Richard G. Petty, MD

Left-Handedness and Sports

There seem to be a number of potential downsides to being left-handed. Not only is the world designed for right-handers, but they may also fall victim to some illnesses.

However, there has been a lot of interest in the apparently greater success of many left-handed sportspeople. Amongst the elite in many sports, left-handers appear to be over-represented. The folk psychology explanation has been that if the effect is real, then it is likely all due to some attempt of the left-hander to over-compensate.

I’ve always been very skeptical about explanations like that, and there is new research from Australia to show that my skepticism was justified.

A study in the journal Neuropsychology shows that left-handed people can think more quickly when carrying out tasks such as playing computer games or some sports.

The research shows that in left-handed people there is a faster transfer of information between the hemispheres of the brain. This makes them more efficient when dealing with multiple stimuli, because they are able to use both sides of the brain more easily than people who are purely right-handed.

The researchers used a simple technique in which they measured reaction times of the two sides of the brain when white dots were flashed to either side of a fixed cross.

They then compared this with how good participants were at carrying out another task in which they had to spot matching letters in the left and right visual fields. This task would require them to use both sides of the brain at the same time.

Tests in 80 right-handed volunteers showed there was a strong correlation between how quickly information was transferred across the left and right hemispheres and how quickly people spotted matching letters.

But when the tests were repeated in 20 left-handed volunteers, the researchers found that the more left handed people were the better they were at processing information across the two sides of the brain. The more left-handed people were, the greater the efficiency of their hemispheric interactions.

When you have to do increasingly complex tasks, the brain recruits more circuits to help. People tend to use both hemispheres for tasks that are very fast or very complex and that require the interpretation of a lot of information. Good examples would be computer games, driving in heavy traffic or playing most sports.

Although there is a genetic component in handedness, it is an odd kind of genetic pattern and we also have some evidence that you can train yourself to make greater use of both of the hemispheres of the brain, and this can likely lead to a re-wiring of entire regions of the brain.

If you are right or left-handed try to spend five minutes each day using your non-dominant hand for some task. If you are right-handed, you might want to try shaving with your left hand. (Obviously electric or safety razors only please!). Or you might try something more complex: writing with your other hand. See if you notice any difference in yourself and feel free to report back.

About Richard G. Petty, MD
Dr. Richard G. Petty, MD is a world-renowned authority on the brain, and his revolutionary work on human energy systems has been acclaimed around the globe. He is also an accredited specialist in internal and metabolic medicine, endocrinology, psychiatry, acupuncture and homeopathy. He has been an innovator and leader of the human potential movement for over thirty years and is also an active researcher, teacher, writer, professional speaker and broadcaster. He is the author of five books, including the groundbreaking and best selling CD series Healing, Meaning and Purpose. He has taught in over 45 countries and 48 states in the last ten years, but spends as much time as possible on his horse farm in Georgia.

Comments

3 Responses to “Left-Handedness and Sports”
  1. Shaun says:

    Hi Richard:

    I recently trained myself to use the computer mouse with my left hand.

    It took about one month to be able to proficiently use the mouse with my left hand to browse the web, or type.

    It took about two months to use the mouse left-handed to work with complex graphics programs.

    I am now totally ambidextrous when using the mouse. It feels comfortable and easy, too.

    I notice that many very intelligent people, including my overachieving husband, a high-level executive, who try to do this, give up fairly quickly….frustration, perhaps….Or, lack of patience.

    I also play the guitar, though, so perhaps that made it a bit easier, for me.

    From my perspective, learning to play the guitar simply made it less difficult for me to believe that with time using the left hand, in certain applications, can become second nature.

    As your article appears to suggest, I do believe that there is an obvious positive effect on cognitive functions after training the brain to use the left hand for complex activities.

    It seems that I make connections more easily when problem solving, and summon more creative ideas more easily.

    IME, based solely on my own personal observations, Switching back and forth between my left and right hand during the problem solving session or when needing to be creative, seems to amplify whole brain thinking, in a positive way.

  2. Dear Shaun,

    Thank you so much for sharing your observations with us.

    My own experience, as well as those of my students and a careful analysis of the neurological iterature all confirm what you have found out for yourself.

    I am quite certain that retraining your brain like this does indeed enable you to mobilize more of your cognitive reserves when you need them.

    Kind regards,

    RP

  3. Fred Manzer says:

    Has there been any work done to explore the reasons why dominant handed people sometimes utilize the opposite(?) handedness when they do two handed activities, with special interest in golf? In reviewing your left handed sportspeople list for golfers, it is clear that some lh folks were converted to rh, Hogan, Jones maybe Miller and Price while Michelson and Weir are like me, rh but playing lh and unlike me are pros, tournament winners, Masters winners. My theory for years has been that that 2 handed activities have been misnamed for centuries. I write and throw and do almost every other one handed activity with my right hand. However, with all two handed activities, it is best when my left hand is low on the implement or tool or bat or club – the supposed left handed attitude. Consider, I set up with my right side towards the target, I set up on the right side of the ball, I turn into impact towards my right side, I work my right arm to the ball first, I transfer my weight from left to right thru the shots, if I draw a shot – it moves to the right….but I am supposedly playing left handed!? Convinced that this is, in fact, right handed. In my family, my right handed wife – plays right handed by popular convention, our older son is totally left handed one handed but plays right handed (or is he playing left handed?), our younger son is rh but plays left ( or is it right handed, like me?). In interviewing hundreds of lh(?) playing golfers over decades, I have found perhaps 6 that were truely left handed, one handed. I was tested with a gripper instrument by one of my instructors a few years ago as I bugged her with handedness questions. She claimed that the gripper clearly indicated that I am in fact left handed so it made perfect sense to her that I played left handed. Don’t believe the testing, ie, perhaps I don’t want to accept that I may be left handed. So….confusion reigns and does it really matter

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