Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Being Left Handed

Yesterday's post revealed my allergy weaknesses.  Today, the Brave Astronaut shares with you that he is left handed.

I have long said that things my mother taught me to do - I do left handed (she was left handed).  Things I taught myself to do - I do right handed.  I play sports right handed, golf, bowl, baseball.  I eat with my right hand, I'm not one of those who cuts food with their left hand and then switches to eat with their left hand.  I use a knife right handed.

In my profession, I know more left-handed archivists.  I don't know what that says, but it says something.  I will also point out the President is left handed.  LBA is clearly right handed, but I still have hope for SoBA.

Some time ago, I spotted this list about left handedness.

#5 - We evidently die sooner.
Studies have shown that the number of left-handers who make it to old age is drastically lower than the number of their right-handed peers. In short, lefties tend to check out earlier. Why? Well, for one, lefties just have more accidents. Lots more accidents. One study surveying nearly 2,000 college students found that lefties report far more accidents than righties, especially car accidents. And another study of around 1,000 people living in Southern California showed that the risk of getting into a fatal accident was nearly six times higher if you were left-handed, and the risk of getting into a deadly car crash was four times higher. Perhaps not surprisingly, it was also found that right-handed people usually make it through nine more birthdays than left-handers.

So why are left-handed people so much more likely to kill themselves accidentally? Are they just fatally clumsy? Are they, as many cultures believe, such an affront to nature that nature actively seeks to destroy them? The most agreed upon explanation is that lefties get in more accidents simply because they're trying to maneuver in a world that's upside down and backward to them.

Probably the most notable example of dangerous right-bias is United States road laws -- we travel on the right side of the road, right-hand turns are acceptable on red lights and even parking lots are designed with the right-handed flow in mind. Imagine that you're driving to work during peak hours when a squirrel (most likely a right-handed squirrel) darts into the middle of the lane. If you're right-handed, your response is likely to swerve to the right, up onto the sidewalk, causing a potentially hilarious scene like hitting a fire hydrant. But if you're left-handed, you jerk the wheel left into oncoming traffic, resulting in a situation with far less comedy potential.

Southpaws also get sick more often, possibly due to left-handers' lopsided brain chemistry. Research done on "true" left-handers (excluding those fence-sitting ambidextrous types) showed that lefties were 2.7 times more likely to suffer from immune disorders and 2.3 times more likely to have been hospitalized at some point. It's not their fault -- the double curse of left-handedness and the risk of spending your life in a plastic bubble likely came from your mother stressing out during pregnancy. Ironically, she may have been stressing about the possibility of pushing out a left-handed freak of a kid.
 #4 - We're more likely to go insane.

Here's a fun fact that you can share on your next socially awkward date: Although left-handed people make up only 10 percent of the population as a whole, they compose a full 20 percent of schizophrenics. If you like those odds, you should know that left-handedness is also associated with dyslexia, ADD and some mood disorders.

Is it because all those right-handed can openers slowly drive them mad? Possibly. But Clyde Francks, a researcher at Oxford University, believes that it might have something to do with a newly discovered gene. Unimaginatively called LRRTM1, the gene is closely linked with left-handedness, as well as being related to increased odds of mental illness. You wouldn't think those two things would be related, but Francks believes the gene affects the symmetry of the brain.

You've heard about how different sides of the brain control different functions in the body -- scientists have known for a while that schizophrenia and other disorders are caused by a kind of confusion between the two about which side should handle what. Now they think that a similar glitch in brain symmetry is one reason people might favor their left hand over their right.

Metten Somers, a psychiatrist and brain researcher in the Netherlands, suggests that most of the left-handed population still have normal brain symmetry. It's the other 30 percent who are more likely to fling cats at passersby and scream at their dumpsters.

#3 - We're screwed in school
If you think about it, it's kind of surprising that left-handers are as emotionally balanced as they are. Right out of the box, left-handed kids realize the world wasn't quite made for them. At school, they do worse on timed exams and suffer awful back and neck cramps in the process. Why? Freaking right-handed desks. And scissors. And everything else.

If you're one of the 90 percent or so of people who were born right-handed, you probably weren't even aware that there was such a thing as a "right-handed desk," but in fact most school desks are biased toward right-handed people, forcing lefties to contort themselves uncomfortably in a desperate effort to reach across and take notes in our awkward left-to-right written language, their hand smudging everything they write, on a desk designed for their reflection.

There's no grand conspiracy involved -- left-handers just tend to fall through the cracks, being that there are so few of them. In a recent survey of left-handers in 50 different countries, the number of lefties who were ever taught how to operate as a left-hander in a right-handed world sits frequently around 10 percent -- everyone else just has to work it out on their own, until they finally try to drown the pain by spilling beer down their shirt from a right-handed beer mug.

