What does it mean to be left handed? What are the challenges faced, and why is it important to support and embrace left-handedness?
Roughly 12% of the population is left handed. However, despite being a relatively common occurence, left-handedness continues to be misunderstood and even discouraged within many cultures that favor the use of the right hand.
Due to this, in many countries, the prevalence of left-handers is far lower than the average 12% figure. See my article titled How Many People Are Left Handed for a breakdown of handedness by country.
The marginalization of left-handedness is slowly becoming less of an issue in the modern world largely thanks to a raft of scientific studies exploring the topic. These bodies of research have helped to understand the natural biology and brain function that causes some people to be left handed. As a result, there is a burgeoning awareness of the qualities and benefits associated with left-handedness.
Throughout this post, we will take a thorough look at what it means to be left handed by exploring the cultural, societal, and scientific aspects of this interesting topic. In addition, we will also examine why it is important to help support left-handers in order to ultimately create a more inclusive society.
What Does It Mean To Be Left Handed?
Definition Of Being Left Handed
A person who is considered left-handed will have a preference for using the left hand during activities that involve manual dexterity. For example, writing, using scissors or throwing and catching. Hand preference is generally established early on during childhood and is unlikely to change over time.
How left (or right) handed are you? Take the 60 Second Left Handed Test to find out!
Left-Handedness Throughout History
For centuries, left-handedness has been viewed almost as an impairment, with people being treated with suspicion and discrimination. Left-handedness has been compared to a sign of bad luck or even being in league with the Devil!
Find out more about this in my article Are Left Handed People Evil?
In spite of the negative attitude towards left-handedness, many of the world’s most celebrated and successful people have been lefties. For example, Bill Gates, Barack Obama, David Bowie, Leonardo Da Vinci, and Oprah Winfrey are all southpaws.
Check out my list of 100+ Famous Left Handed People for more well-known lefty celebrities.
The Importance Of Understanding Left-Handedness
Truly understanding what it means to be left-handed is important for the following reasons:
- To help eliminate the common negative associations and misconceptions towards left-handed individuals.
- To bring attention to the requirement for increased support and provisions for left-handed individuals. For example, in areas such as work, education, and daily life in general.
- To highlight the unique traits and benefits of left-handedness. For example, higher levels of creativity and improved problem-solving abilities.
Discover more of the benefits associated with left-handedness in my article 25 Amazing Facts About Left Handed People.
The Science Behind Left-Handedness
Why Are People Left Handed?
Surprisingly, scientists are still not fully certain of the exact causes of left-handedness. However, studies have shown that a person’s genetics as well as environmental factors play a definite role.
For example, a number of genes have been singled out that are associated with handedness. In addition, it is thought that environmental events such as prenatal stress or exposure to certain chemicals can also have an influential effect.
Handedness And Brain Lateralization
A variety of different factors come into play when determining which hand a person favors. This can include environmental circumstances, genetics, and brain lateralization.
Your brain is a complex organ that is divided into two different hemispheres, with each being responsible for separate functions and abilities. In right-handed people, the left hemisphere controls the majority of their language abilities and motor skills.
Left-handers are the opposite, with the right hemisphere being the dominant side. This is where the saying “only left handed people are in their right minds” comes from. See this 2021 study for a more detailed look into this topic.
Handedness And Brain Function
There is an ever-expanding number of studies examining the correlation between handedness and various other aspects of brain function. For example, this 2017 study showed that left handed individuals performed better during problem-solving tasks when compared to righties.
In addition, being left handed has also been closely associated with increased levels of creativity, memory, and even intelligence. Various studies have been undertaken, with some proving this to be true, and some finding that the opposite was the case!
So it would definitely seem that the jury is still out on this subject!
Left-Handedness In Society
Cultural Views And Opinions
As we’ve already addressed above, throughout history left-handers have often been marginalized in society. In many cultures using the left hand is even seen as a sign of evil or impending bad luck.
However, attitudes towards left-handers have begun to change over the last century, with many societies beginning to realize the strengths associated with being left-handed.
This is reflected in the graph below which displays the rate of left-handedness in the United States by year.
Challenges Faced By Left-Handed People
Despite attitudes slowly changing towards left-handed individuals, there are still many challenges in a world that is predominantly designed for right-handed people.
A 1995 study found that when using a power saw, left-handers are almost five times more likely to sustain an amputating injury compared to a righty! This is because these tools are not created with left and right-handed users in mind.
Everyday tools can also be difficult to use for left-handers, such as scissors, can openers, tape measures, and even computer mice. Lefties may also struggle with writing as many pens, desks, and writing pads are designed with right-handers in mind.
As a left handed guitarist I am certainly at a small disadvantage when it comes to learning and enjoying the instrument. Read 8 Annoying Things About Being A Left Handed Guitarist.
Supporting Left-Handed Individuals
Accommodations In Daily Life
A number of the unique challenges experienced day-to-day by left-handers can be overcome by providing special accommodations in daily life. By giving access to the tools and resources needed to succeed, left-handers can perform at their best rather than being distracted and frustrated by a world designed for right-handers.
This might include things like left-handed desks and tools, as well as access to resources and support systems.
In the workplace, this might mean ensuring that left-handed employees are not forced to use dangerous tools and machinery designed for right-handed use.
Unfortunately, there is currently no legal obligation for an employer to provide any of these tools or resources. However, every year on August 13th we do celebrate National Left Handers Day, with the aim of highlighting these issues to the uninitiated.
By accommodating left-handers in education, work, and other areas of life, there are many benefits such as increased confidence and lower levels of stress and frustration.
By understanding and dealing with the issue of potentially dangerous tools being predominantly designed for right-handers, we should also be able to greatly reduce the number of workplace injuries.
Throughout this article, we examined what it means to be left-handed as well as its significance within society. We also highlighted the need to support southpaws in education, work, and general day-to-day life.
It is important to recognize and embrace the diversity of handedness. Additionally, we also need to understand that being left-handed is not a problem or deficiency, but simply a natural variation.
Through supporting left-handers and placing value upon this diversity, we will be able to construct a more inclusive and unprejudiced society, regardless of handedness.