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In human biology, handedness is a better, faster, or more precise performance or individual preference for use of a hand, known as the dominant hand. The incapable, less capable or less preferred hand is called the non-dominant hand. [1] [2] [3] Right-handedness is the most common form, and it is estimated that around 90% of the world’s population is right-handed. [4] Handedness is often defined by which hand one writes with, as it is fairly common for people to prefer to do some tasks with each hand. However, true mixed-handedness is rare, as most people clearly prefer one hand for most purposes.


Most of the current research would suggest that left handedness has an epigenetic marker, a combination of genetics, biology and the environment.

Because the vast majority of the population is right-handed, many devices are designed for use by a right-handed person, which makes their use by left-handed people more difficult. [5] In many countries across the world, left-handed people are or were required to write with their right hand. However, left-handed people have an advantage in sports that involve aiming at a target, because their opponents will be more accustomed to the right-handed majority. As a result, they are over-represented in baseball, tennis, fencing, cricket, and boxing. [6]



There are several theories of how handedness develops in individual humans. Occurrences during prenatal development may be important; researchers studied fetuses in utero and determined that handedness in the womb was a very accurate predictor of handedness after birth. [10] In a 2013 study, 39% of infants (6 to 14 months) and 97% of toddlers (18 to 24 months) demonstrated a hand preference. [11]

Division of labor

One common theory as to how handedness affects the hemispheres is the brain hemisphere division of labor. Since speaking and handiwork require fine motor skills, its presumption is that it would be more efficient to have one brain hemisphere do both, rather than having it divided up. Since in most people, the left side of the brain controls speaking, right-handedness predominates. This theory also predicts that left-handed people have a reversed brain division of labor. [12]

Verbal processing in right-handed individuals takes place mostly in the left hemisphere, whereas visuospatial processing is mostly done in the opposite hemisphere. Left-handed individuals have a heterogeneous brain organization in which their brain hemispheres are either organized in the same way as right-handers (but with the hemispheres reversed) or even such that both hemispheres are used for verbal processing. When the average is taken across all types of left-handedness, it shows that left-handers are less lateralized. [12]

Genetic factors

Handedness displays a complex inheritance pattern. For example, if both parents of a child are left-handed, there is a 26% chance of that child being left-handed. [13] A large study of twins from 25,732 families by Medland et al. (2006) has indicated that the heritability of handedness is roughly 24%. [14]

To date, two theoretical single gene models have been proposed to explain the patterns of inheritance of handedness, the first by Marian Annett [15] of the University of Leicester and the second by Chris McManus [13] of UCL.

However, the growing weight of evidence from linkage and genome-wide association studies suggests that genetic variance in handedness cannot be explained by a single genetic locus. [16] [17] [18] [19] [20] [21] [22] [23] From these studies McManus et al. now conclude that handedness is polygenic and estimate that at least 40 loci contribute to determining this trait. [24]

Brandler et al. performed a genome-wide association study for a measure of relative hand skill and found that genes involved in the determination of left/right asymmetry in the body play a key role in determining handedness. [25] These results suggest the same mechanisms that determine left/right asymmetry in the body (e.g. Nodal signaling and ciliogenesis) also play a role in the development of brain asymmetry (handedness is an outward reflection of brain asymmetry for motor function).

In 2019, Wiberg et al. performed a genome-wide association study and found that handedness was significantly associated with four loci. Three of these loci are in genes encoding proteins involved in brain development. [26]

Epigenetic factors

Twin studies indicate that genetic factors explain 25% of the variance in handedness, while environmental factors explain the remaining 75%. [27] While the molecular basis of handedness epigenetics is largely unclear, Ocklenburg et al. 2017 found that asymmetric methylation of CpG sites plays a key role for gene expression asymmetries that have been related to handedness. [28] [29]

Prenatal hormone exposure

Four studies have indicated that individuals who have had in-utero exposure to diethylstilbestrol (a synthetic estrogen based medication used between 1940 to 1971) were more likely to be left-handed over the clinical control group. Diethylstilbestrol animal studies "suggest that estrogen affects the developing brain, including the part that governs sexual behavior and right and left dominance". [30] [31] [32] [33]

Prenatal vestibular asymmetry

Previc, after reviewing a large number of studies, found evidence that the position of the fetus in the final trimester and a baby's subsequent birth position can affect handedness. About two-thirds of fetuses present with their left occiput (back of the head) at birth. This partly explains why prematurity results in a decrease in right-handedness. Previc argues that asymmetric prenatal positioning creates asymmetric stimulation of the vestibular system, which is involved in the development of handedness. In fact, every major disorder in which patients show reduced right-handedness is associated with either vestibular abnormalities or delay, [34] and asymmetry of the vestibular cortex is strongly correlated with the direction of handedness. [35]


