Category Archives: lateralisation

Put Out Your Hand…

Standard

Question is – which one? Are you one of the right-handed majority – or a leftie, like me? There’s only about 10% of us, and it is a statistic that has held fairly steady despite predictions when children were no longer forced to write with their right hand, that the figure would rise to be approximately 50% of the population. Why is there a rump of us who don’t fit the norm, when it comes to handedness – or lateralisation – to use the proper term? It’s a question I’ve often wondered about.

zurdo3It certainly didn’t make life particularly easy at school. We used ink pens to learn to write so you can imagine the smudgy messes I produced, when struggling to form letters and trying to avoid them with my hand. Handicraft lessons (now called Design Technology) were a nightmare when even cutting paper with scissors posed a challenge back in the days without left-handed scissors. I didn’t manage to tie a bow until I was 8 years old and couldn’t reliably catch or hit a ball until I was 12.

Since then, I’ve had to cope with right-handed typing desks and right-handed checkout tills back in the days when you still pressed all the buttons and bar codes were in the future. It took a long time, but I eventually managed to become reasonably dextrous (a derivative from the Latin word for ‘right’) – and able to perform a number of tasks with my right hand.

There have even been some advantages. I made my VI Form College Fencing team and was regarded as a fairly able tennis player. Not, I hasten to add, through any real talent, but because the average college fencer and tennis player, when confronted with my left-handed play, was at an immediate disadvantage. And while painting walls and ceilings – the only part of DIY I enjoy – when my left hand gets tired, I simply swap hands as I’m completely ambidextrous with a paintbrush. However, when it became apparent that my children and grandchildren were right-handed, I was relieved. Life throws enough curved balls at us without having to battle through being sinister/gauche – the Latin and French words for ‘left’…

Still – it could be worse. Poor George VI, the stammering king who reluctantly stepped up to the job when his elder brother abdicated to marry Mrs Simpson, was reputed to start stuttering when his tutors forced him to write using his right hand, instead of his left. Fortunately, we are more enlightened towards left-handers in the classroom, these days. Which doesn’t stop them encountering more difficulties in learning to write and left-handedness is linked with dyslexia and autism.

What has been discovered, is that humans aren’t the only species with left/right preferences. All manner of animals show signs of preferring a fin/paw/wing/claw. Some of these are gender based. Your tom cat will probably bat a moving leaf with his left paw, while a female is more likely to use her right. So why is this business of lateralisation so widespread throughout the animal kingdom? Experiments with parrots have shown that those displaying more pronounced lateralisation have greater capacity to solve puzzles,schooling-fish-photo than ambidextrous birds. Scientists believe that when the brain categorises physical tasks to one hemisphere or another, rather than splitting them across both halves, it allows more ‘processing’ power for problem solving. So maybe that’s why I took four goes to pass my driving test. It’s not that I’m a particularly bad driver – it’s just that I have to stop and think when anyone directs me in terms of left and right. And I’m likely to turn the wrong way, anyway…

There is also a theory that schools or herds of prey animals have the maximum chance of survival while trying to escape a predator if the majority of them turn in one direction, allowing for safety in numbers. But, this advantage is reinforced if a smaller number turn off unexpectedly in the opposite direction. The sudden change of direction within a wheeling mass helps to confuse the attackers, while this smaller number will have an opportunity to escape because they have broken away from the main group. Apparently.
Hm. I’m not so sure. I have a sneaking suspicion that this rump of wrong-footed/finned creatures are the sacrificial offering. Their ill-advised break for freedom provides a tasty meal, while their more fortunate friends and relations rush off in tight formation, to live another day…

 

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