Left-handed people, left-footed people, left-kissers?

Handedness is not the only asymmetry in our bodies. Whether hugging, kissing or eavesdropping, we usually prefer one side of the body to the other. And animals do the same.

Left-handed (symbol image)

It used to be believed that a single gene was responsible for our handedness. Today we know that in addition to many different genes, the environment also has an influence on the dexterity of our hands.

Sebastian Ocklenburg from the Ruhr University Bochum researches handedness and cognitive asymmetries in humans and animals. On the occasion of the international left-handed day, we interviewed the biopsychologist about cats, kisses and Leonardo da Vinci.

DW: About 85 to 90 percent of all people are right-handed. Does this preference for the right side also apply to other body parts or activities?

Sebastian Ocklenburg: Yes, there are many such asymmetries. Even if the right side is not always preferred. A nice example is kissing. When kissing, everyone has to turn their head to one side. If you turn your head to the other side than the one you usually use for kissing, it feels very strange. Try it out!

Vote. I always turn my head to the right. My friend fortunately also, otherwise we would probably have problems. Are there other examples?

The feet. With soccer players, you can always see that most of them clearly prefer one foot when they shoot at the goal. There are a few, for example Lionel Messi, who can shoot equally well with both feet.

These players then often have a big advantage. Beyond these motor asymmetries there are also sensory asymmetries. For example, when people look through a telescope with their eyes, almost all of them use only one eye to do so. If they listen with the ear at the door also almost all prefer to use a particular ear – even if they have equal hearing in both ears.

Royals wedding with commoners England Kate and William

Like 65 percent of the population, Prince William and Duchess Kate prefer the head tilt to the right side when kissing.

If these preferences are related to handedness, then left-handed people are also left-footed people?

Partly, partly. The motor asymmetries are strongly connected. If I am left-handed, I am usually left-footed and prefer to kiss with the left side of my head turned in. But this is independent from sensory asymmetries in hearing or seeing. They are interrelated, but independent of handedness.

Are there such asymmetries also with animals?

Yes, this is also the case with animals. For example, we have just submitted a study that deals with the ‘pottiness’ of cats and dogs. In contrast to humans, however, the distribution here is more 50 to 50, i.e. there are about the same number of left- and right-pawed animals.

How is ‘pawiness’ tested in animals?

Most of the time, the animal is given a task that requires it to reach for food. Anyone can play this at home with his own pet. Take an empty toilet paper roll and tape up one side and fill in some lining. But the tube has to be so narrow that the animal can’t get in with its snout, but has to reach for the food with its paw.

If you hold out the roll to your pet ten times and it uses the same paw ten times to reach the food, then you know that the animal is right- or left-footed.

World Cat Day

Cats and dogs are among the animals that each prefer a paw.

Why do these preferences exist at all? Why are some people left-handed and others right-handed?

Handedness has very little to do with our hands per se, it’s the brain that matters. The human brain is divided into two halves, the right and the left side. Whether you’re left- or right-handed depends on which of the brain hemispheres is particularly good at performing fine motor tasks.

With right-handers it is the left hemisphere of the brain, with left-handers it is the right hemisphere. This side shift is because the neural pathways cross in the spinal cord. The left side of the brain always controls the right side of the body and vice versa.

Do the brains of right-handed and left-handed people function differently as a result?? Are left-handed people actually smarter or more creative than right-handed people??

No, I’m sorry to disappoint you there. In the 70’s there were a few small, poorly controlled studies that came to this conclusion. But since then this has been disproved several times. Left-handed people are neither more intelligent nor more creative than right-handed people. Unfortunately, however, this result is much less interesting, which is why the studies from the 70s are still referred to.

And to a whole host of famous people who were supposedly all left-handed.

Yes, for example Leonardo da Vinci, who is said to have been left-handed. But if you look at the scientific literature on the subject, it becomes clear that this statement is based on a single portrait in which da Vinci paints with his left hand. But the fact that he wears his right arm in a bandage on this portrait and paints with his right hand on other portraits is concealed.

