The Psychology of Left-Handed Brain Differences

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About 10% of the world’s population is left-handed, a percentage that has stayed consistent over the years. This relatively small percentage of people have always fascinated psychologists. Left-handed brain differences and the things left-handers do differently lead to many interesting questions. Studies provide insight into what handedness can denote.

In general, handedness is a continuum. Some people are more comfortable using their right hand but still use their left for some tasks. Few people are fully ambidextrous, meaning they use both hands equally for the same tasks. Left-handed people are most comfortable writing, throwing and doing other everyday jobs with their left hand. But all this is just the beginning. Left-handed statistics leave plenty to explore when researching the psychology associated with handedness.

Do Left-Handed People Think Differently?

In many ways, left-handed people do think differently. Some reasons are sociological, while others are physiological.

Hand Preference Development

Men are slightly more likely to be left-handed, as are twins. There are trends to hand preference development, and although researchers are still exploring what exactly causes people to be left-handed, we know that genetics influence it. The tendency to have a dominant left hand runs in families. Unlike other genetic traits, though, it is not entirely predictable. Two left-handed people are not guaranteed a left-handed child.

The U.S. National Library of Medicine stated, “It was initially thought that a single gene-controlled handedness. However, more recent studies suggest that multiple genes, perhaps up to 40, contribute to this trait. Each of these genes likely has a weak effect by itself, but together they play a significant role in establishing hand preference.”

An article in Neuropsychologia stated fetuses show a strong preference for arm movement early on in development. By the fifteenth week of pregnancy, 90% of fetuses prefer right-sided thumb sucking. These initial preferences are correlated with handedness later in life, illustrating that handedness is partially developed before birth.

The Left-Handed Brain

Whether the left-handed brain is anatomically different from the right-handed brain is a topic of debate and has spurred much research. Left-handed brain function is still studied extensively. Handedness is a form of functional hemispheric asymmetries that establish differences between the left and right sides of the brain. Studies are inconsistent in their findings of whether structural make-up in the brain contributes to handedness.

A 2019 article stated, “While large-scale neuroimaging studies using automated methods have largely failed to find local anatomical asymmetries associated with hand preference, other studies identifying specific motor regions have been able to find local morphological and functional differences.”

The article reported findings in MRT imaging indicating left-handed people differ from their right-handed peers in three main areas of the brain, including the motor cortex for both sexes and the striatum and the white matter of the cerebellum in male participants. All three areas of the brain play a role in motor function.

While some reasons for the differences in thinking and functioning may be genetic and anatomical, left-handedness is behavioral as well. Things left-handers do differently are often influenced by the societal implications of having a dominant hand that differs from the general public.

Left-Handed People in a Right-Handed World

The world we live in is largely built for right-handed people. Because of this, left-handed people meet an array of challenges that right-handed people do not encounter. The fact that they must do daily tasks in a society that caters to people with a different dominant hand makes them think differently in everyday life.

Insider magazine pointed out tiny things that right-handed people often take for granted that are tougher for left-handers. The article stated, “The world is designed for the right-handed, and lefties have to endure lots of little daily struggles righties might not think twice about.”

The article points out that zippers, measuring cups, notebooks, credit card keypads and more are designed for the right-handed. Many of the psychological differences between right-handed people and left-handed people are likely the result of left-handers adapting. Much of the things left-handers do differently are outcomes of necessity.

Before much of today’s research was completed, it was thought that left-handedness could be unlearned. Until recently, students were often forced to use their right hand to write in school, even when using their left hand made more sense to them. Today, we know that there is nothing wrong with being left-handed and understand that forcing children to change their handedness could have long-lasting adverse effects.

German psychologist Anne-Kathrin Schwarz said, “From the womb, we have a dominant hand that better suits the fine motor skills, which, of course, is decided by the brain. And, when we act against this disposition, it has consequences for concentration, cognitive performance, or, for example, on how well we can learn.”

Education was not the only area that left-handed people were thought to be inferior. For much of history, left-handers were believed to be more prone to psychological problems and even physical injuries. More recent studies dispute this. In fact, some studies show there are left-handed advantages. For example, according to studies, left-handed professional athletes may have an advantage over their right-handed counterparts, possibly because their movements are less predictable than that of their right-handed peers.

Creative thinking is necessary when living life as a left-hander, which may lead to better adaptability and problem-solving skills in professional life. “Even if it’s as small as adapting to doors, tools, or scissors . . . we’ve developed functional solutions for it all. That makes left-handers more flexible in the office and fast to react,” stated an article in Fast Company.

The article goes on to highlight that left-handed people can come up with multiple options for solutions to problems and often do not see things in black and white. The article also suggested that they may be more independent because their left-handedness sets them apart from many of their peers.

These left-handed statistics paint a fascinating picture of what handedness can influence. Left-handed people facts suggest that their unique perspective on the world leads to different behaviors and strengths. There is still much to be explored when it comes to the psychology of left-handed brain differences and what it can tell us about human development, mental health and more.

To learn more about left-handed brain differences and other interesting psychological questions, consider an online bachelor’s in psychology from Notre Dame College. Our customizable degree allows you to tailor your education by choosing from numerous areas of study within the field. Our holistic approach to psychology focuses on the mind, body and spirit and means increased marketability in the workforce.