Life

6 Fascinating Facts About Being Ambidextrous That Most People Don’t Know

It’s a real-life superpower.

Being ambidextrous means you can write with both hands equally well.
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Having the ability to use both your right and left hands with ease is a skill not many people are blessed with. Imagine if your handwriting looked beautiful no matter which hand you wrote with. Or if you had the ability to hit a home run holding the bat either way. According to psychologist and author Charlotte Reznick, Ph.D., someone can officially be defined as ambidextrous when they are “able to use both right and left hands equally well.” This could come in handy (pun intended) in a lot of scenarios.

For the most part, everyone develops either a right hand dominance or left hand dominance, and the vast majority of people will fall under the right-handed category. “Research over time and across cultures and socioeconomic levels points to a strong genetic influence [toward] which hand will be dominant, and indicates that 10% to 12% of the population is left-handed,” Reznick tells Bustle. So, when the unusual left-handed person comes along, you might be surprised by what you're seeing. Writing script with the left hand? How strange! But believe it or not, a pen can feel right at home in both hands for a select few.

If you're a right-handed person and the idea of doing anything with your less dominant hand makes you feel like the world is suddenly spinning backwards, you know you’re not gifted with this special skill. In fact, as you’ll learn in more detail, people who are truly, thoroughly ambidextrous are extremely rare. Not superhero recruited into X-men rare, but still, rare. What’s more, there are a lot of surprising traits that come along with the ability to use either hand.

Ambidextrous People Are In The 1%

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Yes, it's very rare to be ambidextrous. “Approximately 11% of the population is left-handed, while only 1% is truly ambidextrous,” Reznick says. It's a league of their own, really! And although many people have trained themselves to use their left or right hand and can use both pretty well, this is not true ambidexterity. Rather, it’s classified as “cross-dominance.”

It's All About The Brain

To understand what being ambidextrous means, it helps to understand how the brain works. “Generally, but not always, a left-handed person is right-brain dominant, and a right-handed person is left-brain dominant,” Reznick explains. “That’s because one side of our brain controls the workings of the other side of the body.” Your brain is in control of how your hands handle a pen.

However, recent research proves that it might not be that simple. “New studies are also showing that for lefties, there is more symmetry between both sides of the brain than [previously] thought,” Reznick tells Bustle. “Typically for righties, tasks are divided into each hemisphere. For example, language acquisition is located in the left hemisphere. However, for lefties, this is not always the case, and one might find language acquisition areas on both sides of the brain.” This symmetry, according to Reznick, is similar for ambidextrous people.

There Are Various Skill Levels

Remember the idea of cross-dominance? You can be mixed-handed but still have one more dominant hand. “Many people who might outwardly appear ambidextrous may have developed using a non-dominant hand either because of injury, pressure, or [because] it seemed [like] a good way to get the advantage in sports,” Reznick tells Bustle. But those who are ambidextrous through and through (again, a very rare and low number of people) don't have a dominant hand. They can use both easily, trading pens between left and right.

It Gives You A Leg Up In Sports And Art

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Physical and artistic pursuits are where ambidextrous people soar. “In sports, it’s considered advantageous to be able to use either hand, so you can switch in an individual situation depending on who you are playing against,” Reznick says. “In baseball, being a switch-hitter or switch-pitcher gives you the advantage of playing to your opponents’ weakness. You can find similar perks in tennis, soccer, and other sports.” Plus it’s pretty cool in music and art. “Ringo Star, the famed Beatles drummer, is left-handed but able to play a right-handed drum kit,” Reznick tells Bustle.

There's A Possible Link To Synesthesia

Those who are ambidextrous could also experience synesthesia. “Synesthesia is when senses appear coupled. For example, numbers, letters, or music are experienced as colors,” Reznick explains. “Research suggests that synesthesia may be activated when two areas of the brain next to each other are activated at the same time, called cross-activation. The research is not conclusive around whether ambidexterity is correlated with experiencing synesthesia; however, it might be.”

It all has to do with sharing the trait of a symmetrical brain. “Brain symmetry is seen more often in people [who] experience synesthesia, so that’s where the correlation starts,” Reznick says, adding, “but remember correlation is not causation; we still have a lot to learn.”

Ambidextrous People Started Out As Lefties, Probably

One of the most surprising facts associated with being ambidextrous is that some people who use both hands likely started out with a dominant left hand. More fascinating than that is where the cross-dominant-handed skill originates from.

“Some people who use both their right and left hands did start out as left-handed but were forced to switch,” explains Reznick. “Howard Kushner, author of On the Other Hand, a book on the history of left-handedness, reports that in the old days, South Africa would put kids' left hands in boiling water to stop them from using it if the old slap or tying up the offending hand [method] didn’t work,” Reznick tells Bustle.

And if you go further back, the left hand was associated with witchcraft during biblical times, which, unfortunately, people didn't think was very cool. It's even rooted in language. In Latin, "sinistra" means “left,” and that's where the word "sinister" comes from. “For so long in history, left-handedness got a bad reputation, incorrectly associating being different with being sinister or from the devil,” Reznick says. “Many lefties were forced to change to mainly use their right hand over centuries ... so the ability to use both hands grew out of necessity, although this kind of using both hands is considered mixed- or cross-dominant.” Are you shook yet?

Studies referenced:

de Kovel, C. G., Carrión-Castillo, A., & Francks, C. (2019). A large-scale population study of early life factors influencing left-handedness. Scientific Reports, 9(1). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-018-37423-8

Papadatou-Pastou, M., Ntolka, E., Schmitz, J., Martin, M., Munafò, M. R., Ocklenburg, S., & Paracchini, S. (2020). Human handedness: A meta-analysis. Psychological Bulletin, 146(6), 481–524. https://doi.org/10.1037/bul0000229

Rodriguez, A., Kaakinen, M., Moilanen, I., Taanila, A., McGough, J. J., Loo, S., & Jarvelin, M.-R. (2010). Mixed-handedness is linked to mental health problems in children and adolescents. PEDIATRICS, 125(2). https://doi.org/10.1542/peds.2009-1165

Hubbard, E. M. (2007). Neurophysiology of synesthesia. Current Psychiatry Reports, 9(3), 193–199. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11920-007-0018-6

Experts:

Charlotte Reznick, Ph.D., psychologist, child and adolescent psychotherapist, former UCLA Associate Clinical Professor of Psychology, and author of The Power of Your Child’s Imagination