Another theory is that ultrasound may sometimes affect the brains of unborn children, causing higher rates of left-handedness in children whose mothers received ultrasounds during pregnancy. Research on this topic suggests there may exist a weak association between ultrasound screening (sonography used to check on the healthy development of the fetus and mother during pregnancy) and left-handedness. [36]

Developmental timeline

Infants have been known to fluctuate heavily when choosing a hand to lead in grasping and object manipulation tasks. This is especially shown when observing hand dominance in one versus two-handed grasping tasks. Between 36 and 48 months, variability between handedness in one handed grasping begins to decline significantly. This difference can be seen earlier in bi-manual manipulation tasks. Children aged 18 to 36 months showed more hand preference when performing bi-manipulation tasks than simple grasping. [37] The decrease in handedness variability for 36-to-48-month-old children could likely be attributed to preschool or kindergarten attendance. The increase in required single hand grasping activities such as writing or coloring can force children to develop a hand preference. [37] Scharoun and Bryden noted that right-handed preference increases with age up to the teenage years. [4]

Correlation with other factors


In his book Right-Hand, Left-Hand, Chris McManus of University College London argues that the proportion of left-handers is increasing and left-handed people as a group have historically produced an above-average quota of high achievers. He says that left-handers' brains are structured differently (in a way that increases their range of abilities) and the genes that determine left-handedness also govern development of the language centers of the brain. [38]

Writing in Scientific American, McManus states that,

Studies in the U.K., U.S. and Australia have revealed that left-handed people differ from right-handers by only one IQ point, which is not noteworthy ... Left-handers' brains are structured differently from right-handers' in ways that can allow them to process language, spatial relations and emotions in more diverse and potentially creative ways. Also, a slightly larger number of left-handers than right-handers are especially gifted in music and math. A study of musicians in professional orchestras found a significantly greater proportion of talented left-handers, even among those who played instruments that seem designed for right-handers, such as violins. Similarly, studies of adolescents who took tests to assess mathematical giftedness found many more left-handers in the population. [39]

Conversely, Joshua Goodman found that evidence for left-handers being overrepresented amongst high end of the cognitive spectrum was weak due to methodological and sampling issues in conducted studies. Goodman also found that left-handers were overrepresented at the low end of the cognitive spectrum, with the mentally disabled being twice as likely to be left-handed compared to the general population, as well as generally lower cognitive and non-cognitive abilities amongst left-handed children. [40] Moreover, Ntolka and Papadatou-Pastou in a systematic review and meta-analysis found that it is right-handers who have higher IQ scores, but this difference is negligible (about 1.5 points). [41]

Early childhood intelligence

Nelson, Campbell, and Michel studied infants and whether developing handedness during infancy correlated with language abilities in toddlers. In the article they assessed 38 infants and followed them through to 12 months and then again once they became toddlers from 18–24 months. What they discovered was that when a child developed a consistent use of their right or left hand during infancy (such as using the right hand to put the pacifier back in, or grasping random objects with the left hand), they were more likely to have superior language skills as a toddler. Children who became lateral later than infancy (i.e., when they were toddlers) showed normal development of language and had typical language scores. [42] The researchers used Bayley scales of infant and toddler development to assess all the subjects.


In two studies, Diana Deutsch found that left-handers, particularly those with mixed hand preference, performed significantly better than right-handers in musical memory tasks. [43] [44] There are also handedness differences in perception of musical patterns. Left-handers as a group differ from right-handers, and are more heterogeneous than right-handers, in perception of certain stereo illusions, such as the octave illusion, the scale illusion, and the glissando illusion. [45]


Left-handedness has been commonly associated with increased rates of a wide variety of different serious terminal and mental illnesses, and even earlier death.

