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When Sens. Barack Obama and John McCain take the stage for the presidential debates, attentive viewers may notice both candidates scribbling notes with their left hands. Political junkies will remember that such a curiosity has occurred before: In 1992, all three contenders -- George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Ross Perot -- were southpaws.
In the race for the White House, lefties seem to have the upper hand. No matter who wins in November, six of the 12 chief executives since the end of World War II will have been left-handed: Harry Truman, Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan, the elder Bush, Clinton and either Obama or McCain. That's a disproportionate number, considering that only one in 10 people in the general population is left-handed.
The research conducted at the Australian National University (ANU) seems to back up earlier studies showing that left- or right-handedness is determined in the womb and that many lefties process language using both hemispheres of the brain, as opposed to righties, who seem to use primarily the left hemisphere for this purpose.
The two hemispheres, or halves, of the brain are pretty much identical, and for the most part, they process the same information, with data passing back and forth between them primarily via one large neural pathway. However, certain tasks, like the language processing mentioned above, tend to take place in one hemisphere or the other. For most people, language processing happens in the left hemisphere. For left-handed people, it might actually take place in both hemispheres. Another area of specialization is that of sensory-data processing: Typically, data picked up on the right side of the body (the right eye, the right ear, etc.) goes to the left hemisphere for processing, and data picked up on the left side goes to the right hemisphere. In the end, the brain essentially combines the processing results from both hemispheres to come up with what we consciously see and hear.
So what does this mean? It could mean that left-handers have a slight advantage in sports, gaming and other activities in which players face large volumes of stimuli being thrown at them simultaneously or in quick succession. Theoretically, they could more easily use both hemispheres of the brain to manage that stimuli, resulting in faster overall processing and response time. It could also mean that when one hemisphere of the brain got overloaded and started to slow down, the other hemisphere could more easily pick up the slack without missing a beat. Experts also theorize that left-handed people could fare better mentally as they move into old age and overall brain processing starts to slow down: With a greater ability for one brain hemisphere to quickly back up the tasks of the other, left-handed seniors could retain mental quickness longer than their right-handed counterparts.
Extreme left-handed subjects were 43 milliseconds faster at spotting matching letters across the right and left visual fields than right-handed people. "These findings confirm our prediction of increasing efficiency of hemispheric interactions with increasing left-handedness." said Dr Cherbuin from the research team.
Research has suggested that left-handed people are more susceptible to a range of problems, including allergies, auto-immune diseases, depression, drug abuse, epilepsy, schizophrenia and sleeping disorders.
Left-handers are thought to have poorer spatial skills, and thus to be more vulnerable to car crashes and other serious accidents.
However, a study published by The Lancet suggested there was no truth in the theory that left-handers are more likely to die prematurely.