Right or left-handed? 5 facts about you | BBC Ideas


Are you left-handed? If so, one in ten people
around the world is like you. However, nine out of ten people
are right-handed. Stone tools suggest that most of our
ancestors were, like most of us, right-handed. It’s hard to pin down when
left-handedness started, but we do have evidence that there
were left-handed Neanderthals 500,000 years ago. How do we know this? Well, they were probably eating raw
meat, which is tough old stuff. Archaeologists think the Neanderthals
would sink their teeth in, and then use a sharp piece of stone
to cut the meat near their mouth. Sometimes the stone slipped. And from the direction
of the scratches, 10% of Neanderthals seem to have
held the cutter in their left hand. For right-handers, it’s normally
the left side of the brain that’s associated
with speech and language. What though if you are left-handed? Despite using their left hand
for writing, two thirds of left-handers
are just like right-handers, in having language
in their left brain. But, a third of left-handers have language in the
right side of their brain – the opposite of right-handers. Left-handers are much more variable in the ways their brains
are organised. In contrast, right-hander’s brains
are off-the-peg. Left-handedness is therefore
much more of a mixture of strengths and weaknesses,
pros and cons coming from having a somewhat
differently organised brain. Is your baby sucking its thumb? Psychologist Peter Hepper in Belfast studied several hundred scans where the baby in the womb
was seen sucking its thumb. About 90% of babies sucked
their right thumb. And at twelve years old, almost all of those right thumb
suckers were right-handed. Whereas three-quarters
of the left thumb suckers would become left-handed. Genes are clearly also important. One left-handed parent, and you’re more likely
to be left-handed yourself. Both parents left-handed,
and you’re even more likely. About a one in four chance. Infants often go through
a random chaotic phase where they use the right hand
one day, and the left the other, perplexing their parents. By about two-years-old, their
handedness is usually consistent. If you practise long and hard enough, then you can probably do anything
equally well with either hand. Concert pianists are a good example,
though it does take dedication. In 1797, the right-handed Admiral
Lord Nelson, had his right elbow
shattered by a musket ball. The arm was amputated. Within six months though, Nelson had learnt to write
fluently with his left hand. But the motivation was
there, of course. Professional sports players are
also motivated to practise, as it can give an added
edge in competiton. Footballers train to kick well
with either foot, and when practising they use
both feet confidently and well. But under pressure,
when the action’s hot, they often revert to using
their dominant foot. Even if it means taking an extra
half-step before shooting for goal. Reversing your natural sidedness
does come with a cost. You could be almost equally good
with each hand or foot, but the price would be
so much time practising, that you probably wouldn’t
do anything else with your life. The list of famous left-handers
seems pretty impressive. Albert Einstein, Beethoven,
Bob Dylan, Picasso, Neil Armstrong, Winston Churchill, Benjamin Franklin,
Marilyn Monroe, all are claimed, on the internet,
to be left-handed. And in each case,
it’s almost certainly wrong. The evidence of left-handedness
is often very dodgy indeed. For instance, there’s a book with a painting of
Beethoven writing with his left hand, the picture has clearly been flipped. There are many reasons why
people may wrongly claim that famous individuals
are left-handed. Tribal loyalty
and the reflected glory of feeling part of the same
handedness club are just two of them. Perhaps when it comes down to it, there is a little bit of the
left-hander in each of us.

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