When I started attending primary school, at the tender age of 5, my form teacher, Mr. Mugumbo (names have been changed to protect the protagonists/dead) tied my left hand behind my back to force me to use my right hand for sundry pencil inspired activities. My father was none too chuffed with this turn of affairs and came to the school next day and, to the great delight of the assembled students, threatened my form master with incipient violence if he ever tried/tied to restrict my left handed proclivities, again. Needless to say, my left handed scrawl was never restricted, going forward (I hate this expression).
This story illustrates a few foibles about 1960s British society. Tying up students and corporeal punishment in general was considered acceptable and even encouraged. My father, per se, was not against the teacher administering the cane, slipper or back handed slap to my well-formed arse (arse, well-formed arse). If I had willfully transgressed some vague unwritten rule then my rear would glow cherry red accordingly, much to the delight of the assembled students. What my father objected to was the restriction of my natural, free and obviously innate expression. Good man my dad, even though he had a natural and innate expression of thumping folk, willy nilly.
Society, of the time, had grave misgivings toward the 10% of the population who favoured left handed pursuits. Indeed, prejudice to ‘lefties’ has a very long pedigree and has been enshrined in our language. Thus, sinistral is a Latin derived word, meaning left sided, and is the root of the ‘English’ word, sinister. Conversely, dexterous is associated with the Latin dextral, meaning right handed. The British were not alone in forcing a change in handiness. The American public school system also ‘encouraged’ the sole use of the right hand well into the 60s. Even the scientific community had a hand in perpetuating the negative association of left-handedness. In the late 1980s/early 1990s, researchers found evidence that left handed folk, on average, died 10 years earlier than their right handed brethren. Subsequent research has found these earlier studies to be essentially flawed and the consensus amongst researchers, these days, is that right handed people are not particularly favoured, at least in longevity terms, over lefties.
Genetics certainly plays a role in the trait of handedness, however, the evidence suggests that environmental factors are paramount. From identical twin studies it appears that about 25% of the variance is due to genetics, whilst the remaining 75% is controlled by environment. Thus, It seems handiness is ‘polygenic’ in nature. In other words, a relatively large number of genetic loci (at least 40) are involved. The environmental influences are largely unknown. A number factors impinging on the developing foetus or affecting the child shortly after birth are hypothesised. Due to the complexity of the factors involved it has proved difficult to identify specific genes and environmental influences.
While being left-handed is not associated with premature demise, there are negative associations. Recent studies have shown a correlation of left-handiness (what God gives with one hand, he takes with the other) with a variety of mental disorders, including: schizophrenia; bipolar disorder; depression; autism; cerebral palsy and anxiety. This probably explains why I’m as mad as a bucket of frogs in vinegar.
Tis not all gloom and doom. There are positive attributes associated with left-handiness. For instance, studies indicate that interactive sports including badminton, cricket and table tennis favour left handed athletes. Intriguingly, 50% of competitive fencers are left handed.
During the 1960s, in English schools at least, pupils were issued with scratchy, dipping ink pens together with the delightful Indian ink wells secreted flush with the desk. However, of all my class mates I was the only one denied this rampant pleasure as it was deemed that I was ‘too messy’ to be allowed such an advanced writing implement. Consequently, I had to make do with a scratchy pencil instead. To be fair to the educators, my writing was particularly atrocious. Not only could I not spellicate proper, I couldn’t write proper either. Lefties are at a distinct disadvantage when it comes to writing. Right handers, writing from left to right, pull the pen along in a graceful, almost poetic, motion. Lefties utilise a pushing stroke and instead have to be content/contempt with a rather clumsy and stilted movement. The pen, therefore, does not glide effortlessly, faultless, but snags, leaving behind blobs of inks in dismal disarray. When I was about 9, my form teacher thought it was time to take a chance and let me partake of the pleasures of the ink pen. I promptly rewarded my teacher’s trust by flicking ink all over the back of the poor bastard sitting in front of me. For a reason, that escapes me now, the pupil in question was called ‘Inky Dobson’ (true story). Inevitably my ink privileges were instantly revoked and for the rest of my time as a Primary school student I languished in inkless shame.
As regard intelligence, it appears the evidence is mixed. Lefties are over represented in individuals with intellectual deficiencies to the extent that they are twice as likely to be impaired than their right handed brethren. Conversely, there is good evidence that lefties are over represented in those endowed with profound intelligence. As for mediocre individuals, in the centre of the bell curve, (i.e. average intelligence) there appears no particular preference for handiness. Thus, it seems that morons and geniuses have something in common. Nuff said.