Right, Left, Right, Wrong! An investigation of handedness - some myths, truths, opinions and research

What is Handedness?
Measuring Handedness
Handedness Statistics
Handedness and the Brain
Theories of Handedness ‣
Other Handedness Issues ‣
History of Handedness ‣
Famous Left-Handers ‣
A Few Final Thoughts
E-mail: lukem@lukemastin.com
Web-site designed by: Luke Mastin
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Other Handedness Issues - Handedness and Social Stigma
An everyday activity like shaking hands can be awkward for left-handers
In addition to problems using right-handed tools and appliances (see the section on Handedness and Tools), many left-handers encounter various minor social problems in everyday life in a right-handed world, many of which would never occur to a right-hander and which even left-handers themselves may not always connect with a “left-handed thing”.

These include: awkwardness in greeting a right-hander with a kiss or a hug (as both turn the same way); shaking hands with the non-dominant hand; awkwardness crossing paths or passing people on a street; accidentally taking a neighbour’s drink or bread roll at the dinner table; putting a belt on upside down; receiving change from a storekeeper in an unexpected hand; feeling more comfortable sitting on the left side of things or people; trouble opening or locking locks; difficulty tying shoe laces; etc.

As a result of this, left-handers may dither or hesitate in social situations, and as a result may be generally more inhibited and anxious. Indeed, studies have shown them to be just that, although whether this is a function of the social difficulties they encounter or whether it is connected to the wiring of the left-handed brain is not clear. Both anxiety and inhibition may be exacerbated by the fact that the right half of the brain is more likely to be dominant in left-handers, and this is this side that seems to control the more negative aspects of emotion.

Anti-Left Discrimination

It is clear that many, although by no means all, left-handers do feel their handedness to be a social stigma, and some - either more sensitive or more politicized - may even feel oppressed or discriminated against. While this may have been literally true in the past (and in some countries and cultures even today), it is difficult to see evidence of oppression in modern Western society.

In the main, society's lack of accommodation for left-handers is a practical and economic issue, in much the same way as we do not typically build separate toilet facilities for the transgendered, and most restaurants do not exclude wheat and peanuts in deference to celiacs and anaphylactics. The assumption is that left-handers will just improvise and deal with the situation, just as a one-handed person would have to. This does not however amount to systematic and institutionalized discrimination.

Most left-handers do not feel the need to organize together to fight for left-handed rights, and there is no umbrella organization calling for an end to anti-left discrimination. There are, however, several pro-left-handedness groups and websites (a few are mentioned in the list of Sources), and August 13th has been designated as International Left-Handers’ Day.

Stigma or Mild Annoyance?

Self-evidently, left-handedness is a deviation from the societal norms, but whether this constitutes an actual stigma in the psychological sense is debatable. To be truly stigmatizing, such a deviation must be viewed negatively by society, and the individual must react to this with feelings of shame and self-loathing, and a feeling of being personally responsible for the deviation. Such a severe reaction would be rare today, when a vague feeling of embarrassment or mild annoyance would be a more likely reaction.

The very fact that right-handers rarely even notice left-handedness - while left-handers are often hyper-sensitive to their own sinistrality - is perhaps proof that discrimination no longer exists. Some left-handers will even greet complete strangers if they notice evidence of left-handedness, as though they were fellow-members of an elite or exclusive club or a persecuted minority, even though, in a world of 7 billion people, there are presumably around 700,000,000 left-handers. The majority of left-handers, though, do not see it as an important part of who they are and, when asked in one recent survey to describe themselves, only 8% of left-handed students and 2% of left-handed schoolchildren thought it important enough to mention.


Back to Top of Page
Introduction | What is Handedness? | Measuring Handedness | Handedness Statistics | Handedness and the Brain | Theories of Handedness | Other Handedness Issues | History of Handedness | Famous Left-Handers | A Few Final Thoughts | Sources
© 2012 Luke Mastin