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Left-Handedness Being Rare Is A Weirdly Human Quirk

Left-Handedness Being Rare Is A Weirdly Human Quirk

Left-handedness is rare due to genetics, the environment and random chance.

If you're one of the estimated 10 percent of people worldwide who are left-handed, you're no doubt used to smudging anything you write down using a fountain pen and making a total fudge of holding paper scissors. But why are lefties so rare?

Now a geneticist has delved into why left-handers are so few and far between, finding that having a dominant hand that's so much more common than the other is actually a weirdly human trait.


Writing for academic research website The Conversation, geneticist Thomas Merritt, Professor of Biochemistry at the Laurentian University in Ontario, Canada explained that 'handedness' can be pinned down to three main things: genetics, the environment, and random chance.

In many cultures, being a leftie has long been associated with being a wrong 'un - that's why the word 'sinister' can be traced back to the Latin word for 'left'.

Just a generation or two ago, lefties were getting rapped by school-teachers to force them to write 'in the right way'. Given all the social pressure to use your right hand instead, being a leftie is just frankly inconvenient, Merritt said.

"The fact that scissors, and other assorted manual tools and appliances, from dessert forks to chainsaws, are designed for the righty majority means they're harder to use lefty, resulting in considerable pressure to conform and use your right hand," Professor Merritt said.


Genetically, we are hard-wired to be asymmetrical in many ways - such as how our vital internal organs like our heart are usually found on our left side, or how the left and right sides of our brains do different things.

One scientist, Amar Klar, identified that what hand you use is linked to the direction the hair on your scalp spirals - if it's clockwise, you'll be right-handed, if it spirals counterclockwise, there's a 50% chance you won't be. It's just chance.

Asymmetry and handedness can also be found in other species too - snail shells almost always twist to the right, while other molluscs like octopi and squid often have a preferred arm or side.

Interestingly though, Merritt points out, the extreme bias towards one hand or the other isn't so extreme in animals. Cats always reach for food with their dominant paws, but they're just as likely to be right- or left-pawed.

"American lobsters have a larger 'crusher' claw and a sharper 'cutter' claw, but the big, dominant claw is equally likely to be on the right or left," Merritt wrote.

"Kangaroos tend to be lefties, and chimps tend to be righties, but in both the bias isn't as strong as it is in humans."

Merritt finishes his article by suggesting there are 'subtle differences' in how lefties' and righties' brains are wired - with lefties more likely to be writers, artists and architects, there may be a 'creative benefit' to being a leftie.

So if you're a leftie struggling in a right-handed world, don't get too down-hearted. Yes, normos might think you're weird, but in some ways you're probably better.

Featured Image Credit: PA

Topics: Science, Interesting, Community