Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Being Left Handed is Not the Kiss of Death .... (Thank goodness : ) )

One of the myths of modern times - that left-handed people die young - has been challenged by a study of films from Victorian England.

In 1992, a survey of more than a million people between the ages of 10 and 86 established that the proportion of left-handedness was lower in the elderly than in the young. The study painted a grim long-term picture for left-handers, but only if rates of left-handedness have remained constant down the decades. So has it changed?

Chris McManus and Alex Hartigan of University College London tackled the question using documentary films made in northern England between 1897 and 1913. When people waved an arm in the films, the pair took that as a sign of their dominant hand. After judging the ages of the people in the films, they discovered that those born within a decade of 1900 actually showed a lower proportion of left-handedness than that found in a modern control group (Current Biology, DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2007.07.008).

McManus suggests that industrialisation - with factories designed for the right-handed majority - and the advent of universal schooling, may have emphasised the stigmatisation of left-handers, piling pressure on them to switch dominant hands.

From issue 2623 of New Scientist magazine, 02 October 2007, page 17

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