This article is about left and right handedness in humans. For other uses, see Handedness (disambiguation).
"Handed" redirects here. For other uses, see Handed (disambiguation).
"Southpaw" redirects here. For the boxing stance, see Southpaw stance. For other uses, see Southpaw (disambiguation).

Handedness is better (faster or more precise) performance or individual preference for use of a hand.[1] Handedness is not a discrete variable (right or left), but a continuous one that can be expressed at various levels between strong left and strong right.[2]

While in an ordinary disclosure the terms left and right are used to define handedness,[2] there are actually four different types of handedness that include: left-handedness, right-handedness, mixed-handedness, and ambidexterity.[1] Globally, roughly 12% of men and 10% of women are left-handed.[3]


  • Right-handedness is most common. Right-handed people are more dexterous with their right hands when performing tasks. A variety of studies suggest that 70–90% of the world population is right-handed.[4][5]
  • Left-handedness is less common than right-handedness. Left-handed people are more dexterous with their left hands when performing tasks. A variety of studies suggest that approximately 10% of the world population is left-handed.[6]
  • Mixed-Handedness is the change of hand preference between different tasks. This is common in the population with about a 30% prevalence.[2]
  • Ambidexterity is exceptionally rare, although it can be learned. A truly ambidextrous person is able to do any task equally well with either hand. Those who learn it still tend to favor their originally dominant hand.[1]
  • Ambilevous or ambisinister people demonstrate awkwardness with both hands. Ambisinistrous motor skills or a low level of dexterity may be the result of a debilitating physical condition.

Emergence in humans


Division of labor

One common theory, as to how handedness affects the hemispheres, is the brain hemisphere division of labor. Since speaking and handiwork require fine motor skills, its presumption is that it would be more efficient to have one brain hemisphere do both, rather than having it divided up. Since in most people, the left side of the brain controls speaking, right-handedness predominates. This theory also predicts that left-handed people have a reversed brain division of labor.[7]

Verbal processing in right-handed individuals takes place mostly in the left hemisphere, whereas visuospatial processing is mostly done in the opposite hemisphere. Left-handed individuals have a heterogeneous brain organization in which their brain hemisphere is either organized in the same way as right handers, the opposite way, or even such that both hemispheres are used for verbal processing. When the average is taken across all types of left-handedness, it shows that left-handers are less lateralized.[7]

Genetic factors

Handedness displays a complex inheritance pattern. For example, if both parents of a child are left-handed, there is a 26% chance of that child also being left-handed.[8] A large study of twins from 25,732 families by Medland et al. (2006) has indicated that the heritability of handedness is roughly 24%.[9] This leaves about three quarters of the effect to be explained by environmental factors.

To date, two theoretical single gene models have been proposed to explain the patterns of inheritance of handedness, the first by Dr. Marian Annett[10] of the University of Leicester and the second by Professor Chris McManus[8] of UCL.

However, the growing weight of evidence from linkage and genome-wide association studies suggests that genetic variance in handedness cannot be explained by a single genetic locus.[11][12][13][14][15][16][17][18] From these studies Chris McManus et al. now conclude that handedness is polygenic and estimate that at least 40 loci contribute to determining this trait.[19]

Brandler et al. performed a genome-wide association study for a measure of relative hand skill and found that genes involved in the determination of left/right asymmetry in the body play a key role in determining handedness.[20] These results suggests the same mechanisms that determine left/right asymmetry in the body (e.g. NODAL signalling and ciliogenesis) also play a role in the development of brain asymmetry (handedness is an outward reflection of brain asymmetry for motor function).

