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Shedding light on southpaws
Date:4/25/2012

Lefties have always been a bit of a puzzle. Representing only 10 percent of the general human population, left-handers have been viewed with suspicion and persecuted across history. The word "sinister" even derives from "left or left-hand."

Two Northwestern University researchers now report that a high degree of cooperation, not something odd or sinister, plays a key role in the rarity of left-handedness. They developed a mathematical model that shows the low percentage of lefties is a result of the balance between cooperation and competition in human evolution.

Professor Daniel M. Abrams and his graduate student Mark J. Panaggio -- both right-handers -- are the first to use real-world data (from competitive sports) to test and confirm the hypothesis that social behavior is related to population-level handedness.

The results are published today (April 25) in The Journal of the Royal Society Interface.

"The more social the animal -- where cooperation is highly valued -- the more the general population will trend toward one side," said Abrams, an assistant professor of engineering sciences and applied mathematics at the McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science. "The most important factor for an efficient society is a high degree of cooperation. In humans, this has resulted in a right-handed majority."

If societies were entirely cooperative everyone would be same-handed, Abrams said. But if competition were more important, one could expect the population to be 50-50. The new model can predict accurately the percentage of left-handers in a group -- humans, parrots, baseball players, golfers -- based on the degrees of cooperation and competition in the social interaction.

The model helps to explain our right-handed world now and historically: the 90-10 right-handed to left-handed ratio has remained the same for more than 5,000 years. It also explains the dominance of left-handed athletes in
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Contact: Megan Fellman
fellman@northwestern.edu
847-491-3115
Northwestern University
Source:Eurekalert

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