Joi Ito's Web

Joi Ito's conversation with the living web.

This used to be quite common in Japan. In Japan, if you were left handed, they would make you do everything with your right hand anyway. They would "fix" you. This happened to me. I'm pretty sure I'm a Lefty. I throw, kick and do most physical things with my left hand, but I write, cut and do other "formal" things with my right hand. I think this may be part of the reason that I have messy handwriting. As for as I can tell, while my brain may be "damaged" by this, I can, for the most part, function normally.

As part of my exploration into the "Right Brain", I've become more curious about what the effect of forcing lefties to be righties is. I've heard a number of "stories" about what this does to you, but I haven't read anything rigorous or academic. The problem is, I don't even know what to search for. It's a hard Google query to form.

Also, is there any easy way to tell if your right brain/left brain functions are reversed?


hey, i'm a leftie too... at my age ppl let me be, but my parents generations they did "fix" lefties.

if you work well, good, but i heard stories of ppl with problems...

funny is, i shared a computer with my older brother, so i'm ambidextrous with the mouse...

also, the left brain governs the right side of the body and vice-versa. lefties are governed by the right brain, the dreamy one.

The thing is, I've heard that in some cases the right brain/left brain roles are reversed. I'm curious how you can tell.

Hey Jo
Here in Ireland we are called "ciotóg's"

My father was left handed but the monks wouldn't allow it and beat him, so he is now right handed but his handwriting is appalling, thanks be to god those days are gone, it been passed down in our Family, My father, me and my two sons are all left handed.

When my dad was in his teens he trained for becoming a drummer. He then regularly swapped so he did most things with his left hand (being a rightie) in order to improve his ambidextrience. I can imagine that this might not be that uncommon for training for other kinds of instruments as well.

I have no idea if there is a difference between one who does it voluntarily or one who is forced to do it. But maybe it might be worth talking to musicians or seeing if there has been any research done in that area that might be relevant.

There are tests for what side of the brain you favor but that's not necessarily a good indicator for handedness.

Check out the work by Dr. Roger Sperry on brain lateralization for more on the hemispheres' roles. There are also cases of people with fully flipped anatomy called Situs inversus, I suppose they might be wired the opposite way.

I had an accident as a kid. I was a lefty but broke my right arm and in the physical rehab I ended up favoring my right for physical things like throwing but still use my left for drawing & writing. I can also write in mirror style.

I imagine that just as children can have half their brains removed (hemispherectomy) and still function normally, it's possible that either through an anomaly or training that some of the functions of the hemispheres can experience some reassignment.

We're fortunate in many ways to be the first generation (in my case, Gen X) that this wasn't a regular occurrence. I'm left handed and aside from issues like right handed scissors at school I never had any issues.

My father (just hitting 60, and left handed) got the cane at school when he used his left hand. He's more ambidextrous today, writes with his left hand but does everything else right handed.

It seems barbaric now but discrimination against left handed people was similar to discrimination at LGBT people, even people of a different race say in the United States in more recent history.

One for the record, despite both myself and my wife being left handed, our son is right handed, we struggle to teach him certain things :-)

Since the QWERTY keyboard supposedly favors the left hand, perhaps one clue would be to observe differences in thinking patterns for handwriting versus typing (this would be a case of forcing righthanders to think more lefthandedly).

Hehe, very interesting post.. I've been so hooked on American politics of late, that I clicked mindlessly thinking I'd read something about political leanings and felt extremely confused. Not much I can add on the right-handed v. left-handed question, though!

Anyway, you linked to my blog before and I changed the name and relocated, so-to-speak. If you are still interested in my work, then feel free to take a look at its new location. There is plenty of reading material there, blog is on politics, news and entertainment. Have a good one sir! Whitehouser

Your main hand is the opposite of the hand you pick your nose with. ;-p

In that case I'm ambidextrous, Don ;)

My grandfather was forced into right-handedness, and apparently his stutter is a result of that. seems like a good place to start.

