Opinion: Day for the Left-handed people

POSTED: 08/14/14 11:41 PM

Dang, yesterday I heard for the first time that August 13 is the international day for left-handed people. What are they going to come up with next? I thought. An international day for people that are addicted to Monster?

Being left-handed has been part of my life ever since I was born – I think. When my right-handed parents found out that I had a tendency to handle everyday problems with my left hand, they bought a spoon that was bent at a ninety degree angle. Handy for right-handed kids, a nightmare for left-handers. I simply took the damn spoon in my left hand, twisted my wrist inward and – little as I was – made clear to my parents that this was not gonna fly.

The international day for left-handed earthlings is an occasion to examine urban myths about this handicap in a right-handed world. The first myth is that left-handed people are more creative. As a left-hander, I find it tempting to subscribe to that notion and I admit: ego never sleeps. But is it really true?

According to neuroscientist Roel Willems it is tough to prove this point. “It is true that the brain of left-handed people looks different. The function distribution across both sides of the brain is less pronounced. Left-handers use the left and the right side of the brain for face recognition; right-handers don’t do that. However, this difference had little consequence for their behavior.”

It is therefore a coincidence that Beethoven and Leonardo da Vinci (not to be confused with Leonardo diCaprio) and Paul McCartney were or are left-handed, the Volkskrant writes. Willems acknowledges this. He says that it is tempting to name ten left-handed guitar players, but that it is not too much of a challenge to come up with ninety right-handed ones. The ratio of left to right handed people across the globe is 1:9. That is not different in creative professions, Willems claims.

Hmmm. That’s one illusion down the drain, but I think I will live. A more worrisome assumption is that left-handed people die sooner than right-handers. As a left-hander I surely wish this to be one of those dark urban myths designed to scare the living daylights out of me. For now, I’m not impressed.

The Canadian psychologist Stanley Coren wrote in his 1993 book The Left-Hander Syndrome that left-handers die nine years sooner than right-handers. Coren based his conclusions on the small number of left-handers among very old people. It became however soon clear that this could not be explained from mortality rates. Instead, the seniors had become a bit milder about stressing being left-handed. Yep, who cares about this crap at the age of ninety? Not me, if I ever get there.

There is however a link between being left-handed and certain disorders, the Volkskrant reports. An example is schizophrenia. The Flemish neuropsychologist Guy Vingerhoets said this weekend in a Belgian newspaper that among people with autism, dyslexia and schizophrenia left-handedness occurs slightly more often than right-handedness. But is there a connection? Scientists have no idea. At least I’m not autistic, dyslectic or schizophrenic – but I am left-handed.

Here is another myth: the rise of left-handedness is the result of a fight strategy. It survived the evolution due to the surprise effect. I may have dealt some bloke a left hook in a bar fight decades ago, but I have no recollection of how the fight ended. Research in this field is simply inconclusive – there are no data to corroborate the myth.

The next myth: left-handedness is hereditary. Hmmmm. Two right-handed parents have a 10 percent chance to have a left-handed child. For two left-handed parents the odds are 26 percent. I guess my parents drew the short straw in this division.

Many people associate right with good and left with bad. That even rings through in politics. Someone’s right hand is a good assistant, but a clumsy person has two left hands. Until halfway through the twentieth century, left-handed children were forced to write right-handed in schools. Tell me about it – that’s exactly what they still did in the sixties in the Netherlands.

In the course of my life, I have learned to write right-handed. But as an active basketball player I was left-handed and I had a weak right hand. Same for tennis: left-handed all the way. I eat left-handed (with a fork or spoon) but in situations where I use knife and fork, the fork shifts to the right hand. I’m still a left-handed drinker (cans, glasses) and I brush my teeth using my left hand to hold my tooth brush, and to hold my razor when I shave. I guess that old habits die hard and that’s just fine with me.

Hilbert Haar



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