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Lefties vs. Righties: How we decide differently

Lylah M. Alphonse
Shine from Yahoo! Canada
March 1, 2012
The choice you make may depend on whether you're right- or left-handed
The choice you make may depend on whether you're right- or left-handed

We like to think that we make decisions based on our ideas of right and wrong -- and we do, to an extent. But according to recent research, our choices may also be influenced by something as simple as whether we're right or left handed.

That's because right-handed people are more drawn to things on the right side of a screen or page, while left-handed people look to the left. Cognitive scientist Daniel Casasanto of The New School for Social Research says it's part of the "body-specificity hypothesis" -- the idea that our physical bodies affect the decisions we make and the way we communicate with one another. One of the easiest ways to measure this hypothesis is by looking at whether a person is a righty or a lefty.

"Handedness is a good tool (to use) because it's easily measurable, and our hands our important in how we interact with the physical world," Casasanto explained to MSNBC.

In his study, which was published in a recent edition Current Directions in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, Casasanto found that people tend to prefer the things that they see or experience on the same side as their dominant hand.

"People like things better when they are easier to perceive and interact with," he says. Right-handers interact with their environment more easily on the right than on the left, so they come to associate "good" with "right" and "bad" with "left," he explained.

[See also: Health hazards of sleep deprivation]

"Since about 90 percent of the population is right-handed, people who want to attract customers, sell products, or get votes should consider that the right side of a page or a computer screen might be the 'right' place to be," he added.

We even tend to use our dominant side to differentiate positive ideas from negative ones. In 2004, presidential candidates John Kerry and George W. Bush -- both of whom are right-handed -- gestured more often with their right hands when expressing positive thoughts or ideas. In 2008, both Barack Obama and John McCain were left-handed, and both candidates used their left hands more often when expressing something positive.

The association with positivity extends to the choices everyday people make as well. When Casasanto asked study participants to decide between two products to buy, two job applicants to hire, or two alien creatures to trust, right-handed participants regularly chose the ones on the right side of the page, while south-paws chose the ones on the left.

That influence seems to extend beyond the physical world, influencing even abstract ideas like intelligence and honesty. Which means that it affects the way we understand one another as well, Casasanto says

"Most of the time, we feel like we understand each other because what a word means to me, is close enough to what it means to you," he says. "But it's never the same, and what a word means in your mind may depend on quirks of your body."

While the preference seems to hold true even for kids as young as 5 years old, it isn't absolute. People who are right-hand dominant but lose the use of that hand, even temporarily, start to associate "good" with "left" instead of "right."

"After a few minutes of fumbling with their right hand, righties start to think like lefties," Casasanto said in a statement. "If you change people's bodies, you change their minds."

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