On The Other Hand, Left-handedness

Michael Giberson

Why are some people left-handed? Here’s some research reported in The Independent:

It is known that left-handers tend to suffer more health problems and are at greater risk of serious accidents compared to right-handers. So, all other things being equal, the left-handed trait, which is largely genetic, should have died out long ago in prehistory.

There must, therefore, be some hidden advantage to being left-handed that counteracts the risks, but the problem for biologists was trying to work out what this advantage was.

A pair of researchers from the University of Montpellier (France) find support for a theory that the evolutionary value to being left-handed comes from the advantage of surprise in hand-to-hand combat against right-handed people.

Charlotte Faurie and Michel Raymond compared homicide rates, which includes murders and executions, in eight native societies around the world, from the Inuit of the Arctic to the Yanamamo indians of the Amazon. They found that as this measure of violent aggression increased in each society, so did the proportion of men who are left-handed.

Dr Faurie said: “We have found a direct correlation between the level of violence in a given society and the proportion of left-handers. This indicates that fighting can be an important selection pressure in the evolution of left-handedness.”

A competing researcher was not persuaded, suggesting that greater creativity and other advantages may well account for the persistence of lefties.

I haven’t read the Faurie and Raymond article itself, just the newsreport, but my wife and my youngest son are left-handed…. Well, let’s just say that I find the research very interesting and leave it at that.


9 thoughts on “On The Other Hand, Left-handedness

  1. Another paragraph from the article:

    It is also well established that left-handers often have an edge in sports such as tennis, cricket, boxing or baseball, where there are dual confrontations between opposing competitors. Other sports, such as gymnastics, show no such bias.

    I wonder if left-handers are relatively over represented in baseball (the pitcher vs. batter dual being the key), somewhat less strongly in, say, basketball (small teams, some one-on-one skills) and then even less strongly in football (larger teams, few ‘dualing’ situations).

  2. Being left handed (and left footed) I know that the surprise aspect arises in sports; whether that’s sufficient to make it an evolutionary viable trait, I don’t know!

    What about the left hand/right brain thing? Does that contribute to its viability? I’d like to think so …

  3. Mike Giberson: “I wonder if left-handers are relatively over represented in baseball.”

    The answer is emphatically yes. About 1/3 of all innings pitched are by left-handers.

  4. It is known that left-handers tend to suffer more health problems and are at greater risk of serious accidents compared to right-handers.
    It would be interesting to see how many of these left-handed accidents were likely caused by subtle right-handed designs in our world. Steering wheel on the left, stick-shift on the right, etc. Being a righty, I can’t really think of any more, but I’m sure they’re out there.

  5. Ben,

    Scissors. Utility knives with ergonomic handles. Some power tools.

    Interestingly, I think that being left handed in a righty world actually makes me a better driver in the UK on the left and adaptable to changing that while keeping the feet the same.

  6. Ben,

    Scissors. Utility knives with ergonomic handles. Some power tools.

    Interestingly, I think that being left handed in a righty world actually makes me a better driver in the UK on the left and adaptable to changing that while keeping the feet the same.

  7. Hasn’t this been debunked a long time ago?

    First off, many lefties were unnaturally switched by their parents, especially pre-1960 — forced into rightie hood.

    Enough switchers exist that many of the stats are useless — especially the longevity studies which ask 80 -100 year olds their “handedness.”

    I haven’t drilled further into the study, but I suspect they will have other similar aberrations . . .

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