Damn It Feels Good to Be a Lefty

I am a lefty. I write, eat, and brush my teeth left handed.

About 90% of the adult population is right handed. I am a minority. I am oppressed.

I am an oppressed lefty. In school I struggled to write in notebooks with spirals on the lefthand side. And I could never use scissors very well.

Like many lefties, I am also somewhat ambidextous — I throw a baseball and shoot a basketball with my right hand. Lefties usually develop right-handed preferences to use tools (like scissors) or in response to parental instruction.

I may be oppressed, but I’m damn proud about who I am and where I came from. Consider the following facts about lefthandedness:

  • Left-handed people as a group have historically produced an above-average quota of high achievers.
  • Left-handers’ brains are structured differently in a way that widens their range of abilities, and the genes that determine left-handedness also govern development of the language centres of the brain.
  • In 2006, researchers at Lafayette College and Johns Hopkins University in a study found that left-handed men are 15 percent richer than right-handed men for those who attended college, and 26 percent richer if they graduated. The wage difference is still unexplainable and does not appear to apply to women.
  • Handedness researchers Coren and Clare Porac have shown that left-handed university students are more likely to major in visually-based, as opposed to language-based subjects. Another sample of 103 art students found an astounding 47 percent were left- or mixed-handed.
  • One out of seven left-handers processes language using both sides of the brain, compared with just one out of twenty in the general (predominantly right-handed) population, perhaps because of a relationship between dexterity and language. With both halves involved in language, this may lead to better verbal ability and an easier time processing complex concepts.

Political success and lefthandedness are also linked. Six out of the last twelve presidents of the United States have been lefties. All the major candidates the 1992, 1996, and 2008 presidential elections were lefties (H.W Bush, Clinton, Dole, Perot, McCain, Obama).

There are various theories about why lefties outperform. Some have to do with dexterity and the brain. Others have to do with the resilience that’s accumulated when lefties grow up in a society that’s built for righties.

What made me look up these data?

The other week the great, eminent economist Tyler Cowen watched me sign a piece of paper. “Are you left-handed?” he asked. I said yes. I asked if he was too, and he said yes. Seth Roberts, the great, eminent psychologist, walked up and joined the conversation and noted that he as well was left-handed, and he remarked upon the above-cited studies. There was a pause. I stared deeply into each of their eyes. The air was pregnant with a felt understanding that there was at that very moment a connection. A divine connection. A transcendent connection. Our childhood discrimination — the scissors, the notebooks, people next to us at dinner tables hitting us with their elbows — had more than been made up by our adult super-powered-hybrid-equipped-right-brain-left-brain cognitive fireworks. We may be supremely confident in our abilities at present, I told them in not so many words, but we can never forget where we came from. Tyler whispered something very softly, something I shall not repeat on this blog, and the three of us finished our conversation with a simultaneous left eye-wink.

Bottom Line: My left-handed brothers and sisters: We got to stick together. Strength in numbers. Pound it up. Come in for the real thing.

25 Responses to Damn It Feels Good to Be a Lefty

  1. The Writer says:

    I bat left handed—does that count?

  2. Chris says:

    I’m also left-handed. :) I don’t know one left-handed person that uses a computer mouse with their left hand. Do you?

  3. Paul says:

    Here here!

    I write left-handed, but do many other things right-handed, including playing most sports.

    The interesting thing is that my father is also left-handed, so he did not intentional steer me towards doing anything right-handed, as he performs nearly all tasks left-handed.

    I also use a mouse with my right-hand and I have never seen anyone do it with their left-hand.

    Interesting question Chris.

  4. J 2 The B says:

    Leftys Unite!!

    My lefty pet-peeve: writing with a pen or pencil and getting ink (or lead) all over the side of your hand (pinky finger and side of the palm) from rubbing your hand over what you just wrote.

    Also, “I’m a lefty so I need to sit at the end of the booth otherwise we’ll be banging elbows through the whole meal”.

  5. My mother is left handed to the point where her right hand is a useless appendage. She’s a militant leftie like you are, and to that I say, way to go!

  6. Ben Casnocha says:

    Usually the litmus test is whether you write left handed or not…

  7. Ben Casnocha says:

    Some people do…but most not. I use right hand for mouse (although now I’m using my left to try to avoid carpal tunnel).

  8. Mary says:

    Awesome. Thank you for affirming my superiority complex. And don’t even get me started on those half desks made for righties.

  9. andres says:

    Well… Ned Flanders has a store for lefties.

    Spirals… just rotate the notebook m8.

    Btw, in Mexico those air blowers in the restroom do have an option to dry your face!

  10. Philip Lu says:

    I’ve constantly had the same ink/lead issue. I recommend a book, Left-Handed Calligraphy, by Vance Studley that helps with this.

