Friday, March 21, 2008

Lefties untie!

Several weeks ago I arrived at the Giraffe, a popular local restaurant. The moment I walked into the restaurant, I noticed that many people there were wearing green shirts. I didn't pay attention to the waiters, the aroma, just the number of people wearing green shirts. I thought it might be St. Patrick's day. It wasn't, just a lot of people wearing green shirts. I might not have given this another thought, except that a few weeks ago I read this article (from wikipedia) on lefties. Judge for yourself.

There are many theories on how being left-handed affects the way a person thinks. One theory divides left- and right-handed thinkers into two camps: visual simultaneous vs. linear sequential.
According to this theory, right-handed people are thought to process information using a "linear sequential" method in which one thread must complete its processing before the next thread can be started.
Left-handed persons are thought to process information using a "visual simultaneous" method in which several threads can be processed simultaneously. Another way to view this is such: Suppose there were one thousand pieces of popcorn and one of them was colored pink. The right-handed person — using the linear sequential processing style — would look at the popcorn one at a time until they encountered the pink one. The left-handed person would spread out the pieces of popcorn and visually look at all of them to find the one that was pink. A side effect of these differing styles of processing is that right handed persons need to complete one task before they can start the next. Left-handed people, by contrast, are capable and comfortable switching between tasks. This seems to suggest that left-handed people have an excellent ability to multi-task, and anecdotal evidence suggests that there are more creative stems due to this ability to multi-task.

Actually I am a great switcher and sequential multi-tasker. I can change from one project (say science) to another (say music) in a second. But I am lousy at concomitant multitasking (which many females are able to do.

Right-handed people process information using "analysis", which is the method of solving a problem by breaking it down to its pieces and analyzing the pieces one at a time. By contrast, left-handed people process information using "synthesis", which is the method of solving a problem by looking at the whole and trying to use pattern-matching to solve the problem.

This is spot on, at least for me. I always 'see' patterns. Even when none exist. I thought everyone did, but now I have my doubts. Does this have anything to do with inventions? If so, lots of inventors should be left-handed.

The hypothesis that left-handed people are predisposed to visual-based thought has been validated by a variety of evidence. In the 2004 book Brains That Work a Little Bit Differently, researchers Allen D. Bragdon and David Gamon, Ph.D., briefly described some of the current research on handedness and its significance. "Handedness researchers Coren and Clare Porac have shown that left-handed university students are more likely to major in visually-based, as opposed to language-based subjects. Another sample of 103 art students found an astounding 47 percent were left- or mixed-handed." [page 76]
I'm a lousy artist. But my thinking is visually based. I can't use a computer-based meetings organizer (I need to imagine all the handwritten notes in my diary). I have trouble improvising on a song, even if I know the tune and chord changes, unless the song sheet is in front of me.

Ultimately, being left-handed is not an all-or-nothing situation. The processing styles operate on a continuum where some people are more visual-simultaneous and others are more linear-sequential.

This makes a lot of sense. Some lefties (such as my daughter) write with their left hand, but do other chores with their right.

Growing up leftie was just another of the challenge I had to deal with in my youth (growing up Jewish in a somewhat hostile environment, short, chubby, and a general all-round nerd). During kindergarten ("Melvyn is a nice boy but he cries all the time" they wrote in my report card), the 'teachers' spent a whole year trying to force the crayon into my right hand. Being a stubborn little pain in the ass, I would continue writing with my left hand, wiping away the tears with my right. Other kids succumbed (they probably don’t even know they're innately left handed), but I persevered. By the way, I still tie my shoes the way a three year-old does, never did catch onto that loop trick (I didn't see any improvement over the old way, either, to be frank).

Being a leftie means that few things work really well. Scissors are backwards. I must have had the lousiest baseball glove in Canada (they made lousty baseball gloves for lefthanded kids). I play the piano backwards as compared to righties (but then again, so did Bill Evans). As a child, I smudged every page I ever penned (this was corrected only when I started to write in Hebrew, which is a leftie-friendly language). I still write in English with a hideous curled hand. And when I am driving, my lethargic right foot is in charge of both the gas and brake. Well, at least I get to hold the fork in my left hand (take that, you righties!).

If lefties' brains are so different, should they be taught in the same manner as righties? Righties will probably say yes, why spend extra funds to develop teaching methods for those sinister left-handed characters? But, as it turns out, left handed academics do better than righties. So maybe they should be learning from us a few of those green shirt things.

1 comment:

Carole Seawert said...

Your comment about needing to visualise your handwritten entries in your diary is so true. I'm also left handed and, when I look for something I've written in my notebook, I can see in my mind's eye that, for example, it's written in red ink on the top of a right hand page. Makes it much easier to find stuff.

Until I discovered there were products like knives and scissors etc especially for left handers I just muddled along in a right handed world. Life is so much easier now that I have left handed stuff. And it's wonderful to see the reaction of a right-handed person when they try to use one of these items!
Carole from