Same happened to me when I was a child. My parents learned me to use the right hand.
I write with my right hand, throw and do most other things with my left.
Always say that this is also the reason for my awful handwriting.

Joi, my wife and her father were both probably born left-handed but raised to be right handed... my wife has ok handwriting and can draw fairly well but I have a suspicion she'd be even better if she'd been allowed to grow up left handed. The interesting thing to me is that she's quite ambidextrous and can do a lot of things equally or close to equally well with both hands.

It's obviously genetic as my daughter (at two) is almost definitely left-handed as well, and we're just letting her go with that...

I was told (my Medicinal Chemistry PhD brother-in-law) that most left-handedness is really the body not actually having a preferred handedness. What happens is that 50% of the people with this condition become lefties, and the other 50% righties. This explains why most "left-handed" people are far better with their right hands than most righties are with their left.

Another interesting question is what ear you favor with your cell phone. People have a preferred ear to listen with, and get uncomfortable if they have to switch. Does this correspond with handedness? I am left eared and right handed.

Joi, a good starting point for your research could be the book "Mind Hacks". On their site, they have some links concerning handedness. Take a look at this one:

I was left handed but am of an age where this was frowned upon and I was "taught strenuously" to be right handed. Now, I function perfectly well using my right hand but I JUST realized that I actually throw better with my left hand. Hmmm...coulda been a basketball star!

My father-in-law was a lefty as well...

Now my 3.5 year old son is showing signs of left-handedness. Besides having to learn to use my Japanese knives (traditionally right beveled--maybe easier to just buy custom left beveled ones) and stuff like scissors, smudging using fountain pens etc...I don't really see any real issue being a lefty.

What was the big deal? What am I missing here?

A few days ago I was watching a National Geographic [] show about twins and multiples... There is a theory that most left handed people are probably really a twin and the sole survivor of what experts call 'Vanishing Twin Syndrome.'

I too am a lefty who was converted to write with my right hand in school in the good ol' USSR.

These days I write with my right hand, but I don't see that my handwriting has been damaged by this. Sure it's not as nice as some, but if I put my mind to it I've been known to write nicely.
I do pretty much everything else with my left hand and with some tasks I am ambidextrous.

I use the mouse with my right hand. Since I was living at a boarding school when I got my first computer (at 13) no one forced me to do anything, so that developed on it's own. At this point already converted to right-handed writing though. That may have played a role. Although when I use chopsticks with my left hand, and I learned that much later.

I wonder if using the mouse with your left hand might actually be better since the distance to travel from the keyboard is shorter!

I do have trouble with drawing. I still do not know which hand to draw with. Basically I vary the hands depending on my mood or type of drawing. Sometimes I wonder if I can draw lines better with one hand and sketch better with the other. To this day I could not tell you which hand.

I also have immense trouble with the words left and right (in any language). If someone asks me for directions I almost always give them the wrong word, while actually pointing in the right direction. This sometimes causes problems when giving directions in a car ;)
The only reference I found to that condition was in Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain (page 41) where the author basically confirms my problem of left/right directional confusion when the left-handers are trained to be right-handers.

My dad was also forced to write with his right hand but since he IS a lefty he can also write with his left hand.

To my experience most lefties, even when they have been 'fixed' can write readable with their left hand while righty handed people find that next to impossible.

I started out as a left-hander, but in school I was sitting to the right of a right-hander. Instead of switching seats, I switched hands and started writing with my right hand. I don't remember whether my teacher insisted on it, or whether I was just too shy to suggest we switch seats.

My left hand and leg are better at throwing, kicking, lifting, jumping etc; but I use my right hand to write or draw or eat with chopsticks or use a screwdriver and other tools.

My handwriting is (and has always been) rather horrible, which caused no end of grief with my writing teachers :-(.

As for damage (mental or spiritual or other), I haven't noticed anything. However, an uncle of mine claims he is talking so much because he's a retrained leftie. My guess is he's just a chatterbox :-).

