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Strong evidence debunking common myths about right and left-handedness

23 September 2015
Left handed girl writing

New research carried out by the University of Groningen in collaboration with Science Weekend (Weekend van de Wetenschap) indicates that it is not right or left-handedness that determines certain characteristics such as creativity and health, but the strength of the preference.

Left-handed people are in the minority in all human populations. This difference in dexterity is often thought to reflect other characteristics, but which? The University of Groningen and Science Weekend joined forces to examine common myths and assumptions about right and left-handedness. Left-handed people are thought to have more health problems (which is why evolution has made them a minority), but are more creative and better at fighting (which is why they managed to survive evolution at all). The result may or may not come as a surprise: these myths could not be confirmed. But the research did come up with some new information.

National public survey

Science Weekend started in 2014 with the launch of an annual national public survey. This survey, and a longer-term internet study, gives everyone in the Netherlands a chance to explore the world of science and technology by joining in the activities organized for Science Weekend during the weekend of 3 and 4 October. Some 30,000 participants between 5 and 95 years of age took part in the University of Groningen’s internet study into the myths surrounding right and left-handedness. Surprisingly, more than half of these people were left-handed, compared with 10% of the population of the Netherlands as a whole. This implies that left-handed people are more interested in the subject, perhaps because they see themselves (or think that others see them) as outsiders. They were asked for factual information about themselves and their opinions of their own creativity, health and verbal and physical violence.

Very few differences between right and left-handed people were found in this respect: the differences between men and women are often greater. With regard to health, contrary to the myth, right-handed people reported being ill more often than left-handed people. So for the first time, based on this extensive random test, there would seem to be strong evidence debunking the myths about right and left-handedness with regard to creativity, health and short temperedness/aggression.

Preference

One of the latest findings seems to suggest that rather than the fact of being right or left-handed, it is the strength of that preference that is linked to the characteristics under investigation. People without a particular preference (i.e. people who generally use either their right or their left hand for certain things but have no strong preference) are more creative, more aggressive and more likely to have allergies. In addition, more of them are dyslexic and on average, have fewer children and grandchildren than people with a stronger preference for one hand or the other.

So although people see right and left-handedness as an important personality trait, in biological terms the strength of the preference is actually more important. This does not, however, detract from the fact that many left-handed people report specific problems in their daily lives relating to society’s bias towards right-handedness (varying from the way that kitchen cupboards open to training programmes for surgeons). On the other hand, some left-handed people experience benefits (such as in certain sports or professions).

An important aspect of hand preference is the fact that people use their preferred hand to practise the kind of fine motor skills needed to operate specialized machinery. The study also tested the difference between the hands in terms of skills. This may turn out to be even more important than hand preference; the data is still being analysed. More research is also being conducted into the interesting question of how differences between the right and left sides of the brain relate to right and left behavioural differences.

Science Weekend

Science Weekend is a platform for the future. On 3 and 4 October, the Dutch population will go backstage at various companies, institutes, universities, research organizations and museums to experience science and technology at first hand. The aim is to show the people of the Netherlands how important, interesting and innovative these fields can be, and the essential part they play in our future.

One 48-hour weekend completely dedicated to science and technology.

In 2014, more than 130,000 people visited at least one of the 191 locations that took part in Science Weekend. More than 1,200 activities were organized throughout the Netherlands for young and old alike. This year’s edition of Science Weekend will be held on Saturday 3 and Sunday 4 October. Two hundred and fifteen organizations have already signed up. For more information, go to www.hetweekendvandewetenschap.nl
Last modified:24 September 2015 3.16 p.m.
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