Nov. 14, 2005
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UNIVERSITY PROFESSOR BREAKS NEW GROUND
RAMIFICATIONS OF HANDEDNESS
SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa.
– Biology determines a person’s beliefs and being
exclusively right- or left-handed or ambidextrous shapes those
beliefs, according to new research by Slippery Rock
University’s Dr. Christopher Niebauer, assistant professor of
“Because handedness is likely to be under
the control of genetics, my research shows that biology determines
beliefs, not environmental factors such as culture or what your
parents taught you,” he said.
research on handedness has received national attention and appears
in the 2005 book “A Left-Hand turn around the world: Chasing
the mystery and meaning of all things southpaw" by David Wolman and
published by Da Capo Books and the current issue of “New
Scientist.” He is the first researcher to connect handedness,
as determined by genetics, to differences in how likely one is to
update and modify a belief.
Based on studies
involving more than 1,000 people, he found those who are ambidextrous seem to modify and update
their beliefs on a wide range of topics from religion, politics and
homosexuality to their beliefs about their own
“In each case, ambidextrous people are more
likely to embrace the next new thing while those less ambidextrous
seem to uphold the status quo,” he said.
His research focused
on the functions of the brain’s two hemispheres. The left
brain forms beliefs about the world, while the right updates and
modifies those beliefs. Because ambidextrous people have a larger
structure connecting the two sides of the brain, Niebauer said they
are more likely to update their beliefs and that this contributes
to differences in personality.
However, he points out being good at updating
beliefs is not always a good thing. “People who are
ambidextrous are more likely to be hypochondriacal, that is, they
may have a headache and jump to the conclusion they have a brain
tumor,” he said.
Most people define “handedness” by the
hand you write with, but Niebauer used a series of questions to
determine level of handedness. For example, which hand is used to
throw, open a jar or brush your teeth? Depending on the answers,
many people may be more or less ambidextrous and this may influence
what they believe, he said.
Niebauer’s theory may shed light on a number
of issues where differences in beliefs seem to create irresolvable
conflicts. For example, recent work in his lab has shown that
handedness is related to opinions regarding the U.S. involvement in
Iraq such that ambidextrous are more likely to believe the U.S.
should immediately remove all troops.
“In any case, the next time we find
ourselves in a heated debate because one side wants to change while
the other side wants to hold fast to tradition, we might want to
consider that our real differences may reside in brain
organization,” he said.
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