Should a righty become a lefty again?
June 17, 2009 12:12 PM   Subscribe

Should a left-handed person forced, as a child, to be a right-handed person teach himself to be left-handed as an adult?

A relation of mine was forced, innocently but ignorantly, to use his right-hand over his naturally predominant left hand. I only found this out recently and the guy has some difficulties in various areas of his life and it made me wonder if this might have something to do with it.

In any event, is there any benefit in this guy (now in his mid-30's) learning to write etc with his left hand? Scientific, anecdotal and completely baseless opinions are all welcome.

posted by gwpcasey to Grab Bag (16 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
The father of someone I once knew had horrible handwriting. She said no one could read it and he always hated having to write things down. He apparently looked really weird and uncomfortable writing. Well, he was at a dinner meeting with some coworkers one day, and his weird gripping of the pen attracted some attention. Someone asked, "Did you ever think you might be left-handed?"


Friend's father started writing with his left hand and his writing, though still not neat or easy to read, was finally legible and he finally looked comfortable writing. What he later discovered was that he was trying to push the pen with his right hand --- right handed people, if you watch, pull the pen along the paper, left handed people push. His brain's natural inclination was to push the pen even though he was using his right hand --- or so he ended up theorizing for himself.

If there would be an improvement in this person's life, then it might be worth a try. If he's comfortable and okay with it, then leave it be.
posted by zizzle at 12:19 PM on June 17, 2009

It was common in the 19th Century in England to force left handed kids to try to be right-handed. One interesting side effect of that was that a lot of them began to have trouble with stammering.

But I agree with Zizzle: if there isn't a problem, then a solution isn't needed.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 12:27 PM on June 17, 2009

Einstein never switched back.
posted by stubby phillips at 12:30 PM on June 17, 2009

I was forced from left to right. I found it a good thing. Over the years I've been able to do a lot of things left-handed and right-handed quite easily. It helped in basketball. It helped in baseball. It helped in piano, and guitar. I can't speak with any authority about psychological problems but the ambidexterity is cool.
posted by lpsguy at 12:32 PM on June 17, 2009

He should do whatever is most comfortable for him.
posted by Lobster Garden at 12:33 PM on June 17, 2009

I'm one of those people, and the only thing I do right-handed is write. I doubt that your relative's life problems are caused by that, but if it would be a rewarding or self-affirming thing for him to do to relearn to write left-handed, he should go for it. I never wanted to do it, because I have awesome handwriting with my right hand.

I golf left and bat left, though. Maybe your relative should take up golf. It's hard to find left-handed clubs cheap, unfortunately.
posted by Sidhedevil at 12:34 PM on June 17, 2009

It was common in the 19th Century in England to force left handed kids to try to be right-handed. One interesting side effect of that was that a lot of them began to have trouble with stammering.

I was switched to writing right-handed, and I was a stammerer, and always believed those things are related. I've been having a correspondence with a research neurologist who argues quite persuasively that that's vanishingly unlikely; his idea is that the writing switch and the stammering stage are coincidentally simultaneous in terms of development, so people assumed causation where there was none.
posted by Sidhedevil at 12:47 PM on June 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

I was switched too, sort of - I was taught to use chopsticks with my right hand (it's a cultural thing in Japan). But I've never stammered, and I don't think I've suffered in any way due to the switching. I do many things with either hand now and I think it's an advantage. One big one: I can knit both ways, so I can always have the front side facing me.

I do notice that recently, I feel more comfortable using a fork or spoon in my left hand, especially when I'm tired. But not chopsticks though. If your relative feels inherently more comfortable switching hands for some tasks, it may be a good thing, but otherwise I don't see it making a difference. Speaking purely from personal experience, his brain will tell him if switching is right or not.
posted by thread_makimaki at 1:09 PM on June 17, 2009

Interestingly, our six-year-old son uses either hand to write.
posted by KokuRyu at 1:13 PM on June 17, 2009

I think that, if nothing else, it would be cool to be able to write with both hands. Why not try and see if there's a huge change in comfort level? What could it hurt? Most lefties I know are pretty naturally ambidextrous. And most have stories about older teachers trying to force them to switch. It always seems like a terrible experience for the kid, so if that happened to your relative and affected his confidence or academics, I guess I can see how it could resonate in other areas of life.

