Mind & Body

Lefties Might Have an Advantage in a Range of Fields

Scientists estimate about 10 to 13.5 percent of people are not right-hand dominant. Some of those people are ambidextrous, but most of those people primarily use their left hand. The thing is, eight of the 45 U.S. presidents have been left-handed — that's nearly 18 percent. And that rate rises to nearly 63 percent if you just look at the last eight presidents. That's kind of fishy, right? What do they know that we don't know? Are left-handed people taking over the world?

A Secret Society of Southpaws

It isn't just U.S. presidents that have a preponderance of left-handers. Musicians, creative artists, architects, chess players, and athletes in certain sports all have a much higher rate of left-handedness than they should. And a new study published in Frontiers in Psychology suggests that left-handers even have an edge when it comes to mathematics — at least, in some circumstances. When it comes to complicated problems involving higher-level mathematical functions, lefties (and specifically male lefties) had a clear advantage. But in simple arithmetic, there was essentially no difference. Intriguingly, even people who were mildly right-handed, meaning they prefer their right hand but don't use it for everything, outperformed the extreme righties.

So what is it that drives southpaws to such success? Could it really be a global conspiracy unfolding beneath our very noses? Well ... probably not. There are a few theories that seem to hold some water, though. Lefties have a more developed right brain hemisphere, and even though the right-brain/left-brain dichotomy most people talk about is a myth, there are some specific functions that live on one side or the other. More development in the right hemisphere, therefore, could legitimately indicate a better grasp of spatial reasoning. That could explain the improved mathematical skills and the affinity for art and architecture.

But what about leadership? Some have suggested that living left-handed in a right-handed world arms a person (no pun intended) with a unique ability to overcome challenges. Who knows? Maybe we could all improve our brains by holding our scissors the wrong way around.

One Hand Tied Behind the Back

So five of the past eight presidents — Obama, Clinton, the first Bush, Reagan, and Ford — have been left-handed. But is it a new phenomenon? Actually, it's hard to say. For many years, left-handedness was strongly discouraged, and children who showed a preference for their sinister side were trained from a young age not to use their stronger hand. They might even be punished by having the offending limb tied behind their back. In short, there may very well have been a disproportionate number of left-handed presidents going all the way back to George Washington — but they would have had to adapt to use their right hand in public.

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To really take in how thoroughly left-handers have shaped the world, check out Melissa Roth's "The Left Stuff," which takes you from neuroscience labs to the rainforest to the MLB bullpen. We handpick reading recommendations we think you may like. If you choose to make a purchase through that link, Curiosity will get a share of the sale.

Written by Reuben Westmaas December 12, 2017

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