Why Are So Many Presidents Left-Handed?

02/18/2013

ThinkstockFor most of my childhood I never thought much of my left-handedness. While I realized that most people wrote with their right hands, the fact that I was any different hardly crossed my mind. But one day, when I was around middle school age, I asked my brother why his handwriting was so hard to read.

“They switched me,” he said, as if I knew what that meant. 

“What?” I responded, puzzled by the term.

“When I was little, I had to write with my right hand even though I was left-handed. Back then being left-handed was bad,” he said.

Lefty Re-Education

It turns out that since I was seven years younger, I escaped being switched as my brother had been. My left-handedness had never really been a disadvantage. In fact, I’ve always rather treasured it -- so many of the greats have been left-handed. Five of our last seven presidents were left-handed. 

Prior to the 20th century, there were no known left-handed presidents except for James Garfield, who was considered ambidextrous. But this is probably a result of the “re-education” of so many former lefties, according to The Washington Post

Considering that throughout history only around 10 percent of the population wrote with their left hand, five out of seven presidents is statistically significant, but what does it mean? Hand dominance is related to brain symmetry. While right-handers primarily use their the left side of the brain, left-handers often use both sides of their brain. 

Left and Right Brain

In general, said Dr. Daniel Geschwind, a professor of human genetics, neurology and psychiatry at University of California, Los Angeles, School of Medicine in The New York Times, left-handers have less asymmetric brains, with more even distribution over the two hemispheres. “Perhaps a more accurate conceptual way to think about them is as non-right-handers,” he said. “Many of them are much more likely to be ambidextrous and have fine motor abilities with their right hands.”

There is some evidence that they are better communicators--maybe an explanation for Barack Obama and Bill Clinton's exceptional public speaking skills. 

According to The Washington Post:

The benefits of being a lefty aren't only verbal. Many artists and great political thinkers were lefties -- Pablo Picasso and Benjamin Franklin, for example. Lefties are overrepresented among the mathematically talented and are also more likely to find unexpected or counterintuitive solutions on problem-solving tests.

So, cheers to being a lefty!

 

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Sara Novak writes about health and wellness for Discovery Health. Her work is also regularly featured in Breathe Magazine and on SereneKitchen.com. She has written extensively on food policy, food politics, and food safety.


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