Lower-birth-weight and complications at birth are positively correlated with left-handness. [46]

A variety of neuropsychiatric and developmental disorders like autism spectrum disorders, depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety disorders, schizophrenia, and alcoholism has been associated with left- and mixed-handedness. [47] [48]

A 2012 study showed that nearly 40% of children with cerebral palsy were left-handed, [49] while another study demonstrated that left-handedness was associated with a 62 percent increased risk of Parkinson's disease in women, but not in men. [50] Another study suggests that the risk of developing multiple sclerosis increases for left-handed women, but the effect is unknown for men at this point. [51]

Left-handed women have a higher risk of breast cancer than right-handed women and the effect is greater in post-menopausal women. [52]

At least one study maintains that left-handers are more likely to suffer from heart disease, and are more likely to have reduced longevity from cardiovascular causes. [53]

Left-handers are more likely to suffer bone fractures. [54]

One systematic review concluded: "Left-handers showed no systematic tendency to suffer from disorders of the immune system". [55]

As handedness is a highly heritable trait, these health problems would have presented a fitness challenge indicating left-handedness would previously have been eliminated through natural selection. However, left-handers enjoy an advantage in fighting and competitive, interactive sports, increasing their likelihood of reproduction. [56]


In a 2006 U.S. study, researchers from Lafayette College and Johns Hopkins University concluded that there was no statistically significant correlation between handedness and earnings for the general population, but among college-educated people, left-handers earned 10 to 15% more than their right-handed counterparts. [57]

However, more recently, in a 2014 study published by the National Bureau of Economic Research, Harvard economist Joshua Goodman finds that left-handed people earn 10 to 12 percent less over the course of their lives than right-handed people. Goodman attributes this disparity to higher rates of emotional and behavioral problems in left-handed people. [40]

Left-handedness and sports

Interactive sports such as table tennis, badminton and cricket have an overrepresentation of left-handedness, while non-interactive sports such as swimming show no overrepresentation. Smaller physical distance between participants increases the overrepresentation. In fencing, about half the participants are left-handed. [58]

Other, sports-specific factors may increase or decrease the advantage left-handers usually hold in one-on-one situations:

One advantage is a left-handed catcher's ability to frame a right-handed pitcher's breaking balls. A right-handed catcher catches a right-hander's breaking ball across his body, with his glove moving out of the strike zone. A left-handed catcher would be able to catch the pitch moving into the strike zone and create a better target for the umpire.


According to a meta-analysis of 144 studies, totaling 1,787,629 participants, the best estimate for the male to female odds ratio was 1.23, indicating 23% more men are left-handed. 11% of men and 9% of women would be approximately 10% overall, at a 1.22 male to female odds ratio. [67] [ clarification needed ]

Sexuality and gender identity

A number of studies examining the relationship between handedness and sexual orientation have reported that a disproportionate minority of homosexual people exhibit left-handedness, [68] though findings are mixed. [69] [70] [71]

A 2001 study also found that children who are assigned male at birth but have different gender identities were more than twice as likely to be left-handed than a clinical control group (19.5% vs. 8.3%, respectively). [72]

Paraphilias (atypical sexual interests) have also been linked to higher rates of left-handedness. A 2008 study analyzing the sexual fantasies of 200 males found "elevated paraphilic interests were correlated with elevated non-right handedness". [73] Greater rates of left-handedness has also been documented among pedophiles. [74] [75] [76] [77]

A 2014 study attempting to analyze the biological markers of asexuality asserts that non-sexual men and women were 2.4 and 2.5 times, respectively, more likely to be left-handed than their heterosexual counterparts. [78]

Mortality rates in combat

A study at Durham University — which examined mortality data for cricketers whose handedness was a matter of public record — found that left-handed men were almost twice as likely to die in war as their right-handed contemporaries. [79] The study theorised that this was because weapons and other equipment was designed for the right-handed. “I can sympathise with all those left-handed cricketers who have gone to an early grave trying desperately to shoot straight with a right-handed Lee Enfield .303,” wrote a journalist reviewing the study in the cricket press. [80] The findings echo those of previous American studies, which found that left-handed US sailors were 34% more likely to have a serious accident than their right-handed counterparts. [81]

In culture

Many tools and procedures are designed to facilitate use by right-handed people, often without realizing the difficulties incurred by the left-handed. John W. Santrock has written, "For centuries, left-handers have suffered unfair discrimination in a world designed for right-handers." [5]

As a child British King George VI (1895-1952) was naturally left-handed. He was forced to write with his right hand, as was common practice at the time. He was not expected to become king, so that was not a factor. [82] McManus noted that, as the Industrial Revolution spread across Western Europe and the United States in the 19th century, workers needed to operate complex machines that were designed with right-handers in mind. This would have made left-handers more visible and at the same time appear less capable and more clumsy. During this era, children were taught to write with a dip pen. While a right-hander could smoothly drag the pen across paper from left to right, a dip pen could not easily be pushed across by the left hand without digging into the paper and making blots and stains. [83]

Negative connotations and discrimination

Moreover, apart from inconvenience, left-handed people have historically been considered unlucky or even malicious for their difference by the right-handed majority. In many European languages, including English, the word for the direction "right" also means "correct" or "proper". Throughout history, being left-handed was considered negative, or evil; even into the 20th century, left-handed children were beaten by schoolteachers for writing with their left hand.

