LEFTHANDERS NEWSLETTER

Articles and Information for and about Lefthanded People

The Causes And Consequences Of Being Lefthanded

Prior to the 20th century, the prevailing wisdom was that left-handedness might have been the result of “bad parenting”, a combination of stubborn or stupid children who refused to do things right, and parents who failed to convince them that they were wrong.  In more recent years, as our understanding of neurology and the human brain has increased, it became clear that nature meant for some people to be left-handed, and it was not just stubborn behavior that could, or should, be changed or prevented.

Yet after many years of research, scientists still cannot agree on what causes people to be left-handed.  There are many different unproved theories, but most of them can be summarized into two distinctly different causes of left-handedness, resulting in two different types of lefthanders.  According to these theories, there are the “real or true lefthanders” who receive their left-handedness and right-brain dominance as part of their genetic makeup.  Then there are the “accidental or pathological lefthanders” who many have become left-handed as a result of complications during pregnancy or birth.

First, let’s talk about the “real or true left-handers”, who seem to make up the vast majority of left-handed people.  It is believed that certain gene patterns appear randomly which make the left side of the body the dominant one in some people.  It’s sort of a genetic lottery, or a roll of the dice, much like genes that determine hair color, eye color, and other variables in human appearance and behavior.  Yet no specific genes have ever been identified, and there are no discernible patterns to its appearance.  There have been occasional families with more than expected number of left-handers, but there has never been a family that was exclusively left-handed, or any that had a majority of left-handed family members.  There seems to be a greater chance that two left-handed parents will produce a left-handed child than with one or both parents being right-handed, but the chance is still less than fifty percent.

The second type of lefthander is the “accidental or pathological lefthander” who may be born left-handed as a result of some type of stressful birth or problems during pregnancy.  It is believed that some form of damage has occurred to the left side of their brain, forcing the right side to take more control.  These same forces which cause these “accidental or pathological lefthanders” can make them more susceptible to other health problems and more prone to illness and various diseases.

There are many scientists who have studied the causes of left-handedness through the year, and many who continue to do research in the hope of finding the cause.  Perhaps the two most well-known, and the ones whose work has received the most public attention, are Dr. Amar J.S. Klar, and Dr. Stanley Coren.  Dr. Klar studies genetics at the Center for Cancer Research in Frederick, Maryland.  His research focuses on trying to isolate the genes or genetic patterns that cause left-handedness, or in his own words “causes a failure to become right-handed”.  He has been running the same genetic tests and making the same claims for over twenty years.   

Stanley Coren was a Psychology Professor and Director of Human Neuropsychology at the University of British Columbia.  He became famous for his research in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s that resulted in the publishing of a book called “The Left-Hander Syndrome”.  His theories focused on left-handedness being caused by problems during pregnancy or complications during birth, which also “caused a failure to become right-handed”.  The conclusions of his research were that left-handers were prone to various health problems and deficiencies, and also more likely to suffer from serious and even fatal accidents. 

All of this combined into the idea that lefthanders live a shorter average lifespan than right-handed people, and lead to scary newspaper headlines like “Lefties Die in a Right-Handed World”.  Many people believe that his research and the way it was reported had major impact on stifling the progress that left-handers had made in the prior decades, and caused some parents to go back to the old ways of making their left-handed children become right-handed “for their own good”.  Since his fame and fortune from his work on left-handedness, Dr. Coren has moved on to other topics, and more recently has become famous for his research on “Dog behavior and the Human–Canine Bond”.

Any suggestion that left-handedness is pathological offends many people, because it implies that left-handers are inferior.  The stereotype formed by this perception creates additional trouble for left-handers, because it affects the way people relate to them.  This does not mean that such research can be ignored, but it is imperative that any conclusions or implications are considered rationally, and are not sensationalized to create false impression.

Some people are frightened by studies into the causes of left-handedness, because they fear mad scientists who hope that finding the cause will lead them to “finding the cure”.  Left-handed people do not want to be cured, but we would like to see more effort and research into the consequences of being left-handed and the characteristics of left-handers, and more efforts to help make left-handed people feel more comfortable in a right-handed world.