Who’s smarter — righties or lefties?
As is so often the case with social science research, the frustrating answer is “it depends.”
But there are certain cognitive domains where left-handed people do seem to excel. One such area is called “divergent thinking,” or the ability to generate new ideas based on existing information.
That’s according to 1995 research by psychologist Stanley Coren, which was cited more recently in a New Yorker article. Coren conducted several experiments that suggest left-handedness is associated with superior divergent thinking, at least in men.
In one experiment, nearly 1,000 men and women had to think of ways to combine two commonplace objects not typically used together, like a pole and a tin can. In another, participants had to organise a series of words into as many different categories as possible.
Results showed that left-handed men performed better on these measures of divergent thinking than right-handed men — although there was no such difference for women.
Coren was able to effectively rule out the possibility that lefties are simply smarter overall by administering a test of convergent thinking, which involves applying existing knowledge and rules to come up with a correct answer. Participants had to indicate which word in a series didn’t fit the pattern — and righties performed slightly better.
In the paper, Coren notes that his results might help explain why lefties are more common among mathematicians, architects, artists, and chess experts.
More recent research, cited in the New Yorker article, has found that lefties demonstrate superior spatial skills, mental flexibility, and working memory.
Although none of these findings prove that lefties are more intelligent, they do suggest that they have certain cognitive advantages. Those advantages may influence not only their performance in psychological experiments, but also the professional paths they pursue and the areas they thrive in.
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