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Views on Being Left-Handed Just Got More Complicated

By amywindsor |

OMG: Being left-handed could be viewed as a risk factor for diagnosing psychiatric and developmental conditions.

Lefties are used to getting the short end of the stick—from having to work around right-handed school desks, computer mice and pretty much anything else that requires a dominant hand to being regarded as an aberration that needs to be “fixed” to even being looked upon with fear (because there happens to be a very old and extremely lengthy list of folklore and left-handed superstitions all pointing to the left side equalling bad luck).

Research on south paws hasn’t exactly turned up the best of news, either. The Wall Street Journal, in an examination of several different studies, found that left-handed people really do have bad luck—if you consider having a higher risk for brain and developmental disorders as ”bad luck,” that is.

Lefties make up about 10% of the population and further 1% are mixed-handed (neither right- nor left-hand is dominant— either hand may be used for different daily tasks). But studies have shown that 20% of schizophrenia sufferers are left-handed, and that links exist between being a lefty and dyslexia, ADHD, and language development issues. These links are even more pronounced for people with mixed-handedness.

While there is a 25% chance that genetics will play a part in defining a person’s handedness (the dominant-side hand) , it is environmental factors that play the biggest part in making a lefty—especially by stress experienced in the womb. Older mothers and low birth weights are also more likely to produce left-handed children. One Danish study found that women who experienced multiple traumas in their third trimester were more than three times as likely to have a child with mixed-handedness. Cortisol, a stress hormone able to cross the placental barrier, may affect fetal brain development and be the reason why left-handed people’s brain hemispheres process information differently than right-handed people’s.

There are positives to being left-handed, of course—research shows that lefties are better at divergent thinking, an element of creativity that allows one to develop new concepts from existing facts, being left-handed can give an edge to athletes in certain sports, like tennis, baseball, and fencing, and it can be a source of pride in our individualistic society. It is often noted, as well, that there have been six left-handed U.S. presidents out of the last 12, Barack Obama, Harry Truman and a mixed-handed Ronald Reagan included.

The link between stresses in the womb, how that affects the “wiring” of the brain, and how that wiring affects psychiatric  and developmental disorders is the crux of these studies—being left-handed, especially mixed-handed, appears to be an indication of that different wiring. What this means for parents is that doctors could begin to view being left- or mixed-handed as a risk factor for these disorders—which could help children who experience difficulties at school or who have behavioral problems get evaluations more quickly. And earlier diagnoses will hopefully get some children children the help they need sooner.

File under “anecdotal evidence”: I have a son with ADHD who is also mixed-handed. I can also verify that I had a lot of stress during my third trimester. Coincidence? There isn’t a genetic link for lefties in our families, so I doubt it. Do you have anecdotal evidence of any of these links, too? Do you think this research, if it gains enough attention in the media, could become a source of teasing or lead to stereotyping by teachers left-handed children?

Photo Credit: © Solaria – Fotolia.com

Read more of Amy Windsor’s writing at Bitchin’ Wives Club.
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About amywindsor

amywindsor

amywindsor

Amy Windsor is an avid mommy blogger whose blog, Bitchin' Wives Club, was named one of Babble's Top 100 Mom Blogs in 2012. She was a contributor to Babble's Parenting channels.

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11 thoughts on “Views on Being Left-Handed Just Got More Complicated

  1. Megan says:

    I thought this was fascinating! I’m the left handed child of left handed parents ( my brother was the only right-handed one) and while it was all in the genes for me, handedness as an identifier for something deeper is great.
    And I’m looking forward to seeing if my 2 year old son turns out to be a left- handed pitcher ;)
    I used to hope for left handed teachers- Writing is hard when you’re figuring out how to hold it on your own and smear all of your papers.
    I would hope that handedness wouldn’t put you in certain classes. I’d like to see research on handedness in spacial needs classes before I would be too concerned about it, though.
    I was never teased about being a lefty, simply looked on as different than most of my class.

    1. amywindsor says:

      @Megan It is interesting! The WSJ article noted that not that much is actually known about brain activity of the left-handed because they are usually excluded from participating in studies b/c their brains throw off the results b/c they work so differently.

  2. Lady Estrogen says:

    Very interesting.
    My father died during my mother’s 3rd trimester carrying me. Humm..
    BUT, it’s also a genetic trait in my family.

    Also, I went to Art School. There were 5x’s the number of lefties in my program – almost 50/50. I found that interesting.

    Remember: If the right side of the brain controls the left side of the body, then only left-handed people are in their right minds.

    1. amywindsor says:

      @Lady Estrogen Double whammy! I guess the question is: Do you have ADD or one of these other disorders? :) And I love your saying. :)

  3. autoclave239 says:

    Wow. I was left handed as was my mother. I was also low birth weight and she was an older mother. I was diagnosed with ADHD as a child. This is fascinating research. I had hoped my daughter would be left handed but now I’m not so sure.

  4. jenny tries too hard says:

    More for the “anecdotal evidence” box—-Husband and I are both right-handed and have two righties and two lefties all born when I was young. Of my twins, the lower-birth-weight one, whose distress prompted the early c-section, is the righty and the one with ADD. His bigger, healthier twin has no learning problems and is a lefty. Wierdos.

    I mentioned this to my mom, though—-my sister is a lefty and sure enough my mom was in her forties when she was born and under a good deal of stress, and J was born quite early and spent much of what should’ve been her third trimester in an incubator. No other developmental/psychiatric problems, though…knock wood.

  5. Cid says:

    I’m a lefty as are the other two in-laws in my husband’s family but only one of the eight grandchildren is a lefty. The upside? We all sit on the same side of the table at family dinners so we don’t knock any one out while eating with the “wrong” hand.

  6. Meagan says:

    Woo shout out to fencing! I think I remember reading that 90% of fencers competing on an international level are lefties, while the overall percentage of lefties in fencing is about the same as the general population. I can’t remember where I read it though, so I may be wrong. I am neither a lefty nor an international level competitor. :-)

  7. ljd says:

    My three year old is a leftie. I am right handed but cross dominant, her father is right handed but she does have a left handed grandfather. I wouldn’t be surprised if we pick up an ADHD diagnosis along the way. She never stops moving until she just tires out! (and I was under a ton of stress in my third trimester!)

  8. Tara says:

    Just wanted to comment on a line: “But studies have shown that 20% of schizophrenia sufferers are left-handed”

    You do realize that this means that the other 80% of people diagnosed with schizophrenia are right handed or ambidextrous, right? I don’t know if you were trying to prove that lefties have a higher chance of having schizophrenia or were just spouting off seemingly relevant statistics.

    Figure out your facts instead of relying on anecdotal evidence. Much more convincing that way.

  9. Candace says:

    I am left handed, I have a cousin that is a lefty, and my great-grandmother was a lefty until she went to Catholic boarding school, and the nuns made her use her right hand. My youngest son is showing left hand dominance currently. No one in my family history has Schizophrenia or ADHD. Everyone I know witha form of dyslexia is right hand dominant… Not sure what your point in the post was? Just some “interesting” facts about being left handed? Or trying to further the social difficulties we have as left handed people?

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