I think I was definitely supposed to be a lefty, but but being a lefty in America in the early 60's (sort of like now with the current administration ;-) was frowned upon. I do absolutely everything with my left hand (and side, i.e. kicking) except writing. My daughter is right handed, and when she broke her right wrist skateboarding, I decided to write with my left hand so that she wouldn't be struggling alone. I was amazed at how quickly I picked it up, and how legible my handwriting was with my left hand.

One thing about this that everybody notices is when I eat. Europeans tend to use the fork with their left hand, and knife with their right hand. Americans use their right hand for both, and switch their fork back to their right hands after using their knife with their right. I use my fork in my right hand and my knife in my left, the opposite of the European style. For some reason people think that is weird and always comment on it.

there's an interesting book that discusses these very topics: A Left-hand Turn Around the World by David Wolman. I'm a lefty, and just finished reading it. Not the best book you'll read this summer, and it could use a heavier editing, but you'll learn about several different theories for lefties, handedness, etc.

To Daniel Ho,

I believe the big deal dates back to ye olde medieval times, when the (Catholic) church was the defining authority in everything. Being left handed was considered a sign of satanic influence, punishable in all sorts of painful ways, so people either hid it or were forced to use their right hands.

Actually, thinking about it, it probably goes back even further. The latin for "left" is Sinister, and the connection to the English use of "sinister" as in nasty or unpleasant isn't coincidental. Equally, the latin for "right" is Dexter, which is where we get the English word "dextrous" from.

All very out of date, of course, but even as recently as the 60s this way of thinking was so deeply ingrained as to be doctrine.

(NB this is all off the top of my head, if anyone can back me up or refute I'd love to hear)

Twinoo is a fun game to see which part of your brain wins. It doesn't look very scientific but you may find it an interesting test

Apparently I was a lefty when I was younger, but then I was corrected, to the point where I do everything with right hand. I did win many awards for handwriting/penmanship in my younger days. But my normal handwriting has always been sloppy at best.

I'm almost 30 now and I can still write beautifully. But I hate doing it. I prefer writing in chicken scratches. :-)

I'm fairly ambidextrous, I don't know if I was supposed to be left handed and just learned to use my right hand or if I was supposed to be ambi, so handedness is odd for me. I prefer left handed desks even though I prefer to write with my right. I tend to alternate for physical activities depending on the activity.

On the subject of 'damage' it's not damaging learning to use the other hand. When people have injuries to their dominant sides, they usually learn to use their other side. Any mental damage comes from how one is taught to use their other side. I've take several psychology classes with very good teachers and they have covered the topic of handedness. It sounds like a lot of people have sent some support but if you're still hungry for answers e-mail me and i'll send you the names and authors of several books i've used that discuss this topic.

I am a lefty that was made to be a righty while learning to play hockey which is not common but not a rairity, I am left handed and shoot right. Others I know are right handed and shoot left. All we can figure is that we were taught how to hold a hockey stick at a young age and that is the way we always did it.

From what I've read and discussed with a PHD friend who specializes in brain sleep research, left-handedness is actually a phenotype of "non-preference" for a dominant side rather than a specific side. Left-handers are usually very ambidextrous, but learn to favor one side or the other for a variety of activities. Different Left-handers actually use different parts of their brain for 'thinking' too. Several brain studies actually have screening tests to weed out left-handers because, unlike right-hand-dominate individuals, different left-handers brains 'think' in very individualized ways--thereby inducing unwanted statistical 'noise' into the experiment.

yes the same thing happened to me although my kindergarden teacher thought lefties where the devil so i was forced to change and now everything is weirdish like i use my left hand for alot but i still write rightie but i can write left to.
so there was this thing where the docters think i might be bipolor because of my switch.

why force anyone to be what they are not seems we have a problem with doing that in most cultures

I know this is an ancient post, but I'm a forced leftie too. When I was in first grade, me and my classmate always bumped into each other, so I switched to writing with my right hand. What a mess! I jump with my left foot and throw with my left hand, but I write with my right - it's barely legible and I always had really bad grades in handwriting. I suppose it's hard to retrain after all these years, so I just don't bother - don't do much handwriting anyway in this computer age.