As a lefty, I have often been teased by friends and strangers alike about my shortcomings with school desks, scissors, and of course binders and spiral notebooks. I’ve proudly displayed my ink smudges post in-class essay or after a fervent session of note-taking. It’s honestly gotten to the point where a person’s discovery of my left-handedness usually goes as follows:
Stranger/New Friend: “Wait, you’re left-handed?”
Me: “Yes, I am in fact spawned by the devil!”
But all joking aside, my least favorite lefty “fact” that people regurgitate is the “left-handed-people-die-earlier” topic. Come on, do you really think I want to hear that? I’m an eighteen-year-old girl with goals and the drive to accomplish them…I don’t you to constantly remind me that I’m expected to die earlier.
But then we discussed the association of wormy kids with bad grades in class, and we learned that correlation doesn’t always equal causation. This situation has three primary possible scenarios:
- People who are left-handed are more likely to die earlier.
- People who die earlier are more likely to be left-handed.
- Left-handedness and early death are both affected by a third variable, but share no relation to each other.
This article from the BBC delves into the different possible reasons behind the lefty/early death correlation. Maybe, it says, early death can be attributed to the ongoing problematic difficulties of using everyday objects, like utensils and office supplies. But Hannah Barnes, the article’s author, doesn’t think something this insignificant, however annoying, could subtract almost ten years from a life. I have to agree. My daily struggles with my knife and fork irk me incessantly; nevertheless, I’ve adapted, and don’t really see something I rarely think about anymore as the cause of my premature death.
But Barnes couldn’t understand why this “myth” still had prevalence, since the evidence behind it didn’t seem sufficient. Chris McManus, a psychology and medical education professor at University College London answered Barnes’ skepticism in his book Right Hand, Left Hand. McManus sees right through the speculation, finding a minor flaw in the research behind it. Researchers studied the death records of Southern Californians, but neglected to pay attention to people living at the time of the study. By omitting case studies of the living, the researchers didn’t take into consideration the rising commonality of being left-handed. At the time of the study, more left handed people were younger, so obviously those who died younger had a higher chance of being left handed, adding to the myth (Barnes).
Image found here
Another factor that boosts the inaccuracy of this myth is the forced right-handedness that occurred during the 1800’s-1900’s. Many lefties were forced to use machinery intended for righties, eventually adapting and becoming fully right-handed. So people who died and were used as data in the study may have been left handed, but known as righties for their entire lives, further complicating the study (Barnes).
After careful thought, I’ve decided that this myth leads to scenario three—that left-handedness and early death are both affected by confounding variables, but share no relation to each other. The other variables are the misconstrued data, consisting of an insufficient data pool (only death records) and an inaccuracy in data (left-handed people becoming right handed). From now on, I’ll be able to have an educated comeback for anyone who tries to tell me that I’ll die prematurely…and I have science to thank for that!