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On the Other Hand...

Oh, man, I'm so divided about what to write today. I should stick with what I was thinking before I started reading my friends list, but geniealisa  linked to an article that linked to another article (yay, intarwebs) about how Left-handed people are more inhibited.  The commentary on BoingBoing focuses in part on my absolute first thought, which was "well, in a world that is dominated by right-handers, and a culture that up until recently considered lefties to be morally suspect, you're damn right LHer's are more inhibited".

Science and statistics.  You can make it say anything you want if you don't control particularly hard for other factors, such as, oh I don't know, the fact that the entire world is not made for you if you are left handed?

I find this kind of stuff rather irritating, since I'm in statistics, and know a bad study when I see one.  Adding to my irritation, I'm ambidextrous, but I trend to the left, and I clearly remember feeling like an absolute failure for being made fun of in handwriting classes as a child*.  Being a massive overachiever, I not only learned to write with my right hand, I learned to write in beautiful cursive, then calligraphy. 

...the pens for calligraphy are designed for right-handers, too.  Fuck y'all.

I can write legibly and reasonably well with my left hand, considering I don't practice much.  I can knit and sew with either hand, and I use my left hand first for most everyday tasks, like putting my keys in the door (designed to turn to the right, for right-handers), putting away cups and plates (right-handed cupboard doors), opening the fridge (ditto), and a million other things that would really wear down on me if I wasn't secure in my own absolute brilliance.

Yes, I make lists.  So does Bob, who is unrepentantly right-handed.  If we didn't make lists, we'd forget something.  We have an awful lot of things going at once; lists are rather necessary.

But I'm not particularly inhibited, no more so than many people I know.  I get anxious about certain things, but I jump feet-first into others.  Aren't most people that way? 

But back to the science - or at least part of it.  It is almost impossible to get a clear unaffected study of how people feel and behave, because an adult is the result of their upbringing - a right-handed child brought up by overbearing parents who are very rigid in their views might possibly be inhibited, anxious, and nervous.  They're just as likely to be covered in piercings, tattoos, and own a Harley, of course, but who they are is an inevitable result of how their life shaped them.  You can't make pronouncements about brain function and emotions without encountering the different ways life shapes us from our very first days out of the womb - it's one of the reasons twin studies are so valuable (and so coveted in the scientific community).  With twins, especially ones raised apart, you have a real chance at sorting brain function and hard-wiring from upbringing and life experience.  If you really wanted to know how left and right handed people differ in brain function, you'd need at least 8 sets of twins (16 people, natch), four of which are right-handed, four of which are left-handed.

(Oops.  See my bias in that last sentence?  I automatically put the right-handed people first, even though alphabetically, the left should go first.  This kind of unconscious dominance bias messes with scientific findings all the time.)

Naturally, that kind of study is almost impossible to pull off - for starters, you need to find that many twins, and make sure they qualify for the study (right left-handed, right-handed, raised apart, old enough to participate, etc.).  Then, you pray that they agree to participate (without informed consent, there are no people trials, even if they're not taking any medications).  Then you pray that they answer your calls when it's time for them to come in for their appointments.  Then you pray they don't drop out/move away/change their handedness (it could happen).  Then, and only then, do you have a chance of pulling together some meaningful data (which may prove, after all that, that your initial idea has no basis in reality, and you are full of shit).

That kind of study is way too hard, and seriously interferes with the regular Scientist schedule of parties, drinking games, and playing Solitaire on the internet (it's true - I'm drinking a martini as I write this).  Most scientists just grab a bunch of college age kids (they're always up for stuff like this), ask them a bunch of questions, collect the data, and call it a day.

...And then it gets reported, and various sections of society get to feel bad about themselves, as if dealing with right-handed scissors wasn't trial enough for one lifetime.

(Seriously, have you ever tried to use regular scissors with your left hand?  It takes concentration, and is irritating as hell.)

I have an advantage over the dedicated lefties who cannot adapt their hands - the writing aside (They made me do it!  I was only following orders!), I can switch back and forth from hand to hand with little difficulty**, and right-handed desks don't cause me to hit my funny bone every thirty seconds, the right-handed mouse on my computer is not a problem, and I've adapted my workspace to handle pretty much anything from any side (though the space heater is on the left, so I can warm my attack hand).

I can also paint my nails, do a manicure, and add little teeny tiny rhinestones to the nails on both hands (they are super pretty rhinestones) with no difficulty.  But holy hell, lefties are more insecure?  Did it ever occur to anyone running, writing, editing, or reviewing that study that maybe lefties have a reason to feel anxious about fitting into a right-handed world, and it has nothing to do with whether they're right or left brained?


*Yes, I had handwriting classes.  I had to "learn" handwriting every day from age 4 to age 11.  My ability to write in a clear elegant cursive owes nothing to those classes except for the humiliation that spurred me on to write better than everyone else.  Never underestimate the motivating power of revenge.

