Left-Hand, Right Brain

George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton and  Barak Obama have something in common. And they share the trait with Alexander the Great, Helen Keller, Napoleon Bonaparte, Paul Klee and Whoopie Goldberg. All are left-handed.  About 10 percent of the general population is, give or take 3 percent, depending on the study you check.

Most of us left-handers have some degree of ambidexterity, and some people (full disclosure: I’m one of these) write right-handed. Our group is generally a bit older, and would have been left-handed writers, but were changed in school.

Two custom-made left-hand pendants Here’s a tip to tell if you are classified as left-handed: what hand do you brush your teeth with? How about comb your hair? (That was for men, for women, the question is more often, “What hand holds the hair dryer?) Other, more private functions, can also determine if you are left- or right-handed.

What made you left handed? It happened in the womb. LRRTM1 is the gene thought to be responsible, but there is even more involved. According to neurologist Norman Geschwind (for whom the theory is named), some women have higher testosterone levels in the womb, whether or not they have girls or boys. (Want to check if your mom did? Look at your second toe, the one next to the big toe. If it is equal in length (or longer) than the big toe, your mom had higher testosterone levels while she was pregnant, and you are probably left-handed.

How does that work? According to Geschwind’s research, the testosterone levels suppress the growth of the left side of the brain, and the ambitious neurons go over to the right brain and do their growing over there. The more developed right side of the brain, which controls language skills, also controls hand-preference.

The dominant right side can also make you susceptible to dyslexia, stuttering, and some auto-immune diseases. Before I go on, please note that not all of these will happen to you, and you can be firmly right-handed and have that longer toe. These are based on huge samples across demographic lines.

Left-handers are generally more adaptable, because they have to get used to living in a right-handed world. Problem-solving skills are higher among creative people than the general population, and it might come from trying to figure things out.

A few companies have created tools for left-handers. For years, scissors that violinclaimed to be for left-handers, simply reversed the grips, making left-handers “cut blind”, in other words, the part of the scissors that did the work was still on the original side, and you couldn’t see the part you were cutting. Friskars actually reverses the blade, and I’m grateful to them for thinking this through. Here’s the link for purchasing the scissors.

If you are left-handed, there are resources for you. If you are a right-handed parent of a left-handed child, there are also resources for you.

–Quinn McDonald is left-handed and writes right-handed. Determined nuns were stronger than her persistence. However, she writes left-handed when she uses a whiteboard or a flip chart.