Navigating the world with my left hand.
As someone who writes with their left hand, I have heard a lot of weird things. From people telling me that I have been cursed to believing I will one day grow up to be an amazing musician, the list is endless. I don’t know about others, but I can tell you one thing for sure, music is definitely not my strong suit.
With only about 10% of the world being left-handed, it got me thinking…where did all these crazy myths come from and why was being left-handed looked down upon?
A Right-Handed World
While 90% of the world is right-handed, it is safe to say that most things in our world are designed to use by right-handed people. From scissors to kitchen utensils to even sports equipment, lefties are forced to adapt or back down.
Exclusion from Research Studies
In August 2019, psychology researchers from Dalhousie University revealed that left-handed people are being purposefully and systematically excluded from neuro-imaging research studies. This happened because of the concern that any different or “weird” attribute could throw-off the results and it’s not the first it happened. Left-handed people have been left out of memory, attention, emotion, face recognition, vision and hearing research/experiments for decades.
Culture, Religion and Left Handedness
In many cultures being left-handed is seen as being unlucky or malicious. In many religions, the right hand is known as the hand of God and is said to be the favoured one. While in some religions, the left hand is said to be unclean.
The Pay Gap Between Lefties vs. Righties
A 2014 paper from the economist, Joshua Goodman, at the time at Harvard, found that left-handed people earn 10 to 19 percent less than right-handed people. He found that this was because of cognitive differences and differential brain structure. However, as Goodman said himself, “we can’t really say whether cognitive differences are actually a result of differential brain structure — or if it’s a consequence of having to navigate a right-handed world from the left.” The gap between lefties and righties was $2,500/year for men and $3,400/year for women, because unfortunately, even in 2020, the Gender Gap is still a thing.
A Leftie’s Brain
There have been countless studies trying to figure out whether a leftie’s brain is truly different than someone that writes with their right hand. However, in recent years, we have gotten closer. It is well known that handedness is caused by the brain. Handedness represents one form of functional hemispheric asymmetries. For example, left-right differences in the brain. Specifically, in left-handers, the motor cortex in the right side of the brain (the left side of the body is controlled by the right side of the brain, and vice versa) is dominant for fine motor behaviour.
A study found that 95 percent of right-handers are “left hemisphere dominant”. What does that mean? Most right-handers are more dependent on the left hemisphere for speech and language. So, many assumed that the opposite would be true for lefties.
However, this is not true, with about 70 percent of lefties are more dependent on their left hemisphere. Why this is the case is still unknown.
The assumption that lefties mostly use the right hemisphere of their brain is the basis and root of many common myths and misconceptions.
Common Myths & Beliefs
In many languages, the bias starts from the word’s meaning itself.
In Middle English, the word “left,” means, “weak,” based on the early observations that most left-handed people were weaker. In classic Latin, the word for left means “sinister.” In French, “gauche” is the word for left and it means either the direction or “clumsy.” In Vietnamese, the word for left is trái, which also means “wrong” or “opposite.” In Sanskrit, the word, Waama stands for both “left” and “wicked.” In Polish, the word lewy means “left” and “illegal” These are just some examples of the many, many different meanings for the word ‘left’ around the world.
Many people believe that left-handers are more creative, as most of them use their “right-brain”. This myth is probably the most common among society today.
According to the Medieval tradition, The Devil himself is left-handed. The left hand symbolized the power to shame society and was used as a metaphor for misfortune, natural evil, or punishment from the gods.
In the 20th Century anthropologists and psychologists identified left-handedness as a biological anomaly, one associated with deviance, but that could be corrected away with behavioural reinforcement.
However, the left hand is not always looked down upon. The Ancient Celts worshipped the left side, associating it with femininity and the fertile womb.
So, now what? It’s the 21st Century and there are still many questions to be answered, but there is one thing I know for sure. We are all the same from the inside, left-handed or right-handed, and that’s all that matters, right?
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