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Left-Handers at the London Science Museum

Lauren Milsom from the Left Handers Club was recently invited to speak at an event on left-handedness organised by the Science Museum's Dana Centre in London. The Dana Centre is a stylish, purpose-built venue near the Science Museum, which gives adults the opportunity to take part in exciting, informative and innovative debates about contemporary science, technology and culture.

This particular event was extremely well attended, with guests taking their seats to the sounds of our own Ian Radburn's "Lefties Lament" (written many years ago for our Left-Handers' Day Celebrations in Covent Garden).

The event was hosted by Richard Wiseman, Professor of the Public Understanding of Psychology at University of Hertfordshire, who began by dividing the audience into left and right handers. He then showed the brain teaser pictured here

Left handed brain test

which many of you will be familiar with, and which is supposedly far easier for left-handers to work out than right-handers, as it requires us the see past the dots, and find the image that is hinted at. Gratifyingly, the left-handers were significantly quicker in finding the Dalmation Dog sniffing the ground in the image, with many right-handers not seeing it at all!

The first speaker, Mike Burt from the University of Durham, has a special interest in the how we humans perceive facial expressions in each oher. He also works on hemispheric biases in face perception, the perception of different facial attributes (e.g. age, gender, health and attractiveness) and aspects of face perception related to evolutionary psychology. By showing us pictures of faces which had been split in half, and reconstructed as the mirror image of each half, he was able to explain how we tend to base our impressions of people's character and attractiveness on our view of the left side of their face (irrespective of our own hemispherical left or right dominance) - so it is worth keeping that side particularly well grooomed!

Speakers at the Dana Centre
Left handers at the sccience museum
From left: Keith Milsom, Chris McManus, Lauren Milsom, Mike Burt, Richard Wiseman

Our own Lauren Milsom then got the audience up and working, to establish just how left-and-right biased they are throughout their body. As you probably now, being left-handed to write does not necessarily mean you use your left hand, foot or even eye for all activities, as the audience discovered as they worked through a variety of tests and actions to establish how mixed their dominance was. The results showed that only a small minority of the audience were actually consistently left or right dominant throughout their body, or for all activities, whilst a small majority of the left-handed writers were actually mixed handed i.e. used their left hand for fine motor skills and accurate, delicate tasks such as handwriting, but used their right hand for gross motor skills such as hammering and tennis, where power was more important.

Chris McManus The final speaker was Chris McManus, Professor of Psychology and Medical Education at University College London, and author of Right Hand, Left Hand. It was a pleasure for Keith and Lauren to catch up with Chris, whose work and various studies on left-handedness we have documented here in our Newsletters over the years. Chris treated the audience to an amusing talk on "left-right confusion", where society and the media have mistakenly cited instances of left-handedness which have then become reported fact.

For example, the legendary left-handed gunman and outlaw Billy the Kid, about whom the film "The Left-Handed Gun" was made starring Paul Newman.

A very rare photograph (actually a tintype or ferrograph) of Billy the Kid from 1880 was discovered, which seemed to show Billy with his six-shooter at his left hand, whilst he supports his rifle in his right. On closer inspection, and from knowledge of the ferrograph printing process, it has become clear that the print waspressed from a plate, so would have reversed the image making the naturally right-handed Billy appear to shoot left-handed - and also explains why the buttons on Billy's waistcoat are reversed!"

The Left-Handed Gun" was not Hollywood's only example of mistaken handedness, although in most instances the mistake is that famous left-handers are portrayed on screen as being right handed.


Billy The Kid - not really left-handed

Joan of Arc, for example, was porgrayed as right handed by Ingrid Bergman in the 1949 film of the same name, as was Alexander the Great, and Roman emperor Commodus. He was portrayed as right-handed in the multi-Oscar-winning film Gladiator, despite well documented evidence of his marked skill in fighting left-handed. As Dion Cassio tells us "he held the shield in his right hand and the wooden sword in his left, and indeed took great pride in the fact that he was left-handed." Perhaps his handedness explains why Emperor Commodus enjoyed an impressive if bloodthirsty prowess in the gladiatorial arena, fighting no less than 735 times as a secutor.

BBC Test card Carole Hersee

Finally, Chris reminded those of us familiar with the old days of the BBC TV Test Card, about the image of a little red-haired girl playing noughts and crosses on a blackboard with a piece of chalk, as her rag doll clown looks on.

The little girl in question, Carole Hersee, was left-handed, but the picture was left-right reversed at the request of an authority at the BBC who felt it inappropriate to have her shown as left-handed!

The evening was rounded up with a series of Questions & Answers, and great interest in the left-handed products that Anything Left-Handed had brought to the event.

Our thanks to the event organisers for inviting Lauren to speak, and to all contributors for a very enjoyable and informative evening.

The Dana Centre hosts regular talks and discussions. Visit for details of events.

Right-Hand, Left Hand by Chris McManus is £8.99 from


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