10 Fascinating Facts You Never Knew About Ambidextrous People
A tiny fraction of the population can use both hands with equal skill. Here’s the biology behind this cool ability, plus some other tidbits you never knew.
1. There Are Very, Very Few of Them
You think lefties are rare? Truly ambidextrous people only make up about 1 per cent of the population. While there are more people who can use their non-dominant hand nearly as well as their dominant one, people who have no dominant hand and can use both hands with equal skill, are about 1 in 100.
2. There Are a Couple of Variations
The rarest form of ambidexterity is when people can use both hands with strong skill, all the time. These people can be called “ambidextral,” which means “pertaining equally to the right-hand side and the left-hand side.” There are other people, however, who don’t have equal skill with both hands but who use their right hands for some things and their left hands for others. Another term altogether, “ambisinistral,” refers to people who have no dominant hand, and use both hands…but neither hand is very strong. As Mental Floss puts it, both hands have the approximate skill of a right-hander’s left hand.
3. It’s All in Your Head
Ambidexterity indicates that the left and right sides of that person’s brain are pretty much symmetrical (which is true for lefties, too!) On the other hand, right-handed people tend to be left-brain dominant.
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4. Many of Them Started Out As Lefties
Since ambidextrous and leftie brains are so similar, it’s only natural for one to start out as the other. For hundreds of years, there was quite a stigma surrounding left-handedness, as the left hand carried Biblical associations with witchcraft and demons. The word “sinister” comes from the Latin word “sinistra,” which originally meant “left.” Many left-handed people, from the Middle Ages to the 21st century, experienced pressure to use their right hands instead and ended up developing ambidexterity. Other people, meanwhile, may become ambidextrous after injuring their dominant hand.
5. Academia May Not Be Their Strong Suit
Surprisingly, even though this skill is so connected to the brain, ambidextrous people tend to be more in tune with their physical abilities than their mental ones. It may be for this reason that they tend to perform more poorly on general intelligence tests than people who favour one hand. In a Finnish study, seven- and eight-year-old children completed several different academic tests. 87 out of the 8000 participants were comfortable using both hands. The ambidextrous students were 90 per cent more likely than the right-handed ones to struggle with math problems and were also more likely to have difficulties with language.
6. It Also Has Ties to ADHD…
In the same Finnish study, left-handed and ambidextrous teenagers were twice as likely as right-handers to show signs of ADHD. Of the teenagers in the study who’d already been diagnosed with ADHD, the ambidextrous ones showed more severe symptoms.
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7. …And Schizophrenia
The gene that contributes strongly to left-handedness, LRRTM1, also increases a person’s risk for schizophrenia. Since left-handed and ambidextrous people’s brains are so similar, ambidextrous people are at a higher risk for the condition as well. On the flip side, schizophrenics are far more likely to be left-handed or ambidextrous than the rest of the population.
8. They’ve Got Skills and Their Share of Famous Representatives
Ambidexterity tends to give people a major advantage in activities such as music, art and sports. Leonardo da Vinci, Benjamin Franklin, and Albert Einstein are some of history’s most famous ambis. (Franklin signed the Declaration of Independence with his left hand!) Maroon 5 frontrunner Adam Levine, while not totally ambidextrous, writes with his left hand but does most other things with his right. Figure skater Michelle Kwan and LeBron James are just two of the many athletes skilled at using both hands.
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9. Their Emotions Are More Adaptable
According to a Montclair State University study, ambidextrous people are more likely to experience a change in their emotions based on their surroundings. The authors of the study tried to trigger certain emotions in the participants. Right-handed people tended to be more resistant to the rapid emotional change than the left- and multi-handed participants. But even if you’re not ambidextrous, you can still boost your own mood easily!
10. Ambidexterity Often Comes Hand-in-Hand with Synesthesia
The brains of ambidextrous people tend to be pretty symmetrical–a trait they share with people who have synesthesia. If you’ve ever heard about people being able to hear colours, feel physical sensations that other people are feeling, or even associate numbers with personalities, all of those sensations are variations of synesthesia. This fascinating brain condition triggers more than one of the five senses at once. A person with synesthesia is far more likely to be left-handed or ambidextrous than the average person is.
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Originally published as 10 Fascinating Facts You Never Knew About Ambidextrous People on ReadersDigest.com.