Why do we run/skate/race counterclockwise?
June 27, 2007 6:05 AM   Subscribe

Seems like a lot of races and similar activities go counterclockwise -- foot, dog, horse, and auto racing; skating rinks both ice and roller; baseball. Is it confirmation bias, "just one of those things," or is there a valid reason?
posted by sonofslim to Grab Bag (10 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Maybe it's because of the overwhelming righthandedness of the world, and righties are stronger when leading with their right foot, turning left?
posted by jozxyqk at 6:33 AM on June 27, 2007

Check out The Straight Dope on the subject.
posted by vytae at 6:52 AM on June 27, 2007

Interesting, although I would suggest that carousels probably just mimick counterclockwise-turning horse tracks, and revolving doors are probably built to work like standard external doors, which are hinged on the left to serve a right-handed population.

Are most people, in fact, stronger when turning left? Or just more dextrous? Is there a significant difference between the two when running? I skate, so right- and left-footedness is a factor for me, but I can't see it mattering as much when you're running a long curve like those on a large track.
posted by sonofslim at 7:57 AM on June 27, 2007

This is not exactly a scientific guess, but what about the old pagan idea of going "widdershins?" Counterclockwise, for them, meant banishing bad things. Not sure if that's it, but we do plenty of things that most of us know longer know what they mean. (Here's a current example on MeFi.)
posted by RobotHeart at 8:51 AM on June 27, 2007

Only in America do horses always run counter-clockwise. The rest of the world usually races clockwise, though it can vary by course.
posted by acorncup at 8:53 AM on June 27, 2007

skating, at least, i tend to push off harder with my right foot, and i always assumed that was the reason; but the wider question is interesting.
posted by londongeezer at 8:57 AM on June 27, 2007

Most of the american auto racing series run counter-clockwise, while Formula One runs clockwise.
posted by kiltedtaco at 9:02 AM on June 27, 2007

Adding to the list, ballroom dancing, which is standardised internationally, goes counterclockwise.
posted by -harlequin- at 9:31 AM on June 27, 2007

I don't think people are stronger 'turning' left...but they're stronger on the right side of their body, which means the torque is somewhat towards the left. (Like the tendency of 'lost' people to walk in circles)

This being the case, when I think of things like two people pushing a miller's wheel (as opposed to the wind), they might naturally feel like going counter clockwise feels 'easier'.

*I don't pretend to know crap about miller's wheels. Merely, I tried to think back before 'standard' doors, and 'horse racing'; to think of multiple person 'work' that would require rotary motion
posted by filmgeek at 11:14 AM on June 27, 2007

I was wondering about the baseball version of this the other day! But in baseball, it's not really an advantage to right-hander runners/batters, because left-handed batters start closer to first base (and while they're initially facing the other way, the motion of swinging cancels that out). I've heard of numerous fathers teaching kids to bat lefty so they'll be able to use that to their advantage.

Of course, now that I think about it more, right-handed infielders have an advantage throwing to first -- it's rare to see a left-handed shortstop, for example. That's probably why baseball is the way it is -- with far more right-handed people, you need every position to be available to them. A reverse of the diamond would severely limit right-handed participation in the field in exchange for a slightly-shorter trip to first base. Not worth it, especially since it's a lot easier to switch your batting hand than your throwing hand to make up the difference.
posted by SuperNova at 1:53 PM on June 27, 2007

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