Lefties make up a small, but mighty group. At around 10 percent of the Western population, they are clearly dwarfed in numbers alone by right-handers [source: Jarrett]. Nowadays, most of the modern world barely blinks an eye at a lefty, but that wasn't always the case. Left-handers in the Middle Ages feared being accused of witchcraft and use of the left hand was long associated with the devil and other evil-doings. In fact, the Latin word for "left" is "sinistra," from which we get the word "sinister" [source: Rothman]. England's King George VI was one of many born lefties forced to write with his right hand, a practice that is now known to be associated with stammering, a problem from which he suffered [source: Farndale].
Fortunately, lefties are no longer as persecuted, thanks to the enlightenment of the last few decades. Studies have shown that lefty status is determined in the womb, with up to 40 genes contributing to handedness, although other factors play a role, including cultural influence, prenatal environment and sheer chance [source: U.S. National Library of Medicine]. One meta-analysis showed that men were 23 percent more likely to be left-handed than women.
No one's saying that right-handed folks aren't just as capable as lefties, but there are a few activities and skills that Southpaws seem predisposed to doing better or more easily. Here are some of them.
You've probably heard that the human brain is divided into two hemispheres — the left and the right. Well, the left side of the brain controls the handedness of righties, while lefty movements are managed by the right side of the brain. Traditionally, the right hemisphere was associated with creative skills, like art, music, perception and even general genius.
So, this variation in brain dominance was supposedly why so many lefties pursue creative pastimes and careers. Some of the most famous left-handed artists include heavy-hitters like Leonardo da Vinci (although it's possible he painted left-handed due to a defect), Raphael and M.C. Escher. Left-handed guitarists are rare, yet the group makes up some of the most influential musicians out there, including Jimi Hendrix, Paul McCartney, Black Sabbath's Tony Iommi and Dick Dale, who's known as the "King of the Surf Guitar" [source: Hall].
However, it's not completely clear that there's a link between handedness and creativity. In fact, there's a lack of concrete scientific evidence to support this long-held theory [source: Jarrett]. Additionally, the brain is more complex than originally supposed — both hemispheres aid creativity, just in different ways [sources: Jarrett, Lombrozo].
However, one study did find that left-handed men exceled at divergent thinking, which is being able to come up with new and interesting ideas based on information presented [source: Coren]. By contrast, most people are convergent thinkers, meaning that we think in an "either/or" manner about problems.
College-educated left-handed men could be making it rain dollar bills at a rate of 15 percent more than their similarly educated, righty counterparts. This is according to the findings of a 2006 study by the National Bureau of Economic Research. The same finding was not discovered for left-handed women, which the researchers attributed to possible gender discrimination, as well as a tendency of women to pursue careers in lower-paying sectors [source: Ruebeck, Harrington and Moffitt].
However, in a 2014 paper, Harvard University professor Joshua Goodman wrote, "Lefties also have 10-12 percent lower annual earnings than righties," adding that emotional/behavioral problems and cognitive differences associated with left handedness could play a role. "Lefties work in more manually intensive occupations than do righties, further suggesting that their primary labor market disadvantage is cognitive rather than physical." Nevertheless, there are some famous left-handed millionaires including Bill Gates, Michael Bloomberg and Oprah Winfrey.
Mathematics might seem full of stringent rules and calculations, but it's actually a very creative, complex process. Given the lefty tendency toward excellence in divergent thinking, it's not terribly surprising that they also tend to do well in math. This has long been the line of thinking, and a 2017 study published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology has added more evidence to the pile.
Researchers assessed handedness in more than 2,300 student participant students. Lefties (especially male adolescents) significantly outdid the others when presented with complex mathematical problem-solving tasks. However, handedness didn't make a difference at all when asked to solve basic math problems. Interestingly, participants who reported that they are extremely right-handed (as opposed to moderately right-handed) underperformed on all of the tests [source: Sala and Gobet].
Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, Barry Bonds and Lou Gehrig are known for being some of the best baseball players ever to play the game. Interestingly, every one of them batted left-handed [source: Trueblood]. Some of the greatest pitchers of all time were Southpaws too, including Sandy Koufax, Tom Glavine and Randy Johnson [source: ESPN]. So, in a world where only about 10 percent of the population is believed to be left-handed, why are 25 percent of Major League Baseball players lefties? Some of the sheer mechanics of the sport give lefties a competitive edge.
Left-handed pitchers enjoy a couple of distinct advantages. First, they physically face or "open up" to first base, which makes it harder for runners to steal. Simply put, they can pick them off more easily because of the directional advantage. It's also something of a numbers game. Since lefties are comparatively rare, batters have fewer opportunities from childhood on up to practice hitting against a lefty pitcher. This is also an issue that lefty batters deal with when facing down left-handed pitchers.
Left-handed batters have a visual advantage because they naturally face the ball as it comes toward them. Righties, however, have to see it coming from over the left shoulder. Once they successfully crack the ball, lefties are able to follow the natural momentum of their swing on through to first base, giving them an average 5-foot (1.5-meter) head start on righties. This makes them get to first base one-sixth of a second faster [source: Live Science].