**I can also write my name with a pen held in my toes, but it's not pretty.  I am a master of useless and slightly disturbing talents.


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Nov. 6th, 2008 02:33 pm (UTC)
Hmmm...as I'm reading this, I'm thinking of my own ambidexterity (I write with my right, embroider with either, eat with my left, etc....), and wondering how that would impact an assessment like this. Do they take ambidextrous people into account? And what truly defines ambidexterity, for scientific purposes?
Nov. 6th, 2008 02:44 pm (UTC)
All good questions, and no, I doubt they took that into consideration.

Truth be told, most people are not absolutely one or the other (as in pretty much everything). They fall on a spectrum, and handedness in most studies refers to the dominant hand, which, boild down to it, it the hand you write with. as years of lefties were forced to learn to write with their right hand, this doesn't really define much.

The "left brain-right brain" thing doesn't really mean much, since most people use both sides. The brain does divide along party lines - the left side is responsible for different things - but, and it's a big but, stroke sufferers who have lost significant parts of either right or left brain function can adapt neural pathways so that the remaining functional lobe can re-learn lost abilities. It's not perfect, but it does seem that that brain carries at least some redundant functions in each lobe (presumably for just such an event).

(edited for typos)

Edited at 2008-11-06 02:45 pm (UTC)
Nov. 6th, 2008 02:40 pm (UTC)
I find it all very interesting. I am right handed. My left hand is purely ornamental, it serves its purpose for symatry and typing only and is otherwise useless. I can do nothing with it. My mother is left handed and I grew up being confused.

But you may find this interesting. My daughter who is 4 is very clearly left handed. Her right hand, like my left, is for carrying things and holding open doors and little else. She prefers to wear her watch on her right wrist (Is that a common Lefty thing? My mom wears hers on her left) .. anyway. My daughter's teacher told me last week that she has so many left handed kids in her class that she has 2 tables, one for lefties and one for righties for ease of teaching them to write. She herself is left handed and her co-teacher right handed so each group has someone to teach them the correct (not right) way to do things. There are 18 kids in the class, 7 are left handed.
She finds that very odd and has never had that many at once.
I have no idea what if anything that says about evolution, but its interesting.
Nov. 6th, 2008 03:01 pm (UTC)
I think, myself, it's more that we're no longer suppressing it.
The brain is extremely plastic when children are very small. When being left handed was frowned upon, parents and caregivers probably unconsciously steered those whose preference wasn't quite as strong into switching to right hand dominance. Easy enough to do - if a child reaches for a toy or food with their left hand, put it in their right hand instead. After a while, the child will probably start using that hand first unless they are very strongly left handed or ambidextrous. There's all sorts of similar, subtle things you can do to influence them.

Nowadays we tend to look at cues from the child, so I think they're more likely to develop their own preferences. Mind you, this is just my own opinion, I have NO scientific studies or statistics to back it up! But it does seem to make sense.
(no subject) - holyschist - Nov. 8th, 2008 01:17 am (UTC) - Expand
Nov. 6th, 2008 02:43 pm (UTC)
It's only a matter of time before someone remarks that this is rather...wait for it...sinister.

So, I'll go first.

Nov. 6th, 2008 02:46 pm (UTC)
You're so gauche. *thbbbpt*
(no subject) - lorebubeck - Nov. 6th, 2008 02:50 pm (UTC) - Expand
Nov. 6th, 2008 02:49 pm (UTC)
My hubby WAS left handed. He grew up in Middle-of-nowhere WV though. As we know, being left-handed means you're a child of the devil so he was retrained immediately! =) On the up side, he is now quite ambidextrous. He can't write well with his left hand (though frankly it's not much messier than his writing with his right hand!) but he can do anything else with either. This held him in especially good sted when he was training in marshall arts as you are expected to do all skills on both sides. He's now a black belt in two marshall arts and when he had his own school, he could teach to either hand (and foot and knee and elbow).

Me, I'm just like bantiarna. My left hand is purely decrative!
Nov. 6th, 2008 05:37 pm (UTC)
My sister is ambidextrous, but might have been left handed if the people teaching kindergarten in Durham County, NC, didn't tell her that "you can't write with that hand"...
Nov. 6th, 2008 02:56 pm (UTC)
I read that article with much amusement since I was born left-handed and then forced to use my right hand in school. It served merely to make me clumsy, though it is handy when my right hand is in a cast and I can still do things with my left. My mother thinks its funny that my handwriting with both hands is exactly the same, only it leans in different directions. She is the same way.

