It seems so obvious when you hear it, yet it could have shaped society for centuries without our knowing. According to research presented by Dr Daniel Casasanto to the American Association for the Advancement of Science annual conference in Washington DC, people just prefer things that are in front of their favourite hand. It could be products on a shelf, or applicants for a job.
“Righties would on average choose the person or product on the right; lefties, on average, the person or product on the left,” Dr Casasanto explained. And, from his research conducted at the University of Chicago, it is easy to see how this could have serious political implications. “We found in a large simulated election, that compared to lefties, righties will choose the candidate they see on the right of the ballot paper about 15% more,” Dr Casasanto said. His theory, in simple terms, is that because people go through life with a “fluent side” and a “clumsy side”, they develop a kind of unconscious favouritism, even for things that don’t require them to use their hands.
“It seems blindingly obvious that you will have a preference for that bit of space where you operate more frequently,” says Professor Philip Corr, a psychologist at City University, London. “You’ll feel more comfortable operating in that part of the world. Intuitively it makes sense to me.”
Many papers have been published on the subject, but we still don’t really know why people don’t all use the same hand – or an even balance of the two, as do most primates. “I suppose the notion is that in some sense we’ve got two brains,” Corr says, referring to the right and left hemispheres, “and in order for things to work, one of those has to take charge, and that creates left-handedness and right-handedness.”
The clearest intrinsic difference between left and right-handers, however, seems to be anxiety. One study at Queen Margaret University in Edinburgh suggests that left-handed people are more traumatised by scary films. And this chimes with the research of Dr Lynn Wright of Abertay University, who finds that, “left-handers seem to be slightly more cautious when they approach stuff, especially if it’s new. On things like problem-solving, you find that left-handers take longer to start tasks than right-handers.”
This is important, because it suggests that there is more to left-handedness than just preferring things on the left, and growing up feeling persecuted by door handles and tin-openers.
As Wright says: “What we’ve found in previous research is that the right side of the brain [dominant in left-handed people] is more associated with avoidance behaviour and being more careful, whereas the left side of the brain has more established connections with impulsivity.” So vote how you wish, but it sounds as if the left-handers should be in charge.