The Latin adjective sinister or sinistra (as applied to male or female nouns ⁠— ⁠Latin nouns are gender specific) means "left" as well as "unlucky", and this double meaning survives in European derivatives of Latin, including the English words "sinister" (meaning both 'evil' and 'on the bearer's left on a coat of arms') and "ambisinister" meaning 'awkward or clumsy with both or either hand'.

There are many negative connotations associated with the phrase "left-handed": clumsy, awkward, unlucky, insincere, sinister, malicious, and so on. A "left-handed compliment" is one that has two meanings, one of which is unflattering to the recipient. In French, gauche means both "left" and "awkward" or "clumsy", while droit(e) (cognate to English direct and related to "adroit") means both "right" and "straight", as well as "law" and the legal sense of "right". The name "Dexter" derives from the Latin for "right", as does the word "dexterity" meaning manual skill. As these are all very old words, they would tend to support theories indicating that the predominance of right-handedness is an extremely old phenomenon.

Black magic is sometimes referred to as the "left-hand path".

Until very recently in Taiwan (and still in Mainland China, Japan and both North and South Korea), left-handed people were forced to switch to being right-handed, or at least switch to writing with the right hand. Due to the importance of stroke order, developed for the comfortable use of right-handed people, it is considered more difficult to write legible Chinese characters with the left hand than it is to write Latin letters, though difficulty is subjective and depends on the writer. [84] Because writing when moving one's hand away from its side towards the other side of the body can cause smudging if the outward side of the hand is allowed to drag across the writing, writing in the Latin alphabet might possibly be less feasible with the left hand than the right under certain circumstances. Conversely, right-to-left alphabets, such as the Arabic and Hebrew, are generally considered easier to write with the left hand in general.[ citation needed ] Depending on the position and inclination of the writing paper, and the writing method, the left-handed writer can write as neatly and efficiently or as messily and slowly as right-handed writers. Usually the left-handed child needs to be taught how to write correctly with the left hand, since discovering a comfortable left-handed writing method on one's own may not be straightforward. [85] [86]

In the Soviet Union, all left-handed children were forced to write with their right hand in the soviet school system. [87] [88]

International Left-Handers Day

International Left-Handers Day is held annually every August 13. [89] It was founded by the Left-Handers Club in 1992, with the club itself having been founded in 1990. [89] International Left-Handers Day is, according to the club, "an annual event when left-handers everywhere can celebrate their sinistrality (left-handedness) and increase public awareness of the advantages and disadvantages of being left-handed." [89] It celebrates their uniqueness and differences, who are from seven to ten percent of the world's population. Thousands of left-handed people in today's society have to adapt to use right-handed tools and objects. Again according to the club, "in the U.K. alone there were over 20 regional events to mark the day in 2001 – including left-v-right sports matches, a left-handed tea party, pubs using left-handed corkscrews where patrons drank and played pub games with the left hand only, and nationwide 'Lefty Zones' where left-handers' creativity, adaptability and sporting prowess were celebrated, whilst right-handers were encouraged to try out everyday left-handed objects to see just how awkward it can feel using the wrong equipment!" [89]

In other animals

Kangaroos and other macropod marsupials show a left-hand preference for everyday tasks in the wild. 'True' handedness is unexpected in marsupials however, because unlike placental mammals, they lack a corpus callosum. Left-handedness was particularly apparent in the red kangaroo (Macropus rufus) and the eastern gray kangaroo (Macropus giganteus). Red-necked (Bennett's) wallabies (Macropus rufogriseus) preferentially use their left hand for behaviours that involve fine manipulation, but the right for behaviours that require more physical strength. There was less evidence for handedness in arboreal species. [90] Studies of dogs, horses, and domestic cats have shown that females of those species tend to be right-handed, while males are left-handed. [91]

See also



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The corpus callosum, also callosal commissure, is a wide, thick nerve tract, consisting of a flat bundle of commissural fibers, beneath the cerebral cortex in the brain. The corpus callosum is only found in placental mammals. It spans part of the longitudinal fissure, connecting the left and right cerebral hemispheres, enabling communication between them. It is the largest white matter structure in the human brain, about ten centimetres in length and consisting of 200–300 million axonal projections.