Lefties adapt righty things in all sorts of ways. I always get an evil grin when IT comes to work on my computer because I use a right-oriented mouse with my left hand on the "wrong" side of the computer. I laugh because I don't understand why they have to perform contortions to use it instead of just using their left hands.
Nov. 6th, 2008 03:10 pm (UTC)
*hee* I do the same thing - I mouse with my left hand using a right handed mouse. Gives people fits. It's even funnier because I'm not left handed, not even born that way. "Oh, you're left handed?" "Nope, I just mouse left."

I originally started doing it because I had a carpal tunnel flare up in my right hand when mice first came in. Mousing doesn't actually take particularly fine motor skills the way writing does - the movements can be rather large.

I kept doing it because I found that it actually worked out really well for me. I'm in accounting and I can use the mouse to move around the spreadsheet while my right hand is entering numbers on the number pad. Makes me really fast at data entry.
(no subject) - janinas_nest - Nov. 6th, 2008 03:41 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - cathgrace - Nov. 6th, 2008 04:56 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - janinas_nest - Nov. 6th, 2008 05:36 pm (UTC) - Expand
Nov. 6th, 2008 02:57 pm (UTC)
Hmmm... I'm mostly a lefty. I write and shoot left-handed, but do most crafty-things right-handed. Or not. I sew left-handed.

My father was also a lefty and he insisted that his children (he was an elementary school prinicpal) be allowed to write with whichever hand felt most comfortable. Which was still quite unusual in 1950s England I believe.

When I was 13 I was told by the Head (English public school!) that my handwriting was appalling because I was left-handed and left-handed people can never write nicely. I knew this was not true, because my father hada beautiful Italic hand. I spend my summer vacation learning to write -- an hour a day of copywriting exercises using a broad-nibbed left-handed Osmiroid fountain pen. Went back to school in the fall with gorgeous handwriting. The head never said a word about it. (Bastard hated to be proved wrong.)
Nov. 6th, 2008 03:00 pm (UTC)
Hmmm..someone forgot to tell my two left handed sons and my left handed mom and sister that they were supposed to be inhibited. Cause they clearly didn't get that memo. :-)

Although, growing up, woe betide you if you touched my mom's lefthanded scissors.
Nov. 6th, 2008 03:25 pm (UTC)
Those damn left-handed scissors cost serious bucks! You can't just run into the store and pick up a pair of decent fabric scissors like righties can, so I don't blame your mother.
(no subject) - textileowl - Nov. 6th, 2008 03:40 pm (UTC) - Expand
Nov. 6th, 2008 03:03 pm (UTC)
I too had handwriting classes. Catholic school, donchaknow. But it did nothing for me. I failed. I think I am the only person forced to learn the Palmer Method who continues to have horrid handwriting. Not a damn redeemable thing in my writing. I'm just damned bad at it. I tried. And I'm super-competitive, so I tried really really hard. But my handwriting sucks. Really. I can barely make it out.

But my Mum told me that Doctors and other smart people all failed Handwriting Class. =)
Nov. 6th, 2008 03:20 pm (UTC)
Doctors normally start out as med students with about average handwriting for the most part.
They evolve into doctors with atrocious handwriting as they go along as a defense mechanism.
The logic runs along the lines of, "If you are the only one that can read the notes that you write on a patient's chart, and if that patient decides to sue you for malpractice, then you will be the only one able to tell the court what you wrote, and they'll have to take your word for it."
I was informed of this by one of our cardio surgeons after I complained that his handwriting looked like something a 2nd grader would have written while in the back seat of a school bus driving 45 down a gravel road...
(no subject) - kass_rants - Nov. 6th, 2008 03:25 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - (Anonymous) - Nov. 7th, 2008 03:34 pm (UTC) - Expand
Nov. 6th, 2008 03:08 pm (UTC)
My blood father was left-handed, but in rural Texas in the 50s, it was beaten out of him. I am left-handed, although I can write (slowly) with my right hand, I cut everything out with my right hand, bowl with the right hand and switch randomly during other tasks.

My husband is also a lefty, but he's much more left-dominant than I am.
Nov. 6th, 2008 03:17 pm (UTC)
I am left hand dominant but also noticeably ambidextrous. I can write legibly with either hand - though my left hand thinks it's a cheerleader and my write hand thinks it's a dude. I can knit with either hand carrying the yarn and I do not turn my work when I do flat knitting.* I cut with my right hand, because the school didn't have lefty scissors until I was in second grade, and unfortunately for me, there were plenty of things that I needed cut while I was still in kindergarden. For some reason, I cannot embroider left handed. I've tried and it's just not pretty. Similarly, I don't think I can crochet lefty. My grandma taught me to crochet and she is a righty. I don't think she remembers that I'm a lefty. I can eat readily with either hand, as I found out quickly when I was forced into a formal dining situation in the Middle East.