  11. Chris says:

    I’m a right hander who always wanted to be left-handed and still wishes she were. On the mouse issue, my father, who is left-handed, uses the mouse with his left hand and whenever I use his computer, I use my left hand. It’s not really a significant difference. I have to say, though, I don’t get the spiral notebook thing. Yes, on the page on the right side, your hand bumps up on the spiral, but the same happens to righties on the left-side page and it’s just as annoying. It’s the main reason I prefer non-spiral or top-bound notebooks.

  12. Prashant says:

    Ben,

    I can understand why you feel the need to celebrate the leftyness but being a lefty was not something you had a choice. Being ambidextrous because of the limitations imposed by the environment? Yes, I would be proud about that.

    I have friends who could dig up statistics to support that being Irish, Jewish, Indian, etc gives you an advantage.

    Heck, I somehow ended up on these email lists where I get emails about how proud I should feel for being Indian. I am not sure if I had a choice.

  13. Tyler Cowen says:

    Like you, I am also partially ambidextrous.
    Tyler Cowen

  14. Ed in Mex says:

    Left-handed men are 40% more likely than right-handers to be gay, and according to one study, left-handed women are 90% more likely to self-identify as lesbians.

    Both traits are thought to be X-linked (connnected to the mother’s chromosome), and strongly affected by womb environment.

    Disney was boycotted in 1996 by the Christian Right because of a book published by one of its subsidiaries, which contained these facts.

  15. Ben Casnocha says:

    Interesting. 90% seems high for women!

  16. Yeah. One should be proud of what they are. I’m a proud Indian too.

    There’s nothing wrong with being left-handed and infact, it can be considered as a special ability. Way to go, Ben.

  17. regarding the 1996 presidential race … while Bob Dole is technically left-handed, I think he was born right-handed but had to convert to be lefty because of a war wound in WWII.
    (not sure about this fact so i could be wrong)

  18. Chuck says:

    Lefty here. Ditto on ambidextrous comments.

    FWIW, I think I’m one of only 7 *red-headed* lefties in the nation. There are more Native Eskimos in this country than people like me. Talk about discrimination.

    One note: I throw a baseball right-handed but bat left-handed. I *golf* with right-handed clubs, which explains a lot. I can’t remember if it felt natural to swing a club righty or if I just adapted.

    But Ben,

    for all of the good things lefties have going for them, you forgot one *really* bad one:

    We die 9 years earlier than righties.

    link to time.com

  19. david says:

    the best thing of all: you can shop at the leftorium.

  20. Cameron R says:

    I forced my self to switch to use my left hand on the computer (I’m a lefty on paper as well) because I am fearful that once I stop taking notes by hand I will lose my lefty benefits.

    I was amazed how quickly I adapted, especially considering that graphic design/art work that is pointer-intensive.

    The day will come for all lefties to rise up and throw down the right-handed scissors, comrade!

  21. Timen says:

    I’ve had this part of my profiles on the net since I was 16-ish. I wrote it; it’s been watered-down significantly since I first wrote it… it was quite egotistical once…

    “Being a lefty used to be difficult. Luckily, with the advent of the ballpoint pen, being a lefty is no longer associated with being an ink-moping loser. Because us lefties are so greatly in the minority, people seem to have a certain degree of interest or even intrigue for our strange habit.”

  22. Woodrow says:

    I remember when my parents bought me a Guidebook for Left Handers many many moons ago and it warmed my heart to see how ‘special’ it was to be a south paw.

    Thanks for taking me on a trip down memory lane Ben.

    And you’re right, I too am ambidextrous in so much as I throw and bat and swing a golf club right handed, despite writing, painting, drawing left handed.

  23. Rachel Jones says:

    But Ben,

    for all of the good things lefties have going for them, you forgot one *really* bad one:

    We die 9 years earlier than righties.

    Absolutely not! That issue has been researched thoroughly for years.
    The overwhelming majority of evidence indicates that there is no difference. For instance, google Clare Porac (the same mentioned above). As I recall, the the authors of the original paper published a retraction.

    Besides, a moment’s thought should indicate that the early death theory can’t be a widely accepted medical fact– else doctors and insurers would always ask about hand preference! I mean, that’s a greater gap than that between smokers and non-smokers.

    Yeah, I’ve got obsessed with this… I just want to see someone, somehwere, mention left-handedness without that stupid early-death thing being brought up. It’s just not true. Left-handed people and right-handed people have the same life-expectancy.

  24. Brice Stacey says:

    I’m left-handed for all tasks except scissors, but only because it’d be incredibly stupid to contort the pressure of your fingers in such a way to make them work left-handed. I do remember using left-handed scissors for the first time. It was glorious.

    Ironically, I played softball today with a glove that fit on the left hand (so it’s really for right-handed people), but I had to take it off each time to throw. No one likes a sissy throw.

  25. cole says:

    The study uses percentages in a strange context. It says left handed women are 91% more likely to be lesbians which they go on to explain
    as 100% represents 2x or twice as likely.

    left handed and use my right hand for my mouse

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