Cerebral hemisphere Each of the two halves of the cerebrum in the brain

The vertebrate cerebrum (brain) is formed by two cerebral hemispheres that are separated by a groove, the longitudinal fissure. The brain can thus be described as being divided into left and right cerebral hemispheres. Each of these hemispheres has an outer layer of grey matter, the cerebral cortex, that is supported by an inner layer of white matter. In eutherian (placental) mammals, the hemispheres are linked by the corpus callosum, a very large bundle of nerve fibers. Smaller commissures, including the anterior commissure, the posterior commissure and the fornix, also join the hemispheres and these are also present in other vertebrates. These commissures transfer information between the two hemispheres to coordinate localized functions.

Parietal lobe part of the brain

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Brodmann area 45 brain area

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The term laterality refers to the preference most humans show for one side of their body over the other. Examples include left-handedness/right-handedness and left/right-footedness; it may also refer to the primary use of the left or right hemisphere in the brain. It may also apply to animals or plants. The majority of tests have been conducted on humans, specifically to determine the effects on language.

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Ocular dominance, sometimes called eye preference or eyedness, is the tendency to prefer visual input from one eye to the other. It is somewhat analogous to the laterality of right- or left-handedness; however, the side of the dominant eye and the dominant hand do not always match. This is because both hemispheres control both eyes, but each one takes charge of a different half of the field of vision, and therefore a different half of both retinas. There is thus no direct analogy between "handedness" and "eyedness" as lateral phenomena, which can be a considerable factor to unusual outstanding sports performance, such as cricket or tennis, where athletes may take some physical advantages from the space-time relation and the significant quickness of the moving object as well as the usual brief remaining space of time, or short windows lots, for tagging the projectile with the opponent's movement. Aside from physical advantages, it might be some functional or visuospatial processing advantages when the left eye is preponderant on the scene's information intake.

Lateral ventricles Two largest ventricles in each cerebral hemisphere

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Handedness and mathematical ability

Researchers have suggested a link between handedness and ability with mathematics. This link has been proposed by Geschwind, Galaburda, Annett, and Kilshaw. The suggested link is that a brain without extreme bias towards locating language in the left hemisphere would have an advantage in mathematical ability.

Emotional lateralization is the asymmetrical representation of emotional control and processing in the brain. There is evidence for the lateralization of other brain functions as well.

Bias against left-handed people is bias or design that is usually unfavorable against people who are left-handed. Part of this is due to design in the world which is often right-hand biased. Handwriting is one of the biggest sources of actual disadvantage for left-handed people, other than for those forced to work with certain machinery. About 90 percent of the world's population is right-handed, so many common articles are designed for efficient use by right-handed people, and may be inconvenient, painful, or even dangerous for left-handed people to use. These may include school desks, kitchen implements, and tools ranging from simple scissors to hazardous machinery such as power saws.

The hormonal theory of sexuality holds that, just as exposure to certain hormones plays a role in fetal sex differentiation, such exposure also influences the sexual orientation that emerges later in the adult. Prenatal hormones may be seen as the primary determinant of adult sexual orientation, or a co-factor with genes, biological factors and/or environmental and social conditions.

Yakovlevian torque the tendency of the right side of the human brain to be warped slightly forward relative to the left and the left side of the human brain to be warped slightly backward relative to the right

Yakovlevian torque is the tendency of the right side of the human brain to be warped slightly forward relative to the left and the left side of the human brain to be warped slightly backward relative to the right. This is responsible for certain asymmetries, such as how the lateral sulcus of the human brain is often longer and less curved on the left side of the brain relative to the right. Stated in another way, Yakovlevian Torque can be defined by the existence of right-frontal and left-occipital petalias, which are protrusions of the surface of one hemisphere relative to the other. It is named for Paul Ivan Yakovlev (1894–1983), a Russian-American neuroanatomist from Harvard Medical School.

Dichotic listening is a psychological test commonly used to investigate selective attention and the lateralization of brain function within the auditory system. It is used within the fields of cognitive psychology and neuroscience.

Neuroscience of sex differences Characteristics of the brain that differentiate the male brain and the female brain

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Sandra Freedman Witelson is a Canadian neuroscientist best known for her analysis of specimens from Albert Einstein's brain, as well as exploring anatomic and functional differences regarding male and female brains, handedness, and sexual orientation. She and her colleagues maintain the world's largest collection of "cognitively normal" brains at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario.

An estimated 90% of the world's human population consider themselves to be right handed. The human brain's control of motor function is a mirror image in terms of connectivity; the left hemisphere controls the right hand and vice versa. This theoretically means that the hemisphere contralateral to the dominant hand tends to be more dominant than the ipsilateral hemisphere, however this is not always the case and there are numerous other factors which contribute in complex ways to physical hand preference.


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