The World Through the Eyes of Lefties and Righties

How does your dominant hand change your life?


Emir Memedovski / Unsplash

The reason why many individuals are righties stems from the influence their parents had on encouraging the use of their right hand.

Right-handed people influence this globe, and it has been that way since the beginnings of the Stone Age. How do we know? Researchers have evaluated the humerus, ulna and the radius (arm bones) in old skeletons and studied clothing patterns in prehistoric instruments to identify the influence of the right hand. The tendency to hold wool fleece, or any fabric in the left hand, while the spindle is set into motion with the right hand points toward the dominance the right hand has had over the left in history. In the Western Hemisphere, lefties represent just about ten percent of the population. 

Answering whether or not the inclination to be right or left-handed stems from one’s anatomy still remains. Researchers can observe handedness, the tendency to use either the right or the left hand more naturally than the other, archaeologically by searching for specific anatomical traits in prehistoric skeletons, such as an imbalance in the size and spacing of arm bones, and by examining prehistoric tools.

Hand dominance is a unique trait to humans. Close relatives to humans, like apes and chimpanzees, are considered to be part of the human evolutionary tree, but they do not share the tendency to favor one hand over another. Currently, no gene exists that determines one’s dominant hand, nor has it been discovered that handedness is a hereditary trait. 

However, this is one theory that many have accepted that hand dominance is due to the asymmetry of the human brain. The left hemisphere of the brain localizes language, and logical processing, while also controlling the right side of the body. The right hemisphere, on the other hand, controls the left side of the body and hosts spatial recognition. The left hemisphere of our brain in charge of speech is also the one in control of the hand used to produce written language.

Another theory postulates that this may just be a case of natural selection – righties managed to survive and reproduce at higher numbers compared to lefties. The children of left-handed parents are more likely to be left-handed than children of right-handed parents. However, because the overall chance of being left-handed is relatively low; most children of left-handed parents are right-handed. Identical twins, who share the same DNA, are more likely than non-identical twins to both be right-handed or left-handed, but twins, both fraternal and identical, have opposite hand preferences.

Cultural biases against left-handers have existed throughout history. For centuries, many lefties were forced to learn to use their right hands because of fear that lefties would develop mental illnesses or disorders later in life. Howard I. Kushner, professor at Emory University of On the Other Hand: Left Hand, Right Brain, Mental Disorder, and History, found the reasoning such ideology developed. He discovered that, because left-handed children were forced by right-handed adults to alter and reject their natural behavior, they did develop conditions such as stuttering or attention disorders. The fear of illness was only second to the fear of the devil as the justification for forcing children to “become” right-handed. Since medieval times, Catholics have believed that being left-handed was a sign of the devil or witchcraft. In the United States and Britain, it was regular practice to retrain lefties to become righties throughout the 20th century due to fear of the devil or illness.

In several cultures, the left hand is still believed to be the so-called “improper” hand. The proper etiquette in Islamic countries is to shake hands and eat only with your right hand. In these cultures, the left hand is considered impure, as it is the hand that always washes the body, and therefore should never make contact with another person to whom you wish to show respect.

In Japanese culture, it is believed that being left-handed is a curse or a bad omen. Many in Japan believe that those that are left handed will struggle to find a significant other. This is why many Japanese parents have retrained the use of the left hand. In the past couple of decades, the practice of retraining lefties has died down, but children in the past  received some form of punishment or physical restraint for using their left hand. 

Although many cultures are against left-handers, it seems that lefties have learned to adapt to their world. Dr. Savaiano, a Social Science and Global History teacher at The Bronx High School of Science, said, “As a left-handed person myself, I do notice that occasionally I see a fellow lefty and sometimes even remark on it, but simply by saying something like ‘I’m a lefty, too.’ But, other than that, I don’t really notice any special challenges my left-handed students face.” 

As a right-handed individual myself, I find that the challenges seem to be more severe. It often seems that the world and all of its tools and items have been created to be used only by right handed individuals. The list is long, but some undeniable obstacles to left-handers include the tendency for most things to be placed solely on the right side. For instance, pens at banks, libraries, or any public facility are attached on the right side. This forces one to pull the pen over to the left side, a process that often leaves the cord getting in the way of what you’re trying to write. 

Not to mention the problems that occur with wearing pants because the flap covering the zippers on pants blocks easy access from the left side. If you’re a left-handed baker in the United States, it is an everyday struggle because if you hold a glass measuring cup in your left hand, you’re stuck with metric measurements. 

If you have a teacher who requires a binder or spiral notebooks, it is more difficult if you’re left-handed. When you’re left-handed, this writing is more difficult because the rings make it impossible for left-handed people to lay their hands flat on the page and write normally. 

For students, the desks with the chair attached are the biggest obstacle for lefties. Additionally, every time you swipe a credit card, it’s on the right side of the machine. The difficulty as a lefty who has to use right handed scissors every time they need to cut something is an unmatched annoyance.

How awkward would it feel if an interviewer reaches out for a handshake, but as the interviewee presents their left while they extend their right? Lefties often have to train themselves to put forward their right hand to avoid such incidents. This puts lefties at an immediate disadvantage because they are forced to use their weaker hand. It seems that banging of elbows with right handed individuals will forever follow lefties around the table. 

However, it can be understood why Dr. Savaiano has not noticed any severe difficulties faced by lefties in his class. Because things as small as doorknobs, tools required lefties to adapt. That makes left-handers more flexible in the office and fast to react. The world has people of different colors, shapes, heights and handedness. Handedness is a part of one’s daily life that those a part of the minority, lefties, have accustomed their lives to deal with any difficulties that they face on a daily basis.     

Howard I. Kushner, professor at Emory University of On the Other Hand: Left Hand, Right Brain, Mental Disorder, and History, found the reasoning such ideology developed. He discovered that, because left-handed children were forced by right-handed adults to alter and reject their natural behavior, they did develop conditions such as stuttering or attention disorders.