Posted by: shoji | September 21, 2007

Microtrends: left-handedness

You may have heard that lefties have a tendency towards creative genius (and psychosis) compared to righties.

Handedness is a focus of study in neuroscience, cognitive science, and psychology: we know the right side of the brain (the right hemisphere) is responsible for controlling the muscles on the left side of the body and is responsible for “creative” and “artistic” qualities.

Nevertheless, is there any truth to lefties having a tendency towards creative genius?

I listened to Mark Penn on The Diane Rehm Show discussing his new book Microtrends: The Small Forces Behind Tomorrow’s Big Changes (podcast available). Apparently, there has been an increase in the number of lefties (in the USA, I presume).

Mark Penn argues that the shift in population handedness is due to the “permissiveness” of contemporary parenting compared to previous generations. That is, parents today discipline their children more by cognitive approaches (“think about what you did”) and less by physical approaches (i.e., spanking).

The “permissiveness” extends to permitting children the choice of which hand to use for writing, eating, etc. In the past, parents would actively teach children to use their right hand for such tasks despite a child’s propensity towards left-hand dominance. I clearly recall my mother relaying a story to me about how she taught me and my sisters to use our right hand for writing– moving the pencil to the right hand if we grabbed it with our left hand. (Yes, I’m right handed.)

I wonder what this could mean to the hypothesis that “lefties have a tendency towards creative genius (and psychosis) compared to righties”?

If there is (was?) truth to the hypothesis, then could it be that creativity was fostered by “permissive” parents? or could it be that creativity, linked neurophysiologically to the right-brain, was stifled by forcing right-handedness? What would happen if we forced left handedness upon our children?

Aside: I recall hearing that lefties have shorter lifespans than righties– I wonder if that statistic is changing?


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