Have you ever just randomly looked around in your class and observed people writing, taking notes or just using their hands? Well, I know I did it for sure. What I found particularly interesting is to see how someone would use their hands, in what occasion and whether he/she was using their right hand or left hand. So a natural question came up to my mind: can people actually choose with which hand they want to write? Or is it rather a characteristic that is innate in ourselves and therefore predicted even before we are born?
Being right-handed has always been considered the “right” way (as the word itself says) to write. Right means that something is correct, proper and the way that it should be. While left, translated in Latin, sinister, means unlucky, bad and adverse. This is not only valid for English or Latin but also for many other languages: Recht, Droit, Derecho are all words that means the “correct” or the “right”. In general, the left hand was associated with the “hand of the devil”. Until not long ago scholars that would write with their left hand would get punished and were forced to change their wrong habit by switching their writing hand. The teachers would tie their left arm behind the chair so that the children would not be able to use it at all. The same thing is valid for eating habits or sports activities. In fact, in some countries these practices are still used today. The goal was and is to completely change the habit of writing with the left hand since it is considered wrong and impure.
Handedness is something that is often transmitted from generation to generation. So if both parents are left-handed their children have a higher chance to be left-handed too and vice-versa. But this does not automatically imply that this is all coming from a genetic point of view. In fact, identical twins that share the exact same DNA might not share the same handedness. From what we know today it is estimated that around 70% to 95% of the world’s population is right-handed and only around 10% is left-handed. Men are considered to be more prone to be left-handed than females. Then there is a third category that is the cross-dominance, people that are in this category can use both of their hands according to what they are doing. They have the capability to switch from left to right hand according to their preference. The estimate for these people is of 1%. And the fourth and last category is the so-called ambidexterity that are those people that have the capability to use whatever hand in every possible situation.
Normally we can start to see a hand preference around the first years of life, but sometimes the use of hands and fingers during the time in the womb can be helpful to predict the outcome of the handedness.
A sort of “discrimination” of left-handed people has occurred during the centuries. All we have to do is think of a pair of scissors for example. As a left-handler, I always complain that I’m not able to cut a piece of paper properly because of how the scissors are made. In fact, it works according to a mechanism that can only be applied in the proper way if you use it with your right hand. This is only a little inconvenience, but if we look back during the industrial revolution many machines were constructed according to the needs of right-handed people. This was a clear disadvantage for lefties. Or more simple until the 1950’s scholars would write with quill and ink, therefore you can imagine how hard it was for left handed people not do make a disaster while writing. Since if you write with your left hand you are going to pass over with your hand on all the notes you just took, it’s hardly impossible not to ruin the paper if you have written with fresh ink. The ink was used until it was replaced by the famous “Bic” pen. The “normal” pens as we all know them today, were invented by Lazlo Josef Birò, that’s also why we call them the biro pens. This man revolutionized the writing technique that was used until then, and replaced it with a more advantageous and less complicated one.
But is there any advantage for being left-handed? The answer is clearly yes. In fact, left handed people are often more advantaged when playing some types of sports where a second person is involved – tennis or boxing. For example, athletes that do compete in these disciplines are going to be mostly right-handed since, according to the scientific researches and to what I have mentioned before, almost 90% of the population uses their right hand. Therefore, these athletes are really surprised if they find a left-handed opponent, and most importantly they will not know how to exactly go on since they are not used to the competition with lefties. This latter will be in clear advantage since he/ she is already used to compete against right-handed people, but the opponent needs to face the challenge to engage in an asymmetric battle that they are not used to.
Overall there are scientific researches going on to deepen the topic of handedness since it is something so particular and a phenomena that still causes a lot of doubts and unclearness.