Left-handed people may be more accident-prone than right-handers, says a study, which also suggests that southpaws have a slightly greater tendency toward minor mental lapses.

In the study of 2,379 male Navy enlisted personnel, people who said they had more lapses also reported more accidents, and southpaws reported having more lapses and more accidents than right-handers.The lapses are "minor mental mistakes that any of us would make when we're perhaps tired or distracted," said study author Gerald Larson. They could lead to mishaps because "we kind of lose track of what we're doing."

Larson, who did the work with colleagues at the Navy Personnel Research and Development Center in San Diego, Calif., discussed it in an interview before presenting it Sunday to the American Psychological Association.

Paul Satz, chief of the neuropsychology program at the Neuropsychiatric Institute and Hospital at the University of California, Los Angeles, medical school, said he found the work interesting and provocative.

But in a telephone interview he cautioned that the conclusions should not be accepted without more scrutiny, because the study has limitations that could have biased the results.

Larson said Satz's observations were fair and he agrees "there's certainly more work to be done."

Larson also stressed that the study was not an official Defense Department project and said the findings cannot be applied to every left-hander.

He said mental lapses can be considered evidence of dis-tract-ability, and that they should be included as one possible explanation for accident rates. Past suggestions had blamed equipment designed largely for right-handers.

Some prior work has found more traffic accidents among people with more mental lapses, Larson and colleagues noted.

Larson said such lapses would not be a result of being left-handed. Instead, he said, whatever biological factors produced the left-handedness may also produce the lapses.