Martina Navratilova, John McEnroe and Rod Laver are three members of tennis royalty, who also just happen to be left-handed [source: Smith-Johnson]. For many years left-handed players held a distinct competitive advantage, and probably still do in lower level competition. The reason was tennis pros were told to serve from the left which aimed toward the opponents' backhand, typically their weaker side. In the modern era, however, it's rare to encounter a weak pro backhand, so some of the lefty edge has been mitigated [source: Liew]. In fact, the ATP 2017 top 35 men's rankings only feature a handful of left-handed players, including Rafael Nadal and Feliciano Lopez. (Interestingly, Nadal was actually born right-handed, but at some point in his childhood training, decided to use his non-dominant left hand to primarily handle his racquet.)
Lefty female players like Angelique Kerber, Lucie Šafářová and Petra Kvitová have all enjoyed significant success in recent years; however they remain outnumbered by righties in the rankings [source: Liew].
For the moment, however, recreational league level lefty tennis players continue to have a bit of an edge over righties, if for no other reason than they have more opportunities to face down right-handed opponents. In fact, a small study of equally divided right- and left-handed tennis players at a range of levels found that all groups were better able to anticipate the directional strokes when facing a right-handed player [source: Hagemann].
The left-handed advantage holds true for other one-on-one sports, like boxing and fencing, and is known as the fighting hypothesis that says that left-handedness has persisted evolutionarily because it gave its owners a fighting advantage [source: Jarrett].
It's no small feat to become an astronaut. Applicants traditionally have had to go through a litany of screenings, tests and trainings to earn the coveted title. In 2016 alone, NASA reviewed more than 18,000 applications, with only about 120 called back for interviews. The pool is then whittled down to a select few to undergo a two-year training program [source: Wild].
If history is any indication, left-handedness could increase an applicant's chances of being selected for further review and possible future trips to Mars, or even beyond. Of the 1960's-era Apollo astronauts, one in four was left-handed, a probability uptick of more than 250 percent. A couple of these thoroughly vetted individuals included Buzz Aldrin and Mike Collins, who both made history as part of the Apollo 11 lunar landing crew [source: Sherrod].
Lefties often recover speech more quickly than their right-handed counterparts following stroke. This is because the left side of the brain typically controls speech. Since lefties are less dependent on the left side, they are usually able to bounce back more quickly. In fact, 95 percent of right-handers have a left brain language dominance, whereas only 70 percent of lefties have this, meaning that the other 30 percent have language dominance in the right side of the brain or it's spread out between both halves [source: Jarrett].
This left-handed advantage could also extend to spatial neglect, which causes a person with brain injury or recovering from stroke to simply not acknowledge one-half of a situation, like not noticing food on the left side of a plate. Once again, lefties and their more evenly balanced brain power are thought to benefit, although further study is needed [sources: Madhusoodanan, Bareham, et. al.].
President Donald Trump is a righty, but before him a veritable flood of left-handed United States presidents held office. It's tough to track presidential handedness throughout history because until recently many naturally left-handed children were forced to write with their right hands.
In the past several decades alone, however, the Oval Office lefties have come out of the woodwork, including Barack Obama, Bill Clinton, George H.W. Bush, Gerald Ford and Herbert Hoover. Ronald Reagan was considered ambidextrous, probably because he was born lefty, but forced in childhood to write right-handed. Harry S. Truman and James Garfield also fell into the ambidextrous category. So, now that Trump has taken office, of the last 15 presidents, seven classify as either straight up lefty or ambidextrous, a ratio that is well above the average left-handed population [source: Marcin].
Why so many presidential lefties? It's tough to pinpoint entirely, but the lefty predisposition to excellence in complicated thought processes could be one reason.
Way back in 1977 a couple of researchers hypothesized that more left-handed architecture students would successfully complete their six-year long educational program. In fact, 21 percent of men who started the program were lefties, well above the population average of 10 percent. (Although there were women in the program, none were apparently left-handed. Left-handedness is much rarer in women than men.) The lefties indeed did graduate at a higher rate proportionately than righties, scoring better on design and other academic measures [source: Peterson and Lansky].
The jury's out on exactly why this is the case, but one of the more prevalent theories is that lefties excel at 3-D thinking and perception, which is obviously a pretty important part of the design and construction process.
Could lefties be better behind the wheel than right-handed comrades? The answer is yes, according to a couple of small-scale studies. The Zebra (an online car insurance agency) funded the Center for Handedness Research as it looked at the driving habits of 1,500 motorists over the course of a decade. The findings showed that lefties caused fewer accidents than right-handed drivers.
According to the lead researcher, Dr. Glenn Haversham, this could be due to the fact that lefty drivers in the U.S. have to keep their instincts in constant check because Americans drive on the right side of the road. Following the release of the research, The Zebra offered lefty drivers a discount in their auto insurance rates.
Also, a United Kingdom-based study, commissioned by the AA Driving School, found that lefties are 10 percent more likely to pass their driving test on the first attempt.
Researchers from Penn State suggest that heavy drinking and 'junk food' cravings go hand in hand. HowStuffWorks looks at the study on the munchies.
Author's Note: 10 Things Lefties Do Better
As a righty to the point where it might be a hindrance, I never even thought about the challenges that lefties face until my father-in-law joined us for dinner. Turns out he really has to think about where he's going to sit, unless he wants to spend the entire evening bumping elbows with the person to his left. #leftyproblems
More Great Links
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