How lefties, righties see the world differently

By Joan Raymond

Be careful next time you cast a vote. Your “handedness” might make you choose the wrong candidate, according to a research review published in Current Directions in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

The research sheds light on the so-called “body-specificity hypothesis” which simply means that how we make decisions and how we communicate with each other is influenced not only by our minds, but by our physical bodies.

“Handedness is a good tool (to use) because it’s easily measurable, and our hands our important in how we interact with the physical world,” explains lead author Daniel Casasanto, Ph.D., a cognitive scientist and assistant professor at the New School for Social Research in New York.

Experiments show that right-handed people tend to view things situated on the right hand side of a page, for example, as being more positive. And if you’re a leftie, well, you favor those things on the left hand side.  When participants were asked which of two products to buy, which of two job applicants to hire, or which of two alien creatures looked more trustworthy, right-handers routinely chose the product, person, or creature they saw on the right side of the page. Left-handers preferred the ones on left hand side of the page.

Interestingly, right-handers who had their dominant hand temporarily handicapped in the laboratory actually started to think like “lefties,” showing preference for the left side. That’s because we’re most comfortable using our dominant hand, according to the research, and we tend to view the things we are most comfortable with as being positive or good.

About 90 percent of the population is right-handed. So if you want to get votes or sell products, the right side of a page or a computer screen may be your best bet, says Casasanto.

The two most recent presidential debates provided some fodder for the researchers. The 2004 candidates, John Kerry and George W. Bush, are right handed and the 2008 candidates, Barack Obama and John McCain, are left handers.  The right-handed 2004 candidates made a greater proportion of right-hand gestures when expressing positive ideas. And when it came to the negative, they used their left hands. For the left-handed 2008 candidates, the opposite was true.

The researchers also wanted to find out if the meanings of action verbs actually differed between righties” and lefties.” Using sophisticated brain mapping techniques, the researchers found there are distinct differences between right and left handers when hearing  a word like “throw.”

“People tend to understand verbs as referring to actions they would perform with their particular bodies,” says Casasanto. “In this sense, people with different bodies understand the same verbs to mean something different.”

Which, of course, begs the question, how we do understand each other?

“The short answer is we don’t,” says Casasanto. “Most of the time, we feel like we understand each other because what a word means to me, is close enough to what it means to you, but it’s never the same, and what a word means in your mind may depend on quirks of your body.”

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About Ahmad Amirali

I am an educator by profession, pursuing my further career in teaching and learning. I love to read and, even more, love to share what I read.
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