That’s right; The B&B Blogger is left. Left-handed, that is. What’s the big deal? Dunno. Never seemed to be one to the Blogger. However, handedness is turning out to be one of the most difficult brain functions for neuroscientists to understand. That is, the more that handedness is studied, the less and less about it that is certain.
Let’s get into this handedness thing with the B&B Blogger providing answers to some of your burning questions – you know, the kind of deep, scientific questions about handedness that keep you up at night…
Are left-handers truly wacko?
Historically, left-handedness has been stigmatized by society and even by scientists. In the early 1940′s a German medical journal published an article that concluded, with no apparent attempt to amuse, that “something about [left-handers] just isn’t right.” And, up until the 1960′s, many left-handers were forced to learn to play sports, use tools and write right-handed. [No wonder that,
historically, all the student desks in elementary schools were ergonomically designed for right-handers.] In some cultures even today, the left hand is seen as inferior due to its use in certain repeated bathroom hygiene behaviors.
But, baseball has possibly been the primary influence on what scientists refer to as the “Lefties are as nutty as pecan pie hypothesis.” Left-handed pitchers, especially relievers, are typically believed to have a solid history of aberrant behavior patterns, punctuated by wildly threatening or delusional pronouncements.
Former Red Sox reliever, Bill Lee, is likely the prototype for left-handed, relief pitcher wackiness. Known as The Spaceman (see card below), Lee once threatened to bite off the ear of an umpire for making a call that didn’t benefit The Spaceman’s team.* [*Could this ear-biting thing be a leftie perversity? Recall, that heavyweight champ, Mike Tyson, bit off a chunk of Evander Holyfield's ear during a bout. But, isn't Tyson right-handed? Well, he boxed from the standard, right-handed stance as a pro. However, some sportswriters have claimed that he was converted to a right-handed stance by his first professional trainer, Cus D'Amato.]
Another of Mr. Lee’s peculiarities: Fond of “scientifically experimenting” on himself, he became convinced that that smoking marijuana protected him from experiencing the ill effects of carbon monoxide. [Note: Others have been consistently unable to replicate his results.] While The Spaceman was, and is, an extreme example of left-handed goofiness, no one in baseball would deny that natural throws by left-handers typically have a different spin and their natural batting swings follow different physical planes.
So, are lefties truly wacky? Or, are they the object of unfounded historical prejudice and unfair locker room humor? Well, consider this stat: Lefties are more than twice as likely to be schizophrenic. Wacky 1, Normal 0
More bad news for southpaws below.
From whence comes handedness?
There are at least two ways to answer this question. From one perspective, a possible answer is ”from more than a million years ago” – as evidenced by left-handed techniques found manifested in the earliest cave drawings.
From another perspective, the answer might be “the uterus.” Right-handers tend to suck their right thumbs in the womb; lefties, the left thumb. And, despite their relatively low numbers in
the general population, more than half of all low-weight newborns are left-handed. Which raises the sub-questions of: 1) whether left-handedness is a developmental disability and, if so, 2) can the Brain & Behavior Blogger qualify for a Handicapped Parking Placard?!!!
In truth, left-handedness is associated with a number of developmental abnormalities: Secondary sexual characteristics (pubic hair, deepening of the voice in boys) appear later, on average, in
left-handers, as does the onset of sexual maturity. Left-handers are also “height challenged” and are more likely to be dyslexic. Possible explanations vary widely, although perinatal infections and/or stress are often cited.
Okay. Might as well run the table at this point: Left-handers suffer more frequently from depression, have accidents more frequently and die younger on average. No joke: The tendency for lefties to have shorter life spans might be mostly a function of the fact that they must operate in a world still largely designed for right-handers (e.g., emergency stop buttons are more likely to be placed on the right side of industrial equipment). That is, left-handers are more likely to die in accidents which affects their average life span.
All of which leads to the third and final burning, scientific question…
Given all of the above, is there any reason why all left-handers shouldn’t go home and drink a gallon of Jim Jones Kool-Aid?
Turns out there are several reasons:
Left-handers tend toward “greater interhemispheric
connectivity,” meaning that their motor and speech centers are more likely
to be split between the right-brain and the left,
which results in them being:
more frequently represented in the ranks of proficient musicians and high-performance athletes (due to greater bilateral dexterity);
slightly more creative,
slightly better able to learn languages,
over-represented in the subpopulation whose IQ’s exceed 131,
and of greatest importance in this keyboard-driven technological society:
more proficient in typing skills!!!!
Current state of knowledge: Despite all of these differences, most scientists nonetheless believe that handedness is a natural, expected variation of the species. For one thing, handedness is at least partly hereditary. Left-handers are more likely to have a left-handed parent, especially the mother. And, identical twins share handedness more than do fraternal twins. Likewise, men are more likely to be left-handed than are women.
At the same time, the percentage of left-handers varies from 5% to over 25% in different cultures around the world. And, its occurrence varies from culture to culture and even region to region for reasons that totally escape the experts.
So, handedness remains one of the very few areas of brain science in which the more we learn, the more we must wonder.
Original references for any studies, books or articles cited by the Brain & Behavior Blogger can be obtained by contact with his very dear friend, Dr. Rob Snyder firstname.lastname@example.org), an organizational psychologist with a severe neuroscience-research-reading addiction.