor more intelligent — as a group — than their right-handed peers. For, despite the oft-cited long and varied list of creative left-handers (including Michelangelo, Matt Groening, Paul McCartney, Jim Henson, Eudora Welty, and James Baldwin), “there is very little to support the idea in the scientific literature,” Chris McManus, a psychologist at the University College London and author or the book “Right Hand Left Hand,” told Jarrett.

It is true, however, that lefties have an advantage in many sports, and for a very simple reason, says Jarrett: “They are more used to facing right-handed opponents (which the majority of their rivals will be) than right-handers are used to facing left-handers.”

Early death? Not true

But there’s an even bigger piece of good news for lefties: They do not die earlier or suffer more immune diseases than right-handed people. Writes Jarrett (with English spellings):

The early death myth originates with a 1988 Nature paper by Diane Halpern and Stanley Coren: “Do right-handers live longer?” The psychologists analysed death records for baseball players and found that those who were left-handed had died younger. But as Chris McManus explains, this is a statistical artefact borne by the fact that left-handedness increased through the 20th century, meaning that left-handers, on average, were born later in that century.

As an analogy, McManus points to Harry Potter fans, who tend to be younger than non-fans. “Ask the relatives of a group of recently deceased people whether their loved one had read Harry Potter and inevitably one will find a younger age at death in Harry Potter enthusiasts,” he writes, “but that is only because HP readers are younger overall.” If this statistical argument makes your head spin, let me offer you a 1994 study of cricketers, which concluded: “Left handedness is not, in general, associated with an increase in mortality.”

A related myth, propagated by Geschwind, is that left-handers are more vulnerable to immune disorders. McManus and Phil Bryden analysed data from 89 studies involving over 21,000 patients and an even greater number of controls: “Left-handers showed no systematic tendency to suffer from disorders of the immune system,” McManus writes.  

You can read Jarrett’s article in full on the Psychology Today website.

You can also learn about all our free newsletter options.

Comments (1)

  1. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 04/01/2013 - 11:31 am.

    How sinister!

Leave a Reply