As a belated celebration of Left Handers Day (it was yesterday), here are some off-hand items that illustrate there may be more to this “right-wing/leftist” thing than we thought.

A recent paper from Daniel Casasanto, a postdoc at Stanford, postulates that each person’s inherent “handedness” dictates implicit preferences — right-handed people prefer things they find on their right, and lefties prefer things they find on their left.

To test his hypothesis, Casasanto used Fribbles:

In one test, 286 students were shown pairs of fictional alien figures called Fribbles, odd animal-like creatures with squiggly appendages. The students were shown two groups of Fribbles, one group on the right side and the other on the left.

Right-handed students were more likely to view the Fribbles on the right side as intelligent, happy, honest and attractive. Lefties judged Fribbles on the left more favorably.

Each of the study’s five experiments showed that students were more likely to associate positive ideas with their dominant side and negative ideas with their less dominant side.

Casasanto also reflects on the linguistic culture we’ve made around handedness, with phrases like “right-hand man” and “two left feet” indicating a cultural belief in the value of each hand. “Sinister” comes from the Latin word for “left” or “to the left” (and ultimately, left-handedness).

However, he fails to account for “left hand of God” — but that may have come from a culture that valued left and right differently.

Left/right confusion afflicts about 15% of the population, a sort of dyslexia for these relative directions. As a landlubber, I have port/starboard confusion.

The left-right axis of the body is referred to as the sinistral-dextro axis (remember, “left” comes from “sinister”). Physicians have it especially hard when dealing with these issues, because they learn to speak of left and right in regard to the patient they’re examining, so adjusting in a conversation can lead to confusion. This might be why sometimes people have gotten the wrong leg amputated.

Is Casasanto right? Or should his ideas be left behind?

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Kent Anderson

Kent Anderson

Kent Anderson is the CEO of RedLink and RedLink Network, a past-President of SSP, and the founder of the Scholarly Kitchen. He has worked as Publisher at AAAS/Science, CEO/Publisher of JBJS, Inc., a publishing executive at the Massachusetts Medical Society, Publishing Director of the New England Journal of Medicine, and Director of Medical Journals at the American Academy of Pediatrics. Opinions on social media or blogs are his own.