Other mechanisms may play a role in handedness, for example hormone signalling. Medland et al.[21] found a CAG repeat length variant in the androgen receptor gene (AR) that is positively correlated with left-handedness in females, and negatively correlated in males. This same variant is positively correlated with testosterone levels in males, and negatively correlated in females. This may help to explain why there are more left-handed men than women (around 12% in men versus 10% in women globally).[3] However, another study has found that this variant is instead associated with mixed-handedness in males (and not left-handedness), conflicting with the original results.[22]

PreNatal Hormone Exposure

A 2003 study endorsed by the Center of Disease Control determine that males with in-utero exposure to diethylstilbestrol (a synthetic estrogen based fertility drug), were more likely to be left-haneded over the clinical control group. Experimental animal models showed the same pattern.[23]

Prenatal vestibular asymmetry

Previc, after reviewing a large number of studies, found evidence that the position of the fetus in the final trimester and a baby's subsequent birth position can affect handedness. About two-thirds of fetuses present with their left occiput (back of the head) at birth. This partly explains why prematurity results in a decrease in right-handedness. Previc argues that asymmetric prenatal positioning creates asymmetric stimulation of the vestibular system, which is involved in the development of handedness. In fact, every major disorder in which patients show reduced right-handedness is associated with either vestibular abnormalities or delay,[24] and asymmetry of the vestibular cortex is strongly correlated with the direction of handedness.[25]


Another theory is that ultrasound may affect the brains of unborn children, causing higher rates of left-handedness in children whose mothers received ultrasounds during pregnancy. Research on this topic suggests there may exist a weak association between ultrasound screening (sonography used to check on the healthy development of the fetus and mother during pregnancy) and non-right-handedness.[26]

Geographic Development

One linkage might be that our ancestors evolved a unique throwing capability over other hominids. Our closest cousin, the chimpaneze can only throw a 1/3 of our speed.[27] And their ratio of right-handers is 66% compared to our 90%.[28] Coincidentally, 90% of our world population currently resides in the northern hemisphere. From this half of the globe, the sun's rays generally originate from the south. This might have contributed to the disproportionate ratio of right-handers to lefties. That given the disadvantage of hunting or facing an opponent against the sun, a tiny effect from Coriolis might suade preference to be "right" over hundreds of thousands or millions of years.



In his book Right-Hand, Left-Hand, Chris McManus of University College London argues that the proportion of left-handers is increasing and left-handed people as a group have historically produced an above-average quota of high achievers. He says that left-handers' brains are structured differently (in a way that increases their range of abilities) and the genes that determine left-handedness also govern development of the language centers of the brain, although many scientists agree that there is no real difference in intelligence between the two.[29]

Writing in Scientific American, McManus states that,

Studies in the U.K., U.S. and Australia have revealed that left-handed people differ from right-handers by only one IQ point, which is not noteworthy ... Left-handers’ brains are structured differently from right-handers’ in ways that can allow them to process language, spatial relations and emotions in more diverse and potentially creative ways. Also, a slightly larger number of left-handers than right-handers are especially gifted in music and math. A study of musicians in professional orchestras found a significantly greater proportion of talented left-handers, even among those who played instruments that seem designed for right-handers, such as violins. Similarly, studies of adolescents who took tests to assess mathematical giftedness found many more left-handers in the population.[30]


In a 2006 U.S. study, researchers from Lafayette College and Johns Hopkins University concluded that there was no scientifically significant correlation between handedness and earnings for the general population, but among college-educated people, left-handers earned 10 to 15% more than their right-handed counterparts.[31]

Left-handedness and sports

Interactive sports such as table tennis, badminton, cricket, and tennis have an overrepresentation of left-handedness, while non-interactive sports such as swimming show no overrepresentation. Smaller physical distance between participants increases the overrepresentation. In fencing, about half the participants are left-handed.[32]

The advantage to players in one-on-one sports, such as tennis, boxing, fencing or judo, is that, in a population containing perhaps 10% left-handers and 90% right-handers, the left-hander plays 90% of his or her games against right-handed opponents and is well-practiced at dealing with this asymmetry. Right-handers play 90% of their games against other right-handers. Thus, when confronted with left-handers, they are less practiced (see Rafael Nadal). When two left-handers compete against each other, they are both likely to be at the same level of practice as when right-handers play other right-handers. This explains why a disproportionately high number of left-handers are found in sports in which direct one-on-one action predominates.

