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All in the mind?
Why do superstitions against left-handers persist?

Throughout history, different races and religions have associated left-handedness with bad luck or evil, and as a result left-handers were treated, at the very least with suspicion and disdain and at the worst persecuted as devil-worshippers and witches. But have you ever wondered why so many people cling on to strongly held beliefs despite seemingly overwhelming evidence to refute them?

Club Member and handwriting expert Kate Gladstone has discovered a fascinating research study that suggests our handedness may play an important part in how well we re-evaluate information and our ability to question the doctrines we hold as true.

Stephen Christman, Ph.D, Professor of Psychology at the University of Toledo published the paper in the scientific journal Laterality. He and his team claim that their work shows that strong right-handedness, relative to mixed- or inconsistent-handedness, is associated with an increased tendency to endorse literal creationist myths.  In other words, their research indicates that the more strongly right-handed a person is, the more likely they are to endorse, for example, literal creationist accounts of the origin of species.

According to Dr. Christman, a growing body of neurological evidence shows that, while the left hemisphere of our brain maintains our current beliefs about the world, the right hemisphere is responsible for playing "Devil's Advocate": detecting anomalies with those left hemisphere beliefs and forcing an updating of beliefs when appropriate.  In order for this belief updating to occur, the right hemisphere has to interact with the left, and strong right-handedness is associated with decreased interaction between the two sides of the brain (hence, the lesser degree of belief updating in strong righties).

If this study is correct, it gives a fascinating and important insight into the reasons why superstitions against left-handers have been so rigorously upheld by the establ;ishment. The following article by Kate Gladstone details her thoughts and comments on some of the issues it raises:-


Could this phenomenon, if true, partly explain why traditional/authoritarian/tribal societies have often regarded left-handers as "devils/witches"/etc. and have generally striven mightily (up to and including physical torture) to prevent use of the left hand?

If the phenomenon of non-right-handers tending more to question their culture's mind-set actually exists, then perhaps long-ago chiefs, shamans, and/or loyal unquestioning citizens of early tribes could have made similar observations to those made now by Dr. Christman. If the phenomenon really exists, then early Homo Sapiens might not have actually needed a Ph.D. to notice that doubt/disbelief of tribal views, challenges to the tribal belief-system and social/religious order, etc. came more often from people who did some or all things left-handed than from the purely right-handed.

If so - admittedly a VERY big "if" - this would have played its part in that age-old identification of left-handedness as wrong/dangerous/anti-social/just plain evil: that old, old view of left-handed actions as things to prevent or "cure" by any means possible and necessary.

Leaving aside the above admittedly speculative notions, one could test Dr. Christman's theory by seeing whether a culture that came to accept left-handed actions (and the connections presumably thereby built between left and right hemispheres) suddenly became less authoritarian, more questioning of itself, a generation or so after this change. Ninety to 100 years ago, a well-bred person simply did not do ANYTHING left-handed in public, not even pick up an object left-handed ... this started to change as people started to research handedness scientifically and not just blame it on "the devil" or "willfulness" or whatever & try to stamp it out ... and what has happened, during the twentieth century, as more and more people have grown up actually allowed to do things left-handed? At the very least, our society has grown far more self-doubting, far more questioning, to a degree that would have appeared incredible to the ordinary European man or woman of (say) 1895 ... and that still appears incredible to many people in [say] rural India.

Neurologists with an interest in social change - or sociologists with an interest in neural change - might get interesting results if they charted handedness-percentages across time along with indicators of how much people question their society's beliefs/values/etc. I suspect that increased percentages of handedness may provide a good "leading indicator" of approaching social change & doubt. The dissolution of communism in Russia and in East Germany, for instance, "just happened" to follow - by about 15 years give-or-take 5 years - the decision in each country to stop insisting that schoolchildren must do writing and other activities right-handed only. (The first batch of Russian and East German children to get to write left-handed, if they wanted to, "just happened" to grow up to tear down the Berlin Wall and the Iron Curtain.)

Kate Gladstone

Our thanks to Kate for informing us of this research, and for sharing her thoughts with other members.

The full reference for the article (which was published in a peer-reviewed scientific journal) is: Niebauer, C., Christman, S., Reid, S., & Garvey, K. (2004). Interhemispheric interaction and beliefs on our origin: Degree of handedness predicts beliefs in creationism versus evolution. Laterality, vol. 9, vol. 9, pp. 433-447.

to find out more about Kate Gladstone's work on handwriting visit her website at : http://www.global2000.net/handwritingrepair/

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