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Left-Handers in Society



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intro | basic problems | intrinsic bias | socio-cultural bias
parents & educators | tips: music, sports, medical, daily life
employers | product design | misc comments
index & references | archival page
comment form


best with Netscape Navigator 3+ | author & editor: M.K. Holder, Ph.D.



i n t r o d u c t i o n
i n t r o d u c t i o n
i n t r o d u c t i o n

Arguably 2 to 30 percent of any human population is left-handed or ambidextrous, with most estimates hovering around 10%, depending upon the criteria used to assess handedness (Holder 1992).

This page is designed to be a resource for right-handed parents, teachers, employers, physicians, design engineers, students, as well as left-handers and ambidextrals of all ages.

Left-handers and ambidextrals routinely encounter difficulties in their daily lives that most right-handers do not fully appreciate. Most of these difficulties are trivial, annoying, and frustrating. But some problems encountered by left-handers and ambidextrals are serious, resulting in lifelong problems and/or physical injury. Many of the more serious problems may be avoided or overcome with a little basic understanding and a few simple coping strategies.

Reading through these pages offers parents, teachers, physicians, employers, co-workers, manufacturers, service providers, and design engineers a glimpse of the world from the perspective of a non-right-hander.

Parents want what is best for their children, teachers strive to maximize individual's potential to learn, employers strive to maximize their profit, and manufacturers want their products to sell. The hope is for parents, educators, employers, and manufacturers to understand that the best way to achieve their goals is by listening to left-handers and ambidextrals. This page has been built with the collaboration of left-handers worldwide (24 countries to date) who have provided comments directed to the target groups (parents, educators, employers, manufacturers, physicians) and have suggested tips and strategies for coping in a right-biased world.

NOTE to REGULARS:   You guys are famous! See M.K.'s guest column, "The World of Sinistral Subterfuge" in the December 1996 issue (page 67) of Internet Underground magazine.

If you looking for comments on a specific topic, try the index. The Lefty Tips page now has lots of music & sports tips. Plus there is now a section to call attention to some medical problems they don't teach about in med school, called Diagnose This!.



b a s i c   p r o b l e m
b a s i c   p r o b l e m
b a s i c   p r o b l e m

It is commonly observed that while hoofer Fred Astaire received most of the attention and fame, his partner Ginger Rogers was doing everything he was doing, only she was doing it backwards and in high heels. Not a bad observation to begin a description of the situation for left-handers and ambidextrals...

A quick way to describe basic obstacles left-handers and ambidextrals must overcome is to think of these as (1) intrinsic biases (pertaining to physical attributes) and (2) social-cultural biases (emotional, intellectual, and religious prejudices).


i n t r i n s i c   b i a s
i n t r i n s i c   b i a s
i n t r i n s i c   b i a s

Intrinsic bias means that a tool or a system has an inherent or built-in advantage for one hand (the right) over the other (the left). "Tools" are broadly defined as utensils, musical instruments, sports equiment, etc. The majority of tools in any technological society are designed for the right-handed (Hardyck & Petrinovich 1977).

The following common tools all require left-to-right wrist turning movements more comfortable for right-handers:  corkscrew, rotary dial phone, analog clock-setting & winding, screws, lightbulbs, etc. The following are specifially designed to be used in a right-handed fashion: scissors, can openers, coffee makers, computer keyboards (numeric keypad on right), calculators and pushbutton phones (left-to-right array), golf clubs, many musical instruments (especially stringed), cars built in right-lane countries, most hand-held power tools (drills, saws), etc. Many of these tools are also used in the work environment (telephones, computers, power tools, kitchen utensils). But real danger is often encountered in manufacturing and construction environments: industrial meat slicers, drill presses, band saws, textile machinery, production lines, and heavy equipment. Some researchers believe the risk to left-handers under such conditions can be significantly greater than to their right-handed co-workers (Coren 1992).

Presented with ubiquitous right bias in the physical world, a left-hander or ambidextral has two options:  (1) to learn to use the tool in a right-handed fashion (awkward and inefficient at best), or (2) to learn to somehow hold the tool backwards so that it can be manipulated with the left hand (often dangerous).

This is one reason that left-handers, in general, are more flexible in their hand usage than right-handers (Bryden 1982) (e.g. how many right-handers hold a circular saw backwards or in the left hand, or open a wine bottle holding the corkscrew in the left hand?)


s o c i o - c u l t u r a l  b i a s
s o c i o - c u l t u r a l  b i a s
s o c i o - c u l t u r a l  b i a s

Social and cultural biases are emotional or intellectual beliefs and/or prejudices, including religious beliefs and conventions (Payne 1987) and social mores (Dawson 1977). (For instance, small children have been accused of being in cahoots with the devil, with Satan, or of being a communist simply for trying to use their left hand!) The two tasks under the most cultural influence are probably use of a writing instrument and eating utensils (Teng et al. 1979; Thompson & Marsh 1976; Holder 1992). This means that left-handers are often literaly "forced" by society to use the right hand for these tasks. Sometimes, however, after much misery, the left hand prevails:
"... as a child my brother was punished severely for using his left hand. He was not allowed to eat unless the implement was in his right. At one point (and for a while) his left hand was tied behind his back, especially for writing. By grade two (age 7 or 8) my mother gave up, determining that he was incorrigibly left-handed."
from correspondence to M.K. Holder

Is writing with the right hand worth such emotional and physical anquish for a small child? While there is a trend in American society to move away from "insisting" a child use the less preferred hand, how many elementary school teachers know how to instruct a left-handed child to write left-handed?


enter  g a u c h e  r e a l i t y
enter  g a u c h e  r e a l i t y
enter  g a u c h e  r e a l i t y

We've established that a few obstacles exist in the world for left-handers and ambidexters, but really, why all the fuss? From here on out, I will let those who know best speak for themselves. Comments are organized into following sections:

 Parents & Educators (including the school desk plague)

 Employers & Manufacturers

 Lefty Tips for: Music | Sports| Daily Life | Diagnose This!

 Subject Index & Bibliography

 Archival Comment Page


a l s o   of   i n t e r e s t
a l s o   of   i n t e r e s t
a l s o   of   i n t e r e s t

 "The World of Sinistral Subterfuge"

 Hand Preference Questionnaire (about 15 minutes to complete)

 Famous Left-Handers  (en français | en español)

 What does Handedness have to do with Brain Lateralization?


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I   
N   
T   
R   
O   
intro | basic problems | intrinsic bias | socio-cultural bias
parents & educators | tips: music, sports, medical, daily life
employers | product design | misc comments
index & references | archival page
comment form


best with Netscape Navigator 3+ | author & editor: M.K. Holder, Ph.D.


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LAST UPDATE:  2 September 2002