It is tough being a lefty. In school, desks build the left arm’s strength as it hangs off the side during each class — lefties are lucky if that one left-handed desk is available. Meanwhile, pencil marks smudge across the paper on a hot summer’s day, even as they contort their arms to write as comfortably as possible. Later on, they learn that proper etiquette was made for righties — handshakes and using a knife with the right hand, for example. In a world dominated by righties, lefties have been the odd ones out and have suffered in some ways because of it.
The Origin of Lefties
There is no set figure on how many people are left-handed, but many estimates run somewhere around 10 and 15 percent. Handedness, the term indicating which hand is more dominant, has long been a subject of mystery among scientists as well as superstition in the fellow man — people have even associated lefties with demonism and bad luck traveling. And research hasn’t been able to pinpoint exactly when lefties started to appear.
Studies show, however, that it arises not only from genes but also from our environment. Certain tools from the age of Neanderthals and H. heidelbergensis (the apparent common ancestor of Neanderthals and humans), who lived as recently as 200,000 years ago, show a preference to the right hand, suggesting that we gradually grew into right-handedness. Making these tools would have further engrained righty dominance as students learned these skills by making the exact same left- and right-handed movements as their teachers.
On the surface, lefties deal with physical problems constantly. A survey of 1,000 people (98.4 percent left-handed), ages 5 to 82 with the majority under 24, in over 50 countries found that 71 percent reported aching hands while writing and 37 percent reported an aching back — more often than not from twisting their bodies and wrists to compensate for a right-handed desk. When it came to sharing desks, 83 percent of respondents said they had a problem hitting elbows with a right-handed person sitting next to them. As adults, this problem also manifests at the dinner table, and many lefties are joked on because of it.
The Trials of Being Left-Handed
While it’s easy to believe that lefties will one day get over these everyday physical problems — and many do to some extent — being a lefty may have far deeper issues. A 2009 study looking into the effects these problems, which can begin before a child starts school, found that children, ages 4 and 5, were more likely to perform poorly in “nearly all measures of development,” which included the ability to read, write, copy, and recognize symbols. Performing even worse were those who were so-called mixed-handed.
This lag in brain development has led a higher number of lefties to be diagnosed with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and dyslexia, among other developmental disorders. Left-handedness has been linked to a higher risk of psychotic disorders as well, including schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, depression and other mood disorders. An October study found that although 11 percent of patients with these mood disorders were left-handed — about equal with the general population — 40 percent of those with the disorders were left-handed.
The reason for these risks, some researchers say, comes from the way the brain’s hemisphere’s work. In righties, the left hemisphere, which tends to be dominant, also specializes in the majority of language processing. But while 70 percent of lefties are about the same, 30 percent tend to split down the middle, or have a more dominant right hemisphere. It’s these lefties that are at a greater risk for brain disorders, The Wall Street Journal reported. Symmetry between the hemisphere’s function is often seen in people with schizophrenia.
Beyond these problems, studies have linked left-handedness to, on average, a 10 percent lower salary, a lower threshold for anger, and a tendency to drink more alcohol. And maybe, all of these are all just a result of the stigma we put behind being a lefty. Left-handedness isn’t only joked on and castigated through real-world interactions. It’s also conveyed negatively in language. A 2012 study, for example, notes that in English, left-handed can also mean something insincere, like a compliment, while in French, the word gauche, which means left, also translates to awkward or clumsy.
But not all is sad for lefties. While making and using tools may have favored righties, competition favors lefties. In baseball, left-handed pitchers have the advantage against batters — none of them know what to expect because they rarely bat against lefties. In other sports, like boxing, left-handers can be more unpredictable. They also tend to be more creative, intuitive, and expressive. And, though it’s probably just an awesome coincidence, six of the last 12 U.S. presidents have been lefties. That said, righties may be more populous, but lefties will beat you up and take power.