Before you snort at left-handed people for insisting that they get equal recognition, it’s worth noting that lefty discrimination has been going on for centuries.
In the Middle Ages, left-handers were often accused of consorting with the devil and, during the excesses of the Inquisition and the witch hunts of the 15th and 16th Century, left-handedness was at times considered sufficient to identify a woman as a witch.
That, as I’m sure you know, didn’t end well.
The 18th and 19th centuries weren’t great, either. Left-handers were often forced to write with their right hands, which was enforced by tying the child’s left hand behind their back to make sure that the habit was instilled.
In the mid-twentieth century, in some parts of the world, this practice continued.
Now we know better, at least when it comes to schooling and witchcraft, but lefties are still excluded from some things, including studies in neuroscience.
VICE spoke to Emma Karlsson, a postdoctoral researcher in psychology and cognitive neuroscience at Bangor University in Wales, who says that “it’s one of these ‘rules of thumb’ that people learn when they start doing neuroscience, that including left-handed individuals is bad”.
Excluding left-handers is supposedly an attempt to reduce variations in brain data.
The brain is comprised of two hemispheres which are not completely equal in their anatomy. When it comes to some things like language and motor skills, one of the hemispheres does most of the work.
With most right-handed people the left hemisphere of the brain takes that on, while left-handed people are often less reliant on that hemisphere. They might use both hemispheres, but predominantly the right side.
Because of their exclusion, they’re incredibly frustrated, says Lyam Bailey, a doctoral student in psychology and neuroscience, who is one of the few researchers who accepts them.
“It’s been thought that it’s just best to play it safe, be careful and exclude left-handers,” Bailey said. “That kind of mindset has become very deeply ingrained in cognitive neuroscience.”
…“We don’t know what we don’t know,” Bailey said. “It might be the case that left-handers are more likely to exhibit differences in some characteristics, maybe with respect to memory or attention or brain structure. But we don’t know that because they’re not being included in the research.”
There is now a push to diversify data to provide a more accurate overview of the population of which left-handers account for roughly 10%.
“When trying to figure out how the brain works, we need to account for all the ways a healthy brain can function”, says Karlsson.
Left-handed people may not even have radically different brains for certain tasks. And there may be more variation in both left and right-handed people’s brains than we’re aware of—the whole spectrum of lateral variation won’t be revealed until we include lefties in brain research.
If you’d like to read more into this topic, head here.
To all the lefties out there, keep up the good fight.
I salute you.
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