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domingo, 1 de enero de 2012

Left-Handedness—Disadvantage or Advantage?

Left-Handedness—Disadvantage or Advantage?

IF YOU are left-handed, does it bother you that you are different from people who are right-handed? It is true that left-handers are in a minority, although the exact percentage is difficult to determine. Estimates of the number of left-handed people have ranged all the way from 1 to 30 percent.

Michael Barsley, who researched the subject thoroughly, wrote in his book Left-Handed People: “Between the 1 per cent and the 30 per cent, there must obviously be an approximately accurate figure, but no one’s statistics have been universally accepted. We might estimate that 4 or 5 per cent is likely in a civilised democracy with an enlightened educational outlook.”

Grolier’s Encyclopedia International sets the world figure of those who are left-handed at about 6 percent. But even 5 or 6 percent of the world’s population would come to some 300 million people. So you have lots of company if you are a left-hander.

A left-handed person may chafe at the way so many household appliances are obviously designed for the convenience of those who are right-handed. For example, the cold-water tap is usually placed on the right side of the sink, apparently because it is the tap most used. TV dials and controls are also usually found on the right side. So left-handers must reach across their body to operate such things.

What Causes Left-Handedness?

Why is it that some use their left hand for almost everything they do? There are varied explanations. Studies suggest that the trait is inherited, although a child’s environment in the formative years may have a bearing on the degree of favoritism shown to the right or the left hand.

Over the years some interesting theories have surfaced. Paul Broca, 19th-century French neurosurgeon, advanced the theory that a left-handed person is a mirror-image of a right-handed person with regard to brain function.

Others took this theory a step further, believing that it would apply physically as well. So they expected the heart to be located on the right side of the body of a left-handed person. Anatomists soon proved that this was not the case. However, there does appear to be a strong link between brain patterns or organization and left- or right-handedness, and neuroscientists are doing more research on the subject.

Each side of the human brain is described as a hemisphere, and since the 19th century, it has been understood that the brain hemispheres specialize in different tasks. Research suggests that for most people the brain’s left hemisphere is the seat of verbal, mathematical, logical, and other analytical functions, whereas the right hemisphere seems to favor things like music and art. Those who are left-handed, however, seem to vary in how they process information and use the two hemispheres.

Is There Prejudice?

In enlightened lands today, apart from occasional teasing, there is no real prejudice against the left-handed. However, this has not always been the case. Some countries have been intolerant of left-handers. Left-handed writing was even forbidden in some schools. And it was not so long ago that parents and schoolteachers were known to strap the child’s “wrong” hand behind his back to force him to use his “right” hand.

In the past, man’s natural aversion to anything different was fanned by religious myths. At one time some claimed that the Devil was left-handed, while God supposedly was right-handed. This can be seen in many centuries-old paintings. As you look at them, note which hand is used to gesture or hold objects. Left-handedness was also said to be characteristic of witchcraft.

No Need for Feeling Inferior

Consider also some of the achievements of left-handers in our modern society. Many of them have won reputations in the field of sports. Babe Ruth, considered one of the all-time greats in baseball history, was left-handed, as are many other baseball players.

In the sport of cricket there are also many successful left-handers, both with the ball and with the bat. In one test cricket series in England, the West Indies team had more left-handers than right-handers. One of the greatest all-rounders of the game, West Indian Sir Gary Sobers, batted and bowled left-handed.

The popular Olympic sport of fencing also has a number of left-handed participants. At the 1980 Olympic Games, 3 out of 4 fencing gold medalists were left-handers.

Some well-known entertainers of modern times have been left-handed. Charles Chaplin, in one of his successful films, played the violin left-handed. Others were Harpo Marx and the versatile Danny Kaye.

In the art world, probably no one is better known for his left-handed work than Leonardo da Vinci. While there is some question as to whether he was left-handed from birth, there seems to be ample evidence that he both wrote and painted with his left hand, though on occasion he also demonstrated his ambidexterity by using his right hand.

Mirror Writing

There is a close connection between left-handedness and mirror writing, in which the letters are written in reverse form and the writing spreads across the page from right to left. Dr. Macdonald Critchley in his booklet Mirror-Writing explains: “By the term mirror-writing . . . is understood that variety of script which runs in an opposite direction to the normal, the individual letters being also reversed. The writing is therefore illegible until held up before a looking-glass; a familiar example of mirror-writing is seen in the imprints on a blotting-pad.”

Obviously this suits a pen held in the left hand, so this intriguing form of writing is done almost exclusively by left-handers. An early report of this was of a soldier who had lost his right arm from war injuries. When he began to write with his left hand, he automatically began to write mirror-wise. Some children do this with singular letters such as b, d, p, and q when learning to write.

Possibly the one best known for mirror writing in the realm of literature is Lewis Carroll, the left-handed author of Alice in Wonderland. This seems to have been the inspiration for his work Through the Looking Glass, where everything is inverted, backward, or mirrored.

A Blessing or a Disadvantage?

So if you are left-handed, you can be glad that in most places you are more understood than were your fellow left-handers of the past. Today, many tools, appliances, and household items—such as scissors, can openers, potato peelers, and bricklayers’ trowels—are especially designed for you. You can even buy a fountain pen with a specially shaped nib that allows for easier writing with the left hand.

Certainly there is no need to apologize for being left-handed. It could well be that some of your reflex actions are quicker and more accurate than those of right-handers. You might have musical or artistic genius lying dormant in your left hand.

What, then, do you conclude? Is being left-handed a blessing or a disadvantage in a right-handed world? While some may not actually pronounce it a blessing, it is proving less and less a disadvantage, and sometimes it may be an advantage.

g92 6/8 pp. 25-27 Left-Handedness—Disadvantage or Advantage?

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