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Left-Handers are Fighting Fit

Sep 5, 2007
Recent research has discovered a gene for left-handedness. However, the gene has also been linked to an increased likelihood of developing psychotic mental illness such as schizophrenia. So if being left-handed carries a genetic penalty, how come there are any lefties still out there? Leila Sattary went in search of answers.

Carrying the gene LRRTM1 will mean that you are much more likely to be left-handed, claim researchers. It also means that you're slightly more likely to develop a mental illness. But don't panic, the chances are still very low.

Dr Fred Kavalier from London's Guy's Hospital said, 'I don't think left-handed people should be alarmed, there are many other factors that contribute to schizophrenia. This may be a tiny little element in the big jigsaw.'

But the laws of evolution mean that any genetic shortcoming should be weeded out by natural selection, so why is it that leftiness still persists? Scientists think that it could all be to do with fighting and the element of surprise.

Back in the days when men routinely knocked lumps out of each other to impress the girls, any small advantage would give you a fighting chance of gaining the girl. Being a left-handed man in a predominantly right-handed world would give you that slight advantage. Right-handers wouldn't be used to fighting a leftie and so their tried and tested moves wouldn't work as well.

The same forces can still be seen at work today. In many sports the proportion of left-handers tends to be higher than the proportion of left-handers in society as a whole. They don't have any physical advantages per se, but they do have the element of surprise. A study which analysed the teams participating in the 2003 Cricket World Cup found that the best teams had proportionally more lefties, making it harder for the opposing right-handers to get their tactics right.

Left-handedness might also confer a range of other benefits. There have been an above average number of famous successful left-handers which, it has been suggested, is due to their being more intelligent and creative. Not only that, recent research has indicated that they are better at IT and computer games. There has been speculation for years that being good with computers can be a result of mild autism and therein might be the link. If left-handedness is associated with other differences in brain function then lefties might be more likely to be extraordinary people.
About the Author
Andy worked for four years studying ducks (no stop laughing, he really did). He went into his PhD thinking he was going to save the world (albeit from ducks) and now spends him time lovingly preening strange but true and other aspects of null-hypothesis
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