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Left-Handedness Is a Scientific Mystery

Update Date: Apr 17, 2013 03:09 PM EDT

Scientific mysteries are typically assumed to be large in scope: like how Stonehenge came to exist, for example. However, many scientific conundrums are smaller, even mundane. For example, despite the fact that a solid 10 percent of people are left-handed, researchers have no idea how they exist.

Researchers understand why animals favor one hand over another. According to LiveScience, it is simply to perform tasks more quickly. However, while most other animals are evenly split between righties and lefties, that is not the case for human populations. While the percentage of southpaws may change by society - some cultures report that five percent are left-handed, while others report as many as 20 percent - left-handed people are in the minority of every culture that researchers have studied.

Scientists have pinpointed different culprits for the phenomenon. Genes may be at play, and environment likely plays a role; it is not unusual to see different handedness between identical twins. At least one scientist believes that all people are inherently right-handed and then, at some point during fetal development, external factors cause brain damage that, in turn, has the result of causing people's brains to rewire and become left-handed. This theory was developed because rates of other conditions, like dyslexia and schizophrenia, tend to be higher in people who are left-handed.

Not everyone is on board with that theory though. While left-handed people may have a greater risk of some health problems, they also are overrepresented among geniuses. Left-handed people tend to perform excellently in visuo-spatial fields, like architecture and graphic design, and tend to play chess well. Albert Einstein, Benjamin Franklin, Isaac Newton and Charles Darwin were all left-handed, as well as four of the last seven United States' presidents. However, left-handed people tend be underrepresented in the sciences.

In addition, though one study found that left-handed people were more likely to die early than their right-handed peers, another study found that southpaws do not really have anything to worry about.

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