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 SRU Professor Breaks New Ground on Behavioral Ramifications of Handedness 



Nov. 14, 2005

Contact: Gordon Ovenshine: 724-738-4854;



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 psychology.

“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.

Niebauer’s 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 health.

“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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