I am not exactly all up-in-your-face, topless on the subway because I can be, uninhibited, but I don't really think I'm jammed up about anything either. I'm confident, secure, and will tell you what I think - at least to the extent that a passive-aggressive upper-midwesterner will. Then again, my father is a PhD research chemist with 17 or more patents relating to the production and safe storage of chlorine bleach, and he's a lefty too. My mother is Japanese, and between the two of them, I never knew that being a lefty was all that unusual or unfortunate.

*I didn't know you were supposed to turn knitting, and for many years, couldn't figure out why every other row of my knitting was WRONG. I eventually gave up on trying to use patterns until one of my friends figured it out by watching me knit. "Why aren't you turning your work?" "What?" "Turn your work." "But that's horrendously inefficient!" "Yes, but that's how everyone else does it." "But why doesn't the pattern say so?" "It's just understood. Because that's how everyone else does it." "... No. No, it's NOT 'understood!' I've been at this for 6 or 7 years, wondering why I couldn't do any pattern that wasn't written in the round. And NOW you mean to tell me that there was some kind of knitting conspiracy?!"
Nov. 6th, 2008 03:28 pm (UTC)
Things you learn right handed will stay right handed because of the muscle memory. :) I automatically picked up mandolin left-handed, and had to be corrected, and now I don't think I could do it backwards (and on stringed instruments, it matters).

I think it helped with learning the piano...
Nov. 6th, 2008 03:18 pm (UTC)
I must have been a very strange child. I am naturally right-handed but I wanted to be able to write with my left so I would spend hours making myself write with my left hand. I actually remember as a child thinking how awful it would be if something happened to my right hand and I wouldn't be able to write. I actually think I did try writing with my feet for the same "no hands" reason but I did give up on that one.
Now, my left-handwriting isn't pretty but it is legible and I can do things with my left hand, it just isn't my preferred hand. And I do wear my watch on my right wrist which causes most people to think I am left handed.
Nov. 6th, 2008 09:28 pm (UTC)
I did the same thing as a kid. My left-hand writing is quite legible, but it isn't fast.
Nov. 6th, 2008 03:24 pm (UTC)
left-handed calligraphy
Dear Attack Laurel,

You write: "the pens for calligraphy are designed for right-handers" (and follow it with an obscenity).

This is not true (the wierd angled metal nibs for copperplate hand notwithstanding). The nibs can be used easily with left or right hand.

It is rather _all the pen-written alphabets of the Western world_ that are designed for right-handers (with the exception of the uncials).

- Johannes
Nov. 6th, 2008 03:33 pm (UTC)
Re: left-handed calligraphy
You have to do something awfully odd (and for me, painful) to your hand to work with most calligraphy pens left-handed, because of the way the ink flows - even with an alphabet that is not designed for right-handers. I can mirror-write in calligraphy with my left hand, but other than doing Leonardo daVinci impressions, it's not terribly useful.

...and I stand by my obscenity - it's a part of my writing.
Re: left-handed calligraphy - attack_laurel - Nov. 6th, 2008 03:52 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: left-handed calligraphy - sskipstress - Nov. 6th, 2008 09:31 pm (UTC) - Expand
(Deleted comment)
Nov. 6th, 2008 03:51 pm (UTC)
We track handedness as well. Maybe left handers who have to adapt to a right handed world are able to use more of their brains, and so end up in specialized careers? Who the hell knows.
(Deleted comment)
Nov. 6th, 2008 03:55 pm (UTC)
Turning things around? *giggle* That's awesome.

And fer realz - colour coding? Please. I sort by function, alphabet, and subject. And I keep notebooks for all my projects, but I use them rather haphazardly, and don't sort by project at all.
Nov. 6th, 2008 03:58 pm (UTC)
I'm left handed... mostly. I write and sew left-handed, and can't do either one at all with my right hand (or it's extremely awkward and inefficient), but for anything else, I pretty much have to try it both ways and see which one feels natural. Usually it's immediately clear that one works and the other doesn't -- archery, for instance, was an instant right-handed decision. I'm definitely right-eye-dominant and right-foot-dominant -- I've sprained that ankle three times because it's the one I step out with first in any less-than-secure situation.

I do bless the kindergarten teacher who taught me to use right-handed scissors, because it's such a pain to search out the special left-handed ones. I'm also grateful that my parents made sure I wasn't forced to try to write with my right hand. Of course, since I had an old-fashioned first-grade teacher, she had no clue how to teach someone left-handed to write, so I had to work out for myself how to hold a pencil, and it's still awkward, upside-down and stressful.

Having taken piano lessons for several years when I was young, I think, helped confirm the ambidextrous tendencies. I find that my left hand is stronger than my right, but the right has better fine-muscle coordination in some respects -- I can drum my fingers both ways with equal speed and facility with my right hand (index to little finger or the reverse) but only one way with my left -- index to little finger takes real concentration and is still awkward.
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