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Right is wrong: the surprising life benefits of being left-handed

Left-handers like Barack Obama are more likely to become President
Four of the last nine presidents have been left handed, including Barack Obama Credit: Getty

Happy Left-Handers Day 2019! That’s right (ahem), there’s a whole day set aside for people who are left-handed. And, to be fair, they probably deserve it. 

For years, left-handedness was seen as an affliction to be cured, and it seems probable that there remains an ingrained – if unthinking – bias against left-handed people today. Indeed, even the word 'left' speaks of an Alpha and Omega, deriving as it does from the Anglo-Saxon 'lyft', meaning 'weak'.

But being left-handed isn't all bad news. In fact there are several significant health and fitness benefits associated with being a left-hander. So, next time you’re struggling with a pair of scissors, here’s a few thoughts to put a smile on your face.

Lefties are better at sports

Approximately ten percent of the world's population is left-handed, but one in five top-flight cricket bowlers are left-handed, while a third of baseball pitchers use their left arm. So what gives?

In 2017, research from academics at the University of Oldenburg, in northwestern Germany, in northwestern Germany, looked at left-handed participation at elite level in an array of sports. They found that as the average time between a ball leaving one player and reaching another increased, so too did the number of professional players who are left-handed.

Left-handers may do better because most of their opponents are predominantly accustomed to responding to right-handers. 

Another sport where lefties rise to the top is boxing. Research published recently found that left-handed people were over-represented and were more likely to win fights. This is thought to confirm the “fighter hypothesis” which suggests that the trait of being left-handed has survived because it was competitively advantageous in combat.

Left-handers are better at remembering

It’s widely believed that left-handers’ brains are wired up a little differently to their right-handed brethren. Research from the University of Toledo, Ohio suggests that left-handed people are better at remembering because the right and left hemispheres of their brains are more closely connected. 

Southpaws are better at maths and may be smarter overall

Lefties’ brains wiring also seems to make a difference in the field of mathematics. While left and right-handed people show no real difference when it comes to simple sums, left-handers are markedly better at problem-solving. 

Some scholars theorise that lefties train themselves to think through problems from a young age, as they have to find solutions in the right-hand designed world.

Whatever the reason, lefties do seem to rise to the top. Look at the list of Nobel Prize winners and you're faced with a disproportionate amount of left-handers. It's the same with US presidents – four of the past nine have been lefties – while Mensa says that 20 per cent of its members are similarly orientated (that's double the amount you'd expect).

Lefties are better at playing video games

Research from the Australian National University, shows that left-handers outperform right-handers in processing a large amount of information at a fast rate, making them better at video games: think flying bullets and rogue zombies.

In the real world, some studies have shown that being able to process this information quickly has led to southpaws being able to type faster and think quicker.

Left-handed people are better at recovering from strokes

In 2015, research published in the Journal of Economic Perspectives showed that, on average, left-handed people tend to recover from strokes and other brain injuries faster than right-handers.

The reason? Well, it's complicated (you can read the science here) – but in short, it's to do with the ventral attention network, which is located on the right hand side of a right-handed person's brain; and distributed more evenly between the two hemispheres of a left-handed person's brain. 

As strokes tend to affect one side of the brain, a right-handed stroke victim is prey to losing his or her entire ventral attention network, whereas a left-handed person only loses a portion of it. And that's significant, because the ventral attention network is involved in attention and spatial awareness – and attention is particularly important in terms of stroke recovery, when the brain must re-organise itself and begin healing.

Did you follow that? As Ian Robertson of Trinity College at the University of Dublin in Ireland puts it: "When similar functions associated with one hemisphere are impacted by a brain injury, it's difficult for the opposite half to compensate whereas if a capacity shared by both parts of the brain, then losing part of the network is less damaging."

Southpaws are less likely to suffer from certain diseases

A study of 1.2 million people in 2001 found that left-handed people are less likely to get arthritis and ulcers than right-handed people – although the study’s authors were unable to say why this might be. 

But it’s not all plain sailing for lefties. Various studies over the years have shown that lefties are more likely to suffer from breast cancer, PTSD, sleep deprivation, and psychotic disorders such as schizophrenia. But hey, at least you won’t need to worry about ulcers.