In a recent Facebook post, a left-hander asked about a possible connection between a person’s chosen profession and his/her handedness. A scholarly paper published in the 1990’s reported on rates of handedness in 9 different professions…architects and lawyers had the highest rates of left-handedness while mathematicians, librarians and orthopedic surgeons had the lowest rates. Why would a researcher expect a connection between a person’s handedness and their choice of profession? If one assumes that right- and left-handers think differently, then each handedness type would cluster in professions suited to their unique left- versus right-hander cognitive profiles.
The scientific rationale connecting handedness to career choice is rooted in the specialized abilities of the right and left hemispheres of the brain. The right hemisphere controls the movements of the left hand. The right hemisphere also excels in the processing of non-verbal information such as mentally manipulating visual forms to solve a puzzle. If the thinking of left-handers is dominated by right hemisphere functions, then left-handers will gravitate toward occupations such as architecture and engineering that demand high levels of non-verbal skills. The left hemisphere of the brain, which is specialized for language, controls the movements of the right hand. If right-handers excel at tasks using left hemisphere functions, they will be attracted to professions that emphasize verbal skills such as journalism and teaching.
Individual talents do affect career choice. Follow-up studies of teenagers who score highly on test of non-verbal abilities indicate they enter college majors and occupations involving mathematics, science and technology. Teenagers with high scores on tests of verbal ability are more likely found in college majors and professions in the humanities, law and social sciences. However, there is scant evidence that this talent trend is related to handedness. If there was a handedness effect, the study of 9 professions mentioned above would find mathematicians with high rather than low rates of left-handedness and lawyers in the low rather than high left-handedness group.
There is one profession known to be unfriendly to left-handers. Surgical tools are designed for right-handed use. Left-handed medical students must either choose a specialty other than surgery or train their right hands to manipulate surgical instruments. Tools and devices designed for left-handed use are becoming more readily available. If this trend extends to surgical instruments, left-handed medical students will not be excluded from a surgery specialty in the future.
Read more about the effect of handedness side on career choice in Chapter 10 of my book, Laterality: Exploring the enigma of left-handedness.