Left Hands and Right Paws – Are Left-Handed Organisms Smarter?

[This week's edition of ChimpManzee is dedicated to the lefties out there, in celebration of Left-Handers' Day today.]

chicken salad

As I sat  with my coworker for lunch, I noticed him scoop up the chicken salad (we bought from the mall) with his left hand.

Oh cool, he’s a lefty, I thought. He must be smart; I wonder if he’s arranging the food on his fork in a geometric manner? Or maybe he’s contemplating a more artistic lettuce and chicken arrangement to make his lunch visually aesthetic. Hmm… Did he just creatively add that salad dressing to his bowl?  Woah, what a free thinker!  I should be taking notes. I mean, everyone knows lefties are more intelligent and more creative people!

left handAlthough lefties  make up only 10% of the population,  they have historically produced an above-average quota of  successful, brilliant and influential individuals.  Da Vinci, Einstein,  Michelangelo and Paul McCartney were all left-handed, not to mention a disproportionately large number of  US Presidents and Nobel Laureates.

So ‘How does the brain of a lefty work?’ asks a WA user.

The human brain is the 3lb  focal point of the conscious mind. It is made up of 3 main parts: the cerebrum, cerebellum and brain stem. This big mass of neurons is divided into 2 hemispheres, the left and right hemispheres, that are linked by a large bunch of nerves called the corpus callosum.
Each hemisphere has its own functional specializations which correspond to neural mechanisms. The left hemisphere uses sequential, analytical and logical functions while the right hemisphere has more creative, holistic and visual functions.
Left and right handed people use both sides of their brains. But, Left-handed people are known to use the right side of their brain more.

Basically, righties tend to be more logical, linear, analytical thinkers while lefties are more abstract, holistic ‘out-of-the-box’ type thinkers. This might be a biological adaptation in response to lefty discrimination throughout history. Across cultures lefties were forced to live in a right handed world. In the Spanish language, to do something ‘por izquierda’ means to engage in illegal or corrupt conduct. In ancient China and in Feng Shui, the left side has always been considered the “bad” side.  The Scottish term for left-handedness is ‘corrie fistit,’ meaning  clumsiness.  Even the English word sinister comes from the Latin word  ‘sinestra,’ meaning left.

What would happen in a society where you can live freely with your left-handedness, such as the animal kingdom?  Do animals display any left handed  tendencies?

  • A 2005 study of our closest relatives, wild chimpanzees, in Gombe National Park, Tanzania, found that the majority of certain groups of chimps who are dexterous in termite fishing (using a stick as a tool to hook termites)  are left handed.
  • Parrots tend to favor their left  foot when grasping objects; For example, fruit when feeding or a toy when playing. In fact, University of Michigan biologist  John W. Pepper, found a  species of cockatoo (parrot family), in Australia, that de-shell nuts and seeds solely with their left foot.  They do this while singing tunes that show off their vocal chords. (Interestingly enough, speech  and fine motor ability both come from the right side of the brain).
  • Certain species of frogs show left paw preferences for actions such as  cleaning oils from their body. Kermit even  proposed to Miss Piggy with his left hand.
  • There is no scientific proof behind the rumor that all polar bears are left handed- although they do open up the Coca Cola bottles with their left paws.
  • Pet dogs and cats have been reported to be both  right or left paw dominant – seems to be a 50/50 divide.

Kermit the FrogSo are left-handed, right-brained  animals more intelligent than their counterparts? There is not enough evidence to form a conclusive answer, but consider this: dolphins are considered the most highly intelligent of all mammals and don’t have much use of their fins at all.

EinsteinAs I stared at my coworker’s chicken salad, I noticed the girl by his side had a homemade vegetable and corn lasagna. Whether she used analysis and logic to bake that right-handed dish I don’t know, but it was prettier, more colorful and  definitely more unique than the mall-bought salad. I don’t think Einstein came up with his theory of relativity by buying pretty books, he had to read them.

In the end the old cliché holds true: It’s not what you’ve got but what you do with it that counts!

2 thoughts on “Left Hands and Right Paws – Are Left-Handed Organisms Smarter?

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