Are lefties smarter?

LEFT-handed people have suffered bad press over the years.

Sinister Minds: Are Left-Handed People Smarter? revealed that in 1903 a doctor described as "the father of modern criminology", found that left-handers were "more than three times as common in criminal populations as they were in everyday life", and wrote "criminals are more often left-handed than honest men".

It's been said that left-handed people are more vulnerable to mental diseases, live shorter lives and are more likely to experience developmental delays. But, as The New Yorker article explains, modern thinking has taken quite a different turn.

Many of those old beliefs have been discredited, and recent investigations have found that "[l]eft-handers may, in fact, even derive certain cognitive benefits from their preference".

Tests at the University of Athens showed that lefties demonstrated "faster and more accurate spatial skills, along with strong executive control and mental flexibility" and "enhanced working memory". Other research indicates that left-handers possess a "creative edge" and increased powers of "divergent thinking, or the ability to generate new ideas from a single principle quickly and effectively".

Such news would presumably come as a relief to the much maligned left-handed people who may well have endured the indignity of being referred to as a cack-hander or south-paw. It wouldn't have come a moment too soon though for the left-handed Auckland woman I interviewed for a Canvas article a few years ago.

At the age of 56 she remained bitter about the treatment she received from a teacher at primary school. As a little girl she was shouted at and hit with a ruler for drawing with her left hand. She was accused of being stupid, sent to "the cupboard" and forced to hold the crayon in her right hand. Little wonder she says she now has the "ugliest handwriting out, really atrocious".

Left-handers have not only faced discrimination and abuse but the practicalities of everyday life often confound them. As noted in my earlier article: "Buttons, zips, cutlery, pencil sharpeners, spiral-bound notebooks, ring-binders and other seemingly benign objects can all present challenges for lefties" - as does using a pen at a bank or post office when it is attached to the right side of the desk.

So given the bleak history, who could begrudge left-handers their overdue place in the sun? It's time for them to bask in this new-found respect. Left-handed folks are statistically smarter, less evil than we thought reported that: "[n]ew theories suggest that the continual trial of coping and improvising their way through a predominantly right-handed world causes left-handed people to develop superior spatial skills and working memory".

But before they pop the champagne corks, perhaps left-handers should consider Psychology Today's view that debunks the myth that they have superior intelligence: "What about IQ? One massive study found no link with handedness; another found a slight IQ advantage for right-handers (put both studies together and any intelligence/handedness link is negligible)."

Regardless, let's give the last word on this to The New Yorker article which talks up lefties.

"Michelangelo and da Vinci were left-handed, after all. As were three of the last four occupants of the White House; the only right-handed President since the end of the Cold War has been George W. Bush."


Share your thoughts on lefties living in a right-hand world in the comments section below.

Topics:  psychology

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