I was once told that when you are trying to memorize information (vocabulary lists or slides for art history courses), you should copy down the information with both your left and right hands. There was supposed to be a benefit to engaging both your left- and right-brains for learning. Maybe even if he finds that switching doesn't help him in general, the experiment will be interesting.
posted by juliplease at 1:19 PM on June 17, 2009

my kindergarten teacher took it upon herself to force me to be right handed for a year. my parents didn't know about it. then i skipped first grade. i went back to being a lefty after that, but i missed all my "this is how you form letters" training with the correct hand. i don't know if it will help the adult now, but i remember the feeling of relief when i got to use my left hand to write again (even if it's still not pretty). it was a feeling of "so THIS is how it's supposed to feel!"
posted by nadawi at 2:17 PM on June 17, 2009

My (educator) father was convinced the fact that I was naturally left handed would be a disadvantage to me in school and life in general. Crackpot theories he held dear I'd rather not go into, but the result is that he changed my handedness from left to right when I was young by continually taking my pencil out of may hand, saying "No." and changing it to my right hand. I kept picking up the pencil in my left hand, he kept taking it out and putting it in my right. He would say he did this because he wanted the best for me.

The irony about his whole theory is that (probably not suprisingly) I ended up going to art school, where right handed people were by far in the minority.

In primary school I struggled in a big way with cursive writing, and had to do many hours more practise after hours to get it right. I think because I was fundamentally working against what was natural. My handwriting was awful for many years, and it took discipline to make it the relatively presentable though eccentric thing it is today.

A couple of times it has been pointed out to me, by people who didn't know me very well, that I they could tell I had had my handedness changed when I was young. One a doctor and one an optometrist. I'm not sure how they did that, but both gave the reason that your handedness is very much linked to the side of the brain you use more heavily, and when you use another hand, you have to effectively think through the processes, and act accordingly, rather than the action flowing from brain to hand naturally. I'm no doctor or neurologist, obviously, so I don't know if this is a fact. It feels right though, I must say.

I guess that implies that I'm slow, or have learning difficulties, which isn't true. I'm currently working through my third degree, a PhD, and have had a long life as a creative person who illustrates well, so I don't feel it has had a massive impact on my ability to process or at least communicate information.

That said, when my Dad then took a look at my young son, and said something to the effect of "You should make sure he's right handed." I was pretty quick to call bullshit, and to ask him to refrain from doing anything to change what is inherant in the boy.

I don't use my left hand now, and can't really. It's too far gone, and I really couldn't go back without a lot of effort.

I should also say, just as an aside, that my Dad also made us kids chew gum because he thought it strengthened the jaw muscles "like Americans." We didn't complain about this one.
posted by lottie at 4:48 PM on June 17, 2009

My mom and uncle were forced to use their right hands in some pretty hardcore Catholic environments even though they were left-handed. Both tried to re-adjust to left-handedness later in life (20s). My mom became totally left handed again. My uncle, on the other hand, is pretty ambidextrous now. Anecdotal, nothing more. I'm a righty, no questions about it.
posted by cachondeo45 at 5:45 PM on June 17, 2009

when i was in 3rd grade, my dad bought me a baseball glove, a right handed baseball glove. i didn't think anything of it because i hated baseball, wanted to play classical piano (now it's the other way around). about that time we started cursive writing and i couldn't do it. one thing led to another, my parents were advised by someone at the school (the teacher? the nurse? the principal?) to take me to a child psychologist. couldn't find anything that would explain the handwriting. then that led to an IQ test.
so i taught myself how to type, in 5th grade, which has served me very well. likewise with juggling. then, in a punt-and-pass competition that same year i picked up the football for some reason with my left hand and could throw it a mile, could kick left footed a mile. didn't tell anyone but the result is this: i throw left handed, play tennis right handed, kick left footed, eat right handed. i was told in high school you can tell what hand you are by the hand you suddenly punch with if called upon to defend yourself. the first time i punched left, another time i punched right.
i just live with it as a benign idiosyncracy. i tell myself my synapses bridge the cerebral cortex gaps to engage both sides of my brain; and indeed i am a writer and very fluent with numbers, et cetera.
but i was definitely a lefty born into a righty world.
i wouldn't switch, or try to switch. why would you? i try to write left handed once in a while and it's an utter disaster; but not worse than writing right handed.
i just think we're wired to adapt; we create workarounds, one way or another, things get done.
posted by holdenjordahl at 6:03 PM on June 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

I too was forced by some well-intentioned nuns to use my right hand to write as a child. I mirror write with my left hand now, and my right handed writing skills are atrocious. I am grateful that I rarely have to write, and just type most of the time. The older I got, the less I have used my right hand, and have returned to my lefty ways. I am happy that I was forced to learn how to use my right hand as much as I did, because we do live in a right hand world (for example, nearly every pair of scissors I run across cannot be used left-handed). As I grow older though, I am content to be using my left hand more, because it simply feels natural to me. That's my anecdotal two cents.
posted by msali at 10:26 AM on June 18, 2009

I read an article recently that said people who were forced to switch hands as kids and then went on to develop psychological problems like depression were often cured of their affliction if they simply switched back to using their left hand. Something about the brain being innately set to left handedness and forcing it to change is not good for the psyche. I searched but could not find the article.
posted by wherever, whatever at 10:35 PM on June 20, 2009

« Older Can we please just stop using this technology and...   |   Recomend some fund raising software. Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.