Against left-handers a bias that’s not right

There is a long tradition of left-handers often being derided, discriminated or being accorded pariah status. Considering that there are many left-handed people who have made big strides in different fields, the prejudices against them are baseless.

To reinforce the idea that left-handedness is not a stigma and that such people can be as good or as bad as dominant right-handed ones, August 13 is celebrated as International Left-handers Day.

It is known as khabbo in Hindi, bongo in Roman, cackhanded in British English, canhoto in Portuguese, Gauche in French, gawkhanded in Scottish English, kejthandet in Danish, mancini in Italian, mollydooker in Australian English and zurdo in Spanish.

About 10% people born with left-handedness use their left hand dominantly for their day-to-day performance. They face lots of difficulties in the world of right-handed people.

They struggle against social pressures in classroom while writing with their left hand, eating with left hand, at home, public functions and elsewhere.

Habits of hand use are linked with asymmetries in brain organisation; the part of the brain controlling the preferred hand generally has a larger volume than the corresponding region on the other side that controls the non-dominant hand.

Among human beings, there is also a link between language development and handedness, so your child’s hand preference may become more obvious as his/her language skills emerge. In right-handed people, the dominant right hand is controlled by the left cerebral hemisphere, and language development tends to be localised on the same side of the brain. In left-handed people, the picture is less clear-cut: 30% of left-handers have language functions localised in the right hemisphere, which controls their preferred left hand, while in the remainder language is either bilateral or left-sided.

Though right-handedness is a dominant pattern of hand use, few are ambidextrous i.e. they use both hands with equal ease. This pattern is established during third year of life, and can be predicted in intra-uterine life very early if observed minutely.

Prenatal ultrasound of left-handers shows right leg to be dominant in more than 90% of children. So more than 90% people are right-footed and rest 8 to 10% are born left-footed. Once the child starts crawling and pulling up, the stretching forces tend to equalise, and the body asymmetry gradually disappears. However, when many infants first start pulling up to stand, their little feet play out — more on one side than the other. Yet they overcome this as the muscles and ligaments come into balance. It also depends on how cultural factors help in making the body balance.

The list of left-handers at home includes well-known names like Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Chhattisgarh CM Dr Raman Singh, Ratan Tata, Amitabh Bachchan and his son Abhishek, Sachin Tendulkar, Saurav Ganguly, Yuvraj Singh, etc.

Those outside the country include former US president Barack Obama, James Garfield, Herbert Hoover, Henry Truman, Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan, etc. The category also has luminaries like Bill Gates, Henry Ford, John D Rockefeller, Lou Gerstner.

What makes lefties so electable? Some experts think left-handers have a greater aptitude for language skills, which may help them craft the rhetoric necessary for political office. 

Leonardo da Vinci wrote from right to left. To explain this so-called “mirror writing,” some historians have suggested that da Vinci’s left-handedness made him think and see in an extraordinary way.

Renaissance titans Michelangelo and Raphael, Beethoven, Benjamin Franklin, Joan of Arc, Julius Caesar, Mark Twain, Napoleon, Pablo Picasso, Queen Victoria etc also belonged to the left-handers block. It is believed that left-handed people favour ‘divergent’ thinking, a form of creativity in which the brain moves “from conventional knowledge into unexplored association.”

Research shows no link between IQ or reading or writing and handedness; left-handed aren’t more or less intelligent than right-handed ones either.

In a world full of customs made by and for the right-handers, the roughly 11% left-handers face certain problems unique to them.

This includes difficulty in performing religious rituals (or accepting ‘prasad’), being avoided by right-handed people at dinner table, difficulty writing exams on right-handed support system, during handshake, higher cost of notebooks and custom made belts. The designs of door knobs, locks, fridge doors, scissors, and so on, also cause inconvenience to the left-handed people.

(Singh is Associate Professor & Head, Medical Anthropology, IHBAS, Delhi. Rani is Associate Professor & Head, Dept of Psychology, Govt Raza Post Graduate College, Rampur, UP)

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Against left-handers a bias that’s not right

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