Other, sports-specific factors may increase or decrease the advantage left-handers usually hold in one-on-one situations:

  • In cricket, the overall advantage of a bowler's left-handedness exceeds that resulting from experience alone: even disregarding the experience factor (i.e., even for a batter whose experience against left-handed bowlers equals his experience against right-handed bowlers), a left-handed bowler challenges the average (i.e., right-handed) batsman more than a right-handed bowler does, because the angle of a bowler's delivery to an opposite-handed batsman is much more penetrating than that of a bowler to a same-handed batsman (see Wasim Akram).
  • In baseball, a right-handed pitcher's curve ball will break away from a right-handed batter and towards a left-handed batter. Historical batting averages show that left-handed batters have a slight advantage over right-handed batters when facing right-handed pitchers.[33] Because there are fewer left-handed pitchers than right-handed pitchers, left-handed batters have more opportunities to face right-handed pitchers than their right-handed counterparts have against left-handed pitchers.[34] Sixteen of the top twenty career batting averages in Major League Baseball history have been posted by left-handed batters.[35] Left-handed batters have a slightly shorter run from the batter's box to first base than right-handers. This gives left-handers a slight advantage in beating throws to first base on infield ground balls.[36]
  • Because a left-handed pitcher faces first base when he is in position to throw to the batter, whereas a right-handed pitcher has his back to first base, a left-handed pitcher has an advantage when attempting to pickoff baserunners at first base.[36]
  • Defensively in baseball, left-handedness is considered an advantage for first basemen because they are better suited to fielding balls hit in the gap between first and second base, and because they do not have to pivot their body around before throwing the ball to another infielder.[37] For the same reason, the other infielder's positions are seen as being advantageous to right-handed throwers. Historically, there have been few left-handed catchers because of the perceived disadvantage a left-handed catcher would have in making the throw to third base, especially with a right-handed hitter at the plate.[38] A left-handed catcher would have a potentially more dangerous time tagging out a baserunner trying to score.[38] With the ball in the glove on the right hand, a left-handed catcher would have to turn his body to the left to tag a runner. In doing so, he can lose the opportunity to brace himself for an impending collision.[38] The lack of left-handed catchers might be due to traditions.[38]

In sports in which one competitor's performance does not affect another's (except indirectly through subjectively perceived psychological pressure), a particular hand preference confers little or no advantage. Golf and miniature golf feature occasional situations when obstacles on one side of the ball but not the other interfere with the stance and/or swing of a right- or left-handed player but not the other's. Even so, the "favoritism" on any given course is probably minimal, especially at high levels of play: a layperson such as the owner of a small miniature golf business may, when placing obstacles, assess the results from only his/her own-"handed" perspective, such that more courses would be made difficult for right-handers than for left-handers. However, a thoughtful designer—especially a professional in the field—is likely to ensure game balance by adding handedness-specific obstacles in equal numbers and in places of similar tactical importance.


Of the seven most recent U.S. Presidents, four, including Barack Obama, have been left-handed, while a fifth is said to have been ambidextrous: Ronald Reagan, who was left-handed by birth,[39][40][41] became president after he defeated left-handed candidate George H. W. Bush in the Republican primary election. Four years earlier, Reagan had lost the Republican presidential primary to incumbent left-handed President Gerald Ford. George H. W. Bush succeeded Reagan and later ran for re-election against left-handers Bill Clinton[42] and Ross Perot.[41] Clinton's second term opponents included Perot and Bob Dole, who had become left-handed when his right arm was paralyzed in combat 50 years earlier. Left-handed then-Senator Obama defeated left-handed Senator John McCain in his race for the presidency.[43] Including the 2012 campaign, the last time the United States Presidential Election featured no left-handed candidate from a major political party was 1972.

