Raising a Left-Handed Child
The question of whether left-handedness could be inherited was answered in 2007 when scientist Clyde Francks announced the isolation of a gene—called LRRTM1—that contributes to left-handedness. Francks' research suggests the gene is inherited on the father's side.
Parents can monitor their child's handedness by keeping tabs on which hand reaches for toys and food or by noting which direction a child stirs with a spoon. Righties tend to stir clockwise, while lefties stir counterclockwise.
Babies usually start showing a hand preference at about 7 to 9 months old, but they may not make a final distinction until they start school. "Doodling and eating are not fine motor skills requiring premium dexterity, which is why many babies and toddlers, under the influence of rapidly developing brains, switch between using the left and right hands, often masking underlying handedness and leading parents to conclude falsely that their children are ambidextrous," David Wolman writes in A Left-Hand Turn Around the World. "This is a common error among people who associate ambidextrousness with high intellect."
Lefties think differently. The left side of the brain—which controls the right hand—is in charge of speech, language, writing, logic, math and science. The right side—which controls the left hand—is responsible for music, art, perception and emotion. The right side handles abstract, big picture ideas; the left side thinks in straight lines.
Right-handers' brain organization is usually quite rigid. The right side only handles language and logic; the left side only handles emotion and perception.
Meanwhile, left-handers' brains tend to be more flexible—understanding of music could be on the left side or math could be on the right. As a result, the corpus callosum, the part of the brain that allows the two hemispheres of the brain to communicate with each other, can be 11 percent larger in left-handed brains than right-handed ones.
Some think left-handers' brain structures may be the product of living in a right-handed world. "Growing up surrounded by right-handed equipment, instruments, appliances and tools, lefties give their nondominant side more exercise than the average righty," Melissa Roth wrote in The Left Stuff. "Biomechanic research has revealed that training the nondominant side of the body actually enhances the dominant side—something known as the cross-training effect—since the body's neural network is integrated on both sides."
After all, she's going to need to be a good speaker when she's president.
Four of the past seven presidents have been certifiably left-handed. A fifth, Ronald Reagan, was rumored to be ambidextrous. Many people assume this means the Gipper was born a lefty, but was forced to switch by schoolteachers—a common practice all over the world until the late 20th century.
And it's not only the presidential election winners who are left-handed. Both candidates in 2008—Barack Obama and John McCain—write with their left hands. In 1992, the left-handed Ross Perot mounted one of the strongest third-party presidential campaigns in American history against his fellow southpaws George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton.
Is this just some fluke? According to economist and co-author of the best-selling book Freakonomics, Steven Levitt, it probably isn't. "Ten to 15 percent of men are left handed," he wrote in his blog for The New York Times, "which means, according to my calculations, that this many recent left-handed presidents would only happen by chance one time in 1,000."
Some of the greatest artists in history have been lefties, including M.C. Escher, Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo and Rembrandt. Contrary to some reports, Pablo Picasso wasn't left-handed—despite this handicap, he turned out to be a pretty talented artist anyway.
Painting isn't the only profession that favors lefties. Studies have shown large numbers of left-handed students and professors in schools of architecture, music and math.
However, this doesn't mean that all creative subjects are easy for left-handed children. Using equipment designed for right-handers can end in frustration. Prevent the problems by investing in good left-handed scissors and smudge-free pencils and pens. Parents also can relatively easily switch the settings on computers to make a mouse or cursor more lefty-friendly.
Polo and field hockey are probably out of the question since both require participants to play right-handed, but many of other sports actually allow significant advantages for lefties. Left-handed fencers routinely win medals in top competitions. Left-handed boxers pose serious problems for their opponents. And playing tennis left-handed has not hampered the careers of superstars like John McEnroe, Martina Navratilova or Rafael Nadal.
In baseball, left-handed pitchers have been highly sought after since the sport's earliest days. Since most pitchers are right-handed, batters tend to have trouble clearly seeing a ball thrown by a lefty. The advantage for left-handed pitchers is even more pronounced against left-handed batters. In the 1980s, baseball managers began capitalizing on that dominance by relying on the "left-handed specialist"—a left-handed pitcher who comes into the game to face just one left-handed batter in late innings. The left-handed specialist's average workday could consist of as throwing as few as a five or six pitches—and then hitting the shower before breaking a sweat.
One of the greatest left-handed specialists in baseball history was Jesse Orosco, who played for nine teams in 24 seasons. When he retired in 2003 at age 46, Orosco had set the record for most ever games played by a pitcher at 1,252. He also earned around $1 million a year starting in 1988—not bad for a few minutes of work a day.
If you need a loan to pay for those expensive new school supplies and sports equipment, start with your left-handed relatives—they might have some extra cash lying around.
Economists at Johns Hopkins and Lafayette College investigated whether handedness affects earnings, with expectation that if it did, it would not turn out well for the lefties. "If left-handedness is associated with poorer health, higher accident rates and lower average cognitive skills, it is natural to expect that these result in lower labor productivity and thereby lower earnings," they wrote. "Left-handed people may be less productive in those occupations which use tools, machines and systems that are designed for right-handers." Somewhat surprisingly, they found that lefties with college educations earned 15 percent more than their fellow right-handed alumni.
On the other hand, the news isn't all good. This left-handed wage boost did not exist for left-handed women. A different study by economists at University College Dublin and University of Warwick found that left-handed women born in 1958 actually earned 5 percent less than right-handed women.
What about teaching them to tie their shoes? Share your tips for raising a left-handed child in the comments section below.