Professor Sebastian Ocklenburg teaches biopsychology at the Ruhr University Bochum. He specializes in hemispheric asymmetries in humans and other animals, handedness, and cognitive genetics, among other things.

The interview was conducted by Sophia Wagner.

Jimi Hendrix at the pop festival on the Baltic Sea island of Fehmarn in 1970

Famous left-handers in music

The world’s best guitarist: Left-handed

Even though his father had tried to rid him of the "devil," he was still a right-handed person, from the "wrong" one hand, Jimi Hendrix strummed his guitar left-handed. But he ate and wrote with his right hand. Hendrix was one of the first rock stars to pull the strings off a right-handed guitar and reverse them.

Grammy Award 2014 Los Angeles California

Famous left-handers in music

Lord of Heavy Metal

Tony Iommi, Black Sabbath guitarist, influenced heavy metal for generations with his heavy riffs. Iommi always played left-handed, but by a hair it would not have come to that: At 17, he lost the tips of his middle and ring fingers in a work accident. "I just stuck with left and made myself two plastic thimbles", he told the trade magazine Guitar World in 2008.

Nirvana Kurt Cobain MTV Unplugged

Famous left-handers in music

Rebel with every fiber

Kurt Cobain, the idol of Generation X, played mostly left-handed – here a right-handed guitar with reversed strings. In Nirvana he was the only left-handed artist. He probably occasionally hit the drums with his right hand. The famous last lines before his suicide he also wrote with right: "I don’t feel the passion anymore. it is better to burn out than to wither away."

Paul McCartney on stage

Famous lefties in music

Paul McCartney

Hardly an instrument that Sir Paul McCartney does not master. Although the songwriter plays drums right-handed, he operates most of his string and plucked instruments, such as his well-known Hofner 500/1 bass, with his left hand. After the breakup of the Beatles in 1970, McCartney continued to make music solo and with his band Wings.

Picture gallery Ringo Starr - The Beatles concert 1963

Famous lefties in music

Left-handed Beatles

Ringo Starr is also left-handed. But he plays his drums like a right-handed player. Any drum set can be adapted for left-handed players, it is only necessary to mirror the arrangement of the individual parts accordingly.

Phil Collins on the drums

Famous left-handed people in music

Pop singer and legendary drummer

A "true" Left-handed: Phil Collins eats and writes with his left hand and has set up his drums accordingly. That means he hits the hi-hat with his left hand and also kicks the bass drum with his left hand. The London singer and musician made his breakthrough with the progressive rock band Genesis. In his youth, the Beatles were his idols – so he saw left-handed people playing early on.

Travis Barker on drums

Famous left-handers in music

Tattooed drumming prodigy

The guys from Blink-182 gave the genre of punk rock a new, poppier face in the late 1990s. Travis Barker is the band’s flamboyant and very self-confident drummer – and left-handed, so actually a non-conformist through and through. Barker, however, plays a right-handed drum set. And thus adapts to the mainstream.

Elizabeth Cotten with guitar Stella

Famous left-handed drummers in music

The imaginative left-hander

Elizabeth Cotten was an African-American blues musician. The special thing: She is one of the few world-class musicians who simply flipped a right-handed guitar and left it unchanged. That is, she played the now lower bass strings with her fingers and the melody with her thumb. This way of playing is therefore called "Cotten picking" called.

Charlie Chaplin plays the violin

Famous left-handed people in music

Acting genius and amateur musician

In "The Vagabond (1916) Charlie Chaplin playing the violin – left-handed. In his private life he also played the violin and cello quite well – and always left-handed. "Every free minute from the studio he devotes to the instrument", was said in a press release from 1918.

Daniel Barenboim

Famous left-handers in music

Conductor of a different kind

Daniel Barenboim learned piano from the great masters of his time. Later he worked mainly as a conductor. He is a co-founder of the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, which is made up of equal numbers of Israeli and Arab musicians. Since 1992 he has been General Music Director of the German State Opera in Berlin – there the left-handed conductor swings the baton with his right hand.

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