Social stigma and repression of left-handedness

Main article: Bias against left-handed people

Left-handed people live in a world dominated by right-handed people and many tools and procedures are designed to facilitate use by right-handed people, often without even realizing difficulties placed on the left-handed. "For centuries, left-handers have suffered unfair discrimination in a world designed for right-handers."[44] However, as well as inconvenience, left-handed people have been considered unlucky or even malicious for their difference by the right-handed majority.

In many European languages, including English, the word for the direction "right" also means "correct" or "proper". Throughout history, being left-handed was considered negative. The Latin word sinistra meant "left" as well as "unlucky" and this double meaning survives in European derivatives of Latin, and in the English word "sinister.' There are many negative connotations associated with the phrase "left-handed": clumsy, awkward, unlucky, insincere, sinister, malicious, and so on. A "left-handed compliment" is considered one that is unflattering or dismissive in meaning. In French, gauche means both "left" and "awkward" or "clumsy", while droit(e) (cognate to English direct and related to "adroit") means both "right" and "straight", as well as "law" and the legal sense of "right". The name "Dexter" derives from the Latin for "right", as does the word "dexterity" meaning manual skill. As these are all very old words, they would tend to support theories indicating that the predominance of right-handedness is an extremely old phenomenon.

Black magic is sometimes referred to as the "left-hand path".

Until very recently in Taiwan (and still in Mainland China), left-handed people were strongly encouraged to switch to being right-handed, or at least switch to writing with the right hand. Due to the importance of stroke order, developed for the comfortable use of right-handed people, it is considered more difficult to write legible Chinese characters with the left hand than it is to write Latin letters, though difficulty is subjective and depends on the person in question.[45] Because writing when moving one's hand away from its side towards the other side of the body can cause smudging if the outward side of the hand is allowed to drag across the writing, writing in the Latin alphabet might possibly be less feasible with the left hand than the right under certain circumstances. Conversely, right-to-left alphabets, such as the Arabic and Hebrew, are generally considered easier to write with the left hand in general. However, depending on the position and inclination of the writing paper, and the writing method, the left-handed writer can write as neatly and efficiently or as messily and slowly as right-handed writers. Usually the left-handed child needs to be taught how to write correctly with the left hand, since discovering a comfortable left-handed writing method on one's own may not be straightforward.[46][47]

International Left-Handers Day

International Left-Handers Day is held annually every August 13.[48] It was founded by the Left-Handers Club in 1992, with the club itself having been founded in 1990.[48] International Left-Handers Day is, according to the club, "an annual event when left-handers everywhere can celebrate their sinistrality [meaning left-handedness] and increase public awareness of the advantages and disadvantages of being left-handed."[48] Again according to the club, "in the U.K. alone there were over 20 regional events to mark the day in 2001- including left-v-right sports matches, a left-handed tea party, pubs using left-handed corkscrews where patrons drank and played pub games with the left hand only, and nationwide 'Lefty Zones' where left-handers creativity, adaptability and sporting prowess were celebrated, whilst right-handers were encouraged to try out everyday left-handed objects to see just how awkward it can feel using the wrong equipment!"[48]

See also

In general


External links

  • Lefties Have The Advantage In Adversarial Situations, ScienceDaily, April 14, 2006.
  • Science Creative Quarterly's overview of some of the genetic underpinnings of left-handedness
  • A left-handed senior citizen recalls the emotional torment he faced at a New York public school in the 1920s. (Audio slideshow)
  • Woznicki, Katrina (2005). "Breast Cancer Risk Doubles for Southpaw Women", MedPage Today, 26 September.
  • Hansard (1998) ‘Left-handed Children’, Debate contribution by the Rt Hon. Mr. Peter Luff (MP for Mid-Worcestershire), House of Commons, 22 July.
  • Higher paychecks: a left-handed compliment?
  • Handedness & earnings, published in Journal of Human Resources 2007