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August 13th is International Left-Handers Day! It’s a time to celebrate lefties and to remind people that it’s not always easy to be left-handed in a right-handed world. But why do some people favour their left hands?
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What we called handedness is the hand you use most often to do just about everything. Whether you’re right-handed or left-handed, there’s almost always one hand that you prefer, ever since you were a baby. This is the hand you use to write or draw, the hand that you’re better at throwing balls with and the one you naturally reach out to grab things with.
Soccer superstar Lionel Messi of Argentina is known to be a left-footed player. (Gabriel Rossi/Getty Images)
That hand, which is stronger and more accurate than the other, is called your dominant hand. As many as 90% of people have their right hand as their dominant one. It’s not just hands, lots of people have a dominant foot too!
No one knows the exact reason why, but there seem to be a few causes for being left-handed. It can be something you inherit from your family — left-handed parents are more likely to have a left-handed child. Or it may be to do with how brains work, since righties and lefties use different areas of the brain to do things like understand language. Some people think that left-handedness would be more common except that kids get encouraged to do things the right-handed way.
In the past, being left-handed wasn’t just rare, it was wrong! People had superstitions about lefties being bad luck and maybe even witches! In school, kids would get punished for using their left hands to write.
That doesn’t happen anymore, but there are still challenges to being left-handed. In some parts of the world, it’s considered bad manners to use your left hand to eat.
Cutting paper using scissors for left-handed people. (DIARMID COURREGES/AFP/Getty Images)
And most everyday things, like scissors or notebooks, are designed to be used by right-handed people. Lefties can get a reputation for being messy or clumsy, but it’s often about having the wrong tools.
Basketball star LeBron James can shoot just as well with his right or his left hand. (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)
Yes! Being ambidextrous means you’re equally good at using both hands. This isn’t the same as being able to do some things well with your right hand and other things better with your left — many lefties are taught how to play sports and other activities the right-handed way and get used to it.
A truly ambidextrous person can do everything, including printing and drawing, just as well with either hand. It’s really rare, only about 1% of all the people in the world are ambidextrous! Try drawing something with one hand and then the other and see how they compare.