And we're just barely kidding there -- pens, pencil sharpeners and other tools are also designed for the right hand, making life difficult (and even painful) for lefties. On computers, the mouse is set up on the right side. Interested in wood or metal shop? Be careful! The safety switches on all those spinning and stabbing blades are set up to be quickly accessible to right-handed people.

Of course, being a left-handed student in this day and age isn't as bad as it used to be in your grandparents' time, when teachers tried to solve the problem by beating left-handed kids with paddles. Still, it wasn't the worst thing they did to minorities.

#2 - We're more easily scared.
OK, so being left-handed can be a hazard to your physical and mental health. Can you at least be emotionally well-balanced? Come on, look at what website you're on. Do you really think we have good news for you here? Studies have shown that, if you're left-handed, you're twice as likely to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder.

They did a study to test left- and right-handers on their tolerance for terrifying shit (because torturing people weaker than themselves seems to be all scientists do these days) and forced a test group to watch a gruesome eight minutes of The Silence of the Lambs. They then measured the emotional response. What they found was that reactions differed depending on which hand the subjects used to cover their eyes during the gory bits. Right-handers were usually able to recount details of the entire scene they just watched, while lefties were more likely to give fragmented accounts.

More surprising, left-handers actually tended to exhibit subtle symptoms of PTSD. That's right -- a disorder commonly suffered by first responders, combat veterans and escaped victims of serial killers actually began to emerge after watching eight minutes of a movie that isn't even a horror film so much as a taut psychological thriller.

According to the researchers, this is once again because of that left-and-right-brain thing. In left-handers, the right brain tends to be dominant, and you guessed it, that's also the side involved in the shit-your-pants response.

It gets even worse: Studies agree that the opposite-side dominance in lefties tends to make them more inhibited, spending hours making basic decisions and then worrying that they've made the wrong call. To test her theory, behavioral psychologist Lynn Wright of the University of Abertay Dundee conducted a series of behavioral inhibition tests on 46 left-handers and 66 right-handers. On the tests of restraint, both left-handed men and women scored higher than their right-handed counterparts, while on tests monitoring lack of inhibition, to the surprise of no one, the opposite held true.

The left-handed responders were also more likely to agree with statements such as "I worry about making mistakes," "Criticism hurts me quite a bit" and "This interrogation is making me shit myself with fear."
 #1 - We're evidently hated in popular culture
Left-handers in the Western World are kind of lucky that they only need to worry about annoyingly awkward tools. In certain parts of Africa, Europe and much of the Far East, it's actually offensive to do anything with your left hand besides wipe your ass. For this and other reasons, the left hand is considered unclean and carries a cultural stigma. This makes being left-handed especially perilous in social situations, since waving hello or (God forbid) trying to shake another's hand with your left is akin to dick-slapping them in the face.

Lefties also have to be careful not to use their left hand to give or accept gifts, eat, or pass food. If they forget, it's not uncommon to see their dinner partners gaping in abject horror, like they just passed them a steaming bowl of their own feces, which isn't far from the actual implication.

Even in countries without strict social codes for wiping, the language of the left has always had negative connotations. A backhanded compliment, when you deliver an insult disguised as flattery, is also known as a "left-handed compliment." Even the dictionary defines being left-handed as something that implies being "clumsy and awkward."

And this goes back a long way. The word "left" derived from the Anglo-Saxon word "lyft," which meant "weak." And "sinistra," the Latin for "left," is also where we get the word "sinister." "Gauche," which we use to refer to a social faux pas, is actually French for "left." And in the Akan language of Ghana, to say that someone has "slept on his left side" is a euphemism for death. Why do you think your partner in crime is your "right-hand man?" It's because the guy on your left can't be trusted.

With all this history to contend with, it would be better for you if, instead of being born left-handed, you were just born with a huge dick-shaped birthmark on your forehead.

If you're one of the 10 percent of the population who have become progressively more depressed reading all this, for obvious reasons, then you should know that there's an upside -- you're more likely to be president. Of the seven U.S. presidents since Nixon, only Carter and Bush Jr. were right-handed. So good luck, but don't get your hopes up!


Unknown said...

Hmmm. A shows signs of being a lefty or ambidexterous, like her aunt, grandfather, and great grandfather. I found her trying to write with "the hook" the other day; I moved her hand back into the more natural writing position.

Brave Astronaut said...

My mother was not allowed to draw with the hook when younger, which is why I don't use it either. I still make check marks the other way though.