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Genetics

Updated 23 October 2020

Researchers discover more about what makes people left-handed

Researchers have identified over 40 genetic variants which could influence if someone is left-handed, or ambidextrous.

  • Researchers have identified several genetic variants behind left-handedness
  • The study was the largest of its kind
  • Even though great strides were made, the research remains inconclusive

What is it about being left-handed that makes you so special? Well, the mere fact that researchers are doing their utmost to figure out why your right hand is not your dominant hand is perhaps reason enough.

Researchers recently conducted a study on more than 1.7 million people, and were able to identify 41 genetic variants which could influence left-handedness, along with another seven variants for those who are ambidextrous.

The study was conducted by QIMR Berghofer's Psychiatric Genetics Group and the University of Queensland.

An enduring fascination

In a media statement, Professor Sarah Medland, co-senior author and head of the QIMR Berghofer's Psychiatric Genetics Group said, "The 41 genetic variants influencing left-handedness were different to the seven we identified for ambidexterity, and we saw very little correlation between the results for the two traits."

She added that although there is an enduring fascination with why some people are left- or right-handed or both, understanding why this difference exists is also an important research question because handedness can influence brain structure and where different functions are located within the brain.

Research around handedness, as it is referred to, emphasises that there is a lot more involved than genetics when it comes to determining which hand is dominant.

More important roles

Professor David Evans, joint-senior author from the University of Queensland Diamantina Institute said that the results from the analyses suggest that genetic factors may only account for the variations in handedness in a small way – while environmental factors are likely to play a much more important role.

Last year, Livescience reported that although researchers have known for a while that genetics plays a part in handedness, at the time, they were unable to pinpoint its role. This was until recently, when they identified four genetic markers tied to left-handedness in a study of 400 000 people in the United Kingdom.

READ MORE | Left-handed? It's definitely in your genes and changes the way your brain works

A phenomenal bunch

Lefties, or "southpaws" – another epithet for left-handed people – have become minor celebrities. The handful of lefties among the world's population now even have a day in their honour – International Left-Handers Day is observed on 13 August every year.

Well-known left-handed people include former US President Barack Obama, the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, television personality Oprah Winfrey, and tech innovators Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg.

It's also been said that lefties have a more satisfying time in the sack. Some time back, Time.com reported on a survey which claimed that lefties were 71% more satisfied in bed than their right-handed counterparts. The reason behind this? They couldn't tell.

Image credit: Kelly Sikkema, Unsplash