If you’ve heard the term both-handed, you already know what ambidexterity is. You probably think of ambidexterity as someone writing well with both hands, throwing a ball well with both hands, or playing an instrument well with (you guessed it) both hands. However, only about 1% of the total world population is genuinely ambidextrous, so why do we hear “oh I’m both-handed” much more frequently than 1% of the time?
In reality, the idea of a child or individual thinking they are both-handed could be a sign of a developmental disability.
Read on to learn more facts about ambidexterity and ambidextrous people.
People Think It’s Cool, But…
Our brains are designed to pick one side to get good at–it’s much easier and more efficient. If we had to think of which hand to use to open the door every time we found ourselves in front of one, it simply wouldn’t be a good use of mental and physical energy. Thus, we specialize, we as humans pick one side to be “extra good at” (dominant with) at a very young age. When that choice has not been made by the time a child turns 5, it may be a developmental delay or problem.
Ambidexterity was hyped for creating a better society in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. People believed picking up ambidextrous skills could improve them. They thought a society filled with both-handed people would be the best. This hype died down in the mid-20th century, mainly because no proof showed that learning to be both-handed or being both-handed from birth changed society in any way shape or form.
While you (or anyone else) may think it’s cool, the truth is that both-handed people may be less coordinated. As a result, both-handed kids and adults are often encouraged to visit an occupational therapist or a learning specialist.
What’s in the Ambidextrous Brain?
It turns out that ambidexterity isn’t just in the hands; there is evidence of its presence in the brain structure. Ambidexterity means that the left and right hemispheres of the brain are uniform in size. All ambidextrous people have symmetrical brains, while left-handed or right-handed people have significantly asymmetrical (i.e. one brain side is bigger in size and dominant) brains.
IQ and Creativity
Some of the greatest artists and prominent people have been described as ambidextrous. It is believed that ambidextrous people may struggle slightly with math, logical reasoning, and language skills compared to right-handed or left-handed people. However, ambidextrous people are known to do better in arts, music, and sports.
Michael Corballis, a professor of cognitive neuroscience and psychology, may have explained why IQ and creativity in ambidextrous people are so different. He mentions that in three different studies from the UK, the US, and Sweden, children naturally ambidextrous from birth faced more academic difficulties and developmental conditions.
According to Professor Corballis, the roles of the right and left hemispheres of the brain are not interchangeable. Each hemisphere plays specific roles that the other hemisphere cannot play. It becomes a competition if both hemispheres are symmetrical, with no dominant side. This competition results in poor coordination or reasoning. Professor Corballis thinks brain asymmetry is essential for one side of the brain to specialize. Without specialization, our brains wonder which hand to use to complete the simplest tasks.
With an asymmetrical brain, even if we learn how to use the less dominant hand well enough, the established pattern with the dominant hand remains solid. A right-handed person or a left-handed person who learns to use their other hand well enough may end up with a cooperative brain-hemisphere interaction instead of a competitive one like in ambidextrous people. However, it is not advised to try to learn ambidexterity as it may cause neural challenges.
Do Ambidextrous People Have Mental and Developmental Disorders More Than Others?
By now, you understand that the brain hemisphere coordination in right-handed, left-handed, or both-handed people is very different. Often, mental health experts say that it makes sense to consider the dominant hand (and brain hemisphere) during every person’s mental health exam. As it turns out, the dominating hemisphere of the brain can tell us a great deal about how people react emotionally, mentally, and physically.
Left-handed and ambidextrous people have been suggested to experience certain kinds of mental disorders (e.g., ADHD and schizophrenia) and neurodevelopmental disorders (e.g., developmental coordination disorder or dyspraxia) more than right-handed people but these findings have been inconclusive. Since right-handed people are the majority, left-handed and ambidextrous people are considered very rare in any population. Extremely ambidextrous people are two times more likely to develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) than less extremely ambidextrous people exposed to similar levels of traumatic experience. Lastly, and again, true ambidexterity is very rare and in reality, it is more likely the individual in question may have a developmental issue where they generally lack coordination on both sides which results in excessive clumsiness (dyspraxia).
While research points out that ambidextrous people are predisposed to more challenges, researchers and mental health experts also point out that it does not mean every ambidextrous person will develop these issues. With that said, occupational therapy can help with coordination challenges resulting from being ambidextrous. Only 1% of the world is ambidextrous while many more individuals simply struggle with general coordination which results in them being “ok with both.” However, as humans, we want to be great on one side not ok at both. Thus, keep an eye on ambidextrous claims, it could actually be an indication of a problem.
I hope this helps!