I am ambidextrous — it hasn’t impacted my sexual preferences as I worried about when naively first hearing this word. In fact, as a child, having been left by my parents to play with toys and myself with either hand, this duality of dexterity has been a real plus. Let me explain how, as well as its downsides.
Mixed handed people who favor writing as a “lefty” probably have inherited their father’s gene (LRRTM1) linked to left-handedness. This link was reported in 2007.
We are different because most animal brains are symmetrical, including the apes. Having asymmetrical brain connectivity makes for some interesting myths and research studies.
Most of the myths have been debunked. Unfortunately for most of us who are now adults, we probably have already suffered at the hands of parents adopting these falsehoods as gospel. Some of the tales included a supposed predilection to be dyslexic, stutter, or even become schizophrenic (maybe that was the little voices I heard when playing with my toy soldiers under the covers as a kid). Also, asthma and allergies were reputed to be more common conditions among lefties. I had both — but maybe the stress of parents gone wild with worrying contributed to these childhood ailments. (All of which disappeared when I left home to attend college — breathing was so much easier living independently, and I hadn’t even yet gotten into Buddhism and meditation.)
About ten percent of the world’s population is mixed handed. Until recently, there was little attention paid to this dexterity. Studying the brain is now a big new field of science. Brain mapping tells researchers what is firing up when certain stimuli are presented. We broadly knew that the right hemisphere focused on context and emotion, the left side on syntax and order. But studies have gone beyond these fundamentals to test for behavioral traits.
There is a lexicon history to left-handed people. It is not flattering, but here’s a piece of it. Ambidextrous had connotations of insincerity and double-dealing. Also, such meanings as awkwardness, clumsy, dubious, and even maladroit show up as synonyms. Being skillful with both hands was far down the list of common characteristics. Now on to my favorite attributes that studies have traced to left and right-handed folks.
The research point I like the best reveals that mixed handedness works both brain hemispheres, and also shows that lefties process language using both sides of the brain. The theory is that if one hemisphere gets overloaded, the other jumps in more quickly to pick up the slack. (I am therefore left to ponder why Ms. Pompidou, my high school French teacher, failed me in her classes — both sides of my brain were pumping away — I just never got any written homework in on time.)
There was this report in the Journal of Neuropsychology that the condition enhances the ability to process multiple stimuli faster — i.e. I should have gone for my jet fighter pilot’s license — it would have been a breeze. There’s more than enough other good news to make up for any childhood frustrations that we lefties haven’t yet worked through.
I rarely noticed, throughout my life, if someone wrote left-handed. As I watched President Obama sign a new law, it suddenly hit me — he’s a lefty. Were there more like him… us? As it turns out, The Toronto Star reported that 66% of the Presidents in the last thirty years were also left-handed. Clinton, George H.W. Bush, Reagan, and Ford were lefties. Obama had company as John McCain also was in the club. Australian researchers found that lefties think more quickly when playing computer games and sports. Other characteristics found included being adaptable, having an independent streak (my former spouses can confirm this), and being able to switch hands easily if needed. (President Obama has a pretty good jump shot on the basketball court)
Ms. Demm failed me in penmanship through her control over my elementary school homeroom class. It seriously brought my C average way down and got me on the list of “underachievers” who had high I.Q’s and really low grades. My grades probably sucked because the teachers were too lazy to read my handwritten test answers and clearly favored the girls whose printing was impeccable.
I loved competitive sports as a teenager and my two-handed mal-aligned malady was especially advantageous for playing basketball and tennis — I could go to the hoop and lay the ball up with either hand. I also drove tennis opponents crazy with my switching the racquet from right to left hand when chasing down sideline shots they thought should have been unreachable. (None of the big-name tennis greats play this way, but there is a coterie of two-handed tennis pros, and they have officially come out and are proud.)
So what has become of all these exciting discoveries about mixed handed people? How have lives been changed? Have fortunes been made?
Well, if your significant other sends you to the doghouse — you can buy a great sleeping bag made especially for left-handed people.
Even toddlers can learn to eat more easily on their own with curved toddler spoons so their wrists don’t have to bend so far, and those with a propensity to be a lefty can get an even break in their development. For the musically inclined, there are now left-handed guitars to strum away on. There are hundreds of products available.
If I had such a high I.Q. and my brain hemispheres were so well developed, why didn’t I invent some of these new conveniences? Being equally fast with both hands might be cool as an athlete or magician, but it didn’t fatten up my retirement account a bit.