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Getting facts right about left-handers

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What do Steve Young and Bart Simpson and the past two U.S. presidents have in common?

They're all southpaws.

An estimated 30 million people in the United States are left-handed, and Sunday, Aug. 13, is International Left-Handers Day in recognition of those who have struggled in an unfriendly world of right-handed scissors, notebooks with spirals lined on the left and the dreaded backhanded slant.

But the planned hoopla to mark the day, LeftyFest 2000, was scrapped due to "lack of response," said Jeff Goldsmith of Left Hand Publishing in Farmington, Mich.

Goldsmith said the event, which would have been near his publishing headquarters, would have had information and activities for lefties trying to get the upper hand in a right-minded society.

"People are prejudiced (against lefties) because they're different," Goldsmith said.

A long time ago, people believed lefties were evil and sinister, Goldsmith said. "There are some people who are old-fashioned and still believe that."

The Latin root of the word "sinister" is "left-hand" or "unlucky side."

And although most people are not overtly prejudiced, right-handed folks sometimes take for granted their predominant vantage point in the world.

That's why, Goldsmith said, he started Left Hand Publishing. www.lefthandpublishing.com.

"I realized there was a need of education materials for parents and teachers of left-handed children," Goldsmith said.

He publishes books for lefties and their parents and educators and a quarterly newsletter with tips on finding southpaw scholarships, southpaws succeeding in school and lists of famous left-handed people with whom southpaws may identify.

Yet beside obvious differences in the way lefties write or use school supplies, perceptions on how they think and relate to the world may be over-generalized.

The most common stereotype? Lefties are more creative because they utilize the right hemispheres of their brains more often.

"Part of that is a misconception," said Lauren Fowler, a neuroscientist at Weber State University. "We have two parts of our brain. Obviously we use the whole of our brain when we think."

The left side of the brain processes writing, language, science and math, Fowler said. Musical ability, perception of space, imagination and fantasy come from the right side of the brain.

In most people the left hemisphere is dominant, Fowler said. She said 90 percent of right-handed people utilize the left hemisphere of their brains more often.

In lefties, it's 65 percent — "which means that (if you are) left-handed you are more likely left hemisphere dominant. There are more left-handers that are left hemisphere dominant."

So even though you're thrice as likely to be right-brained if you are left-handed, the majority of lefties aren't.

"The important thing is the two hemispheres communicate," she said.

Part of the misconception may be blamed on evidence that the muscles of the left hand are controlled by the right hemisphere. "But that doesn't mean that's the half you're using," Fowler said.

Using the left hand is not limited to humans. Fowler said her years working with the Great Apes convinced her some primate species have southpaws, too.

In all-American baseball, lefties are a species of their own.

In fact, the term "southpaw" originated in baseball. It refers to left-handed throwers.

E-MAIL: lhancock@desnews.com