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Top Five Questions Left-Handers Ask, #3: Are Left-Handers Smarter and More Creative?
Recently I gave a talk titled The Mystery of Left-Handedness at Lifeworks an organization in Erie, PA that promotes life-long learning, health and wellness (see lifeworkserie.org). My talk was organized around questions about left-handedness I have been asked repeatedly.
My five questions below represent issues that arise again and again when I talk to left-handers or when I am interviewed by the media about left-handedness. I will answer each of these five questions in my five-part blog series of the next several weeks.
- I write with my left hand but do other things with my right hand. Is that normal?
- Everyone in my family is right-handed but me. Why? I thought handedness is genetic.
- Are left-handers smarter and more creative than right-handers?
- If I try to switch writing from my left to my right hand, will I mess up my brain?
- Are left-handers better at sports than right-handers?
Response to Question Number 3:
Left-hander news feeds on Facebook indicate that left-handers assume their handedness type endows them with enhanced creative powers.
The origin of the connection between left-handedness and creativity likely arose over the last half of the 20th century when the Modal Model of right vs. left hemisphere function was developed after years of research. According to the Modal Model, the left hemisphere is the language, analytic and sequential processing brain area while the right hemisphere is holistic and deals with spatial processing, emotion and music. The Modal Model was used as support for the idea of right vs. left hemisphere cognitive styles. The concept of hemisphere-specific thinking caught on with the public and a plethora of self-help books promised success if a person accessed the unique powers of either the right or the left hemisphere depending on the task at hand. One of the most famous of these books is Drawing on the right side of the brain first published in 1979 and now in its 4th edition. The diagram below illustrates the Modal Model.
The Modal Model of Right vs Left Hemisphere Function
The hand movements of left-handers are controlled by the right hemisphere giving left-handers direct access to this holistic and possibly more creative part of the brain…or so the argument goes. If creative thought is a product of not one but both hemispheres, left-handers still have the advantage because research reports that left-handers show more symmetrical brain activity during the performance of certain tasks than that shown by right-handers. Left-handers are more whole-brained than right-handers which offers another potential creativity edge. Although these seem like two good arguments favoring a creative superiority among left-handers, laboratory studies comparing right- and left-handers on tests of creativity have produced mixed results.
Generally, creativity is studied using tests of divergent thinking. Research participants may be asked to make unusual connections between items…how many uses can one find for a brick…is an example of one type of divergent thinking test. Participants can also be asked to perform mental improvisations of music as another form of creativity measure. Such measures have not produced resounding findings in favor of a left-hander performance advantage when compared to right-handers. The same is true when left- and right-handers are compared on tests of intelligence. Intelligence tests usually involve convergent thinking where one right answer, rather than many alternatives, solves the problem at hand. Large population studies done in Great Britian, Australia and New Zealand over the last 10 years report little differences between the intelligence test scores of right- and left-handers.
In summary, a favorite slogan among left-handers is ‘left-handers are in their right mind.’ While this sentiment is true when it comes to hand movements, it remains questionable when applied to creativity and intelligence differences between right- and left-handers.
Stay tuned for the next articles appearing throughout the end of November for answers to the next questions.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Clare Porac received her Bachelor of Arts degree in sociology from Duquesne University and her MA and PhD degrees in psychology from the New School for Social Research, and is presently Professor of Psychology at Penn State Erie. She has authored or coauthored 63 research articles and has presented 66 conference papers on her human laterality research; she has an additional 55 publications and 50 conference papers on other topics. You can read her full biography here.
Professor Porac’s new book, Laterality: Exploring the Enigma of Left-Handedness, is a comprehensive overview of scientific research on laterality that not only tells us what is true, but also debunks commonly held misperceptions. Each chapter is based on a question or questions covering diverse topics such as genetic and biological origins of handedness, familial and hormonal influences on handedness, and the effects of a majority right-handed world on the behaviors of left-handers.
If you would like to purchase a copy of Laterality: Exploring the Enigma of Left-Handedness at up to 30% off the list price and free global shipping, visit the Elsevier Store. Apply discount code STC215 at checkout.
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