I can’t even count the amount of times people have looked at me and said “you’re such a lefty.” I’ve always wondered, what does that even mean, and is it possible to be a certain way just because of your dominant hand?
If you’ve ever heard of being “left brained” or “right brained,” that is partially true, but it’s not as clear cut as many of us believe. In fact, the whole idea that our personality either stems from being “left or right brained” is oversimplified, and there’s a lot more to it. It’s more about preference and brain organization.
According to neuropsychologist Catherine Leveroni, everyone always uses their whole brain, there are just different ways in which the brain is organized depending on the person, because everyone’s brains work in unique and different ways.
The brain is organized so that certain things are done by the left, such as reading, and certain things are done by the right, such as integrating information, according to Leveroni.
Although everyone’s brains are different, one of the most important things for everyone that can be rearranged within the brain, especially for lefties, is language. “For most right handed individuals, all language functions are housed in the left side of the brain. This includes the ability to speak, use grammar and syntax to understand words and language, read, write. This is true for 81% of right handers. 18% of right handers have some language capacity on both sides of the brain. Only 1% of right handed people have language on the right,” shared Leveroni.
The brains of left handers have more flexible organization for language. Only 50% have language exclusively on the left, 42% share language between both sides, and 8% have all of their language on the right, according to Leveroni.
As Leveroni described with language, people also organize their world, strengths, and weaknesses in a variety of ways. Generally, lefties preferentially use the right side of the brain, and righties typically use the left side.
When people approach a problem, some people preferentially use the right, and some use the left more. Where the whole concept of your personality being associated with your dominant hand comes in is that there are specific ways of thinking and traits associated with each side of the brain. For example, for her way of thinking, Chani Parrott (‘20), a righty, said “generally, especially when I write papers, I think small details. Approaching a problem in general I usually take it step by step.”
Integrating information isn’t the only thing the right hemisphere does. For example, the right part of the brain is more involved with fear. According to “Left Handed People Are More Easily Frightened Than Right Handed People” by Business Insider, recent studies show that lefties are more likely to get scared and display fear.
While fear is one example of a right-brained trait, if you’re a lefty, you might associate with some of these other characteristics as well: holistic, emotional, visual, subjective, and random. Leveroni said, “the right hemisphere is seeing things as a whole, so it’s involved in integrating information and thinking of it as a whole, versus thinking about it as smaller parts. It is more specialized for spatial information, sense of direction, aspects of creativity, music, and things like that.”
Claire Turnbull (‘21) thinks like this and is a lefty. “I definitely think I’m a more creative thinker. Finding a new and creative way to solve a problem seems to come easier to me than mapping it out step by step.”
However, there are definitely people who feel the opposite as Turnbull, and are lefties. For example, Aidan Kelley (‘21), a lefty, feels he is more logical than creative thinking. Kelley isn’t the only one who doesn’t exactly fall into the category of having all the traits their dominant hand is associated with. For example, Madla Walsh (‘21) is a righty, and self-identifies as a more creative thinker.
Generally, if people use the right side preferentially, they tend to look at things as a full picture, as opposed to people who use the left side for problem solving, and tend to get locked in on specific details, according to Leveroni.
Even if you’re a righty and don’t associate with getting stuck on specific details, you might associate with being: linear, realistic, verbal, objective, and analytical. “For most people, the left hemisphere is involved in language. We call it the speaking hemisphere. Understanding words, storing words, and storing meanings of words and knowledge about words is all done in the left hemisphere,” said Leveroni. But, for most people, there’s most likely some overlap. For example, Parrott said, “I’m definitely more analytical and logical. I do have some creative tendencies, but mostly logical.”
Or, you are completely the opposite and have none of the traits your dominant hand is associated with. That’s possible too, if your brain is organized in a different way than most of the people you have the same dominant hand as. This overlap alone shows that the brain really isn’t as split as many believe. This leads to the assumption that your dominant hand doesn’t mean you have to act one way or another. It simply seems to be a guide to how your brain may be organized, and as hint as to which side you likely preferentially use.
While most people have a dominant hand that we can associate brain organization with, what about those people that say they are ambidextrous? According to Leveroni, ambidexterity is possible, but it’s very rare. “There’s definitely a natural tendency for it to be easier for you to do stuff with one hand or the other.”
However, there is such a thing as being mixed dominant. This is the people who may write with their left, but play sports with their right. Turnbull has some mixed-dominance. She said, “I’m a lefty for pretty much everything. There are a few simple things like brushing my teeth and driving that I’m a righty for though.”
Sophie Sullivan (‘21) also experiences this mixed dominance. “When I play hockey, I play lefty, but I write with my right hand.” She continued on to say, “I started playing out righty because I assumed I would play righty but I had to switch a week in because it just felt like it wasn’t my correct hand.”
Although there is mixed dominance, since most of us identify as either a righty or a lefty, how our dominant hand is selected isn’t random. According to Leveroni, around 90% of the population is right handed, and about 10% left handed. Often times, there are families who tend to have more flexible brain organization with hemisphere preference.“When you’re born, you don’t have any skills. As you develop, you develop skills for movement, language, attention, and memory. As [the skills] develop, the brain puts them in places where it’s going to house that skill forever,” shared Leveroni. She continued on to say, “people who are left handed, for the most part, are born with a tendency for that skill to be distributed differently in the brain than somebody who is right handed.”
In the end, we are all different, and have various brain organizations and preferences. This whole idea that we are either left or right brained, and are restricted to that, isn’t true for everyone. Everyone seems to be a little bit of a mix of everything, but it’s still possible that you might just be “such a lefty.”
Artwork by Aaron Hoag