Why training yourself to be ambidextrous is a bad idea

Illustration for article titled Why training yourself to be ambidextrous is a bad idea

Teaching, or even forcing, people to become ambidextrous is a practice that has been around for centuries. Some even claim that learned "cross dominance" can improve brain function. But as the science shows, not only is this not true, it may actually harm our neural development.

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Indeed, it wasn't too long ago that many parents forced their children to use their nondominant hands. My own father, who is naturally left-handed, remembers being a child and having his "wrong" hand slapped whenever he reached for a fork or pencil. Eventually, he learned to use his right hand quite proficiently, but at the cost of his left-handedness.

Aside from my grandparents' aversion to left-handedness, though, some thinkers argued that ambidextrousness could benefit society as a whole, and result in "two-brainedness".

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But as cognitive neuroscientist Michael Corballis recently noted in SciAm, this is simply not the case:

This hype died down in the mid-20th century as benefits of being ambidextrous failed to materialize. Given that handedness is apparent early in life and the vast majority of people are right-handed, we are almost certainly dextral by nature. Recent evidence even associated being ambidextrous from birth with developmental problems, including reading disability and stuttering. A study of 11-year-olds in England showed that those who are naturally ambidextrous are slightly more prone to academic difficulties than either left- or right-handers. Research in Sweden found ambidextrous children to be at a greater risk for developmental conditions such as attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder. Another study, which my colleagues and I conducted, revealed that ambidextrous children and adults both performed worse than left- or right-handers on a range of skills, especially in math, memory retrieval and logical reasoning.

Corballis says the two hemispheres of the brain are not interchangeable, and that they're used for different processes and tasks. "These asymmetries probably evolved to allow the two sides of the brain to specialize," he says. "To attempt to undo or tamper with this efficient setup may invite psychological problems."

It's okay to train your nondominant hand to be more proficient, he says, just don't do it at the expense of your dominant one.

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Read the entire article at SciAm.

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DISCUSSION

Clara Oswald's Light Blue Cardigan

I was born ambidextrous, but when I was little we moved to a small town in the middle of nowhere, and the 1st grade teacher felt it was unnatural for my development to use both hands. She kept me from going to recess for 3 days until I chose a hand. She put two pieces of paper in front of me, with one saying 'Right' and one saying 'Left'. Then she drew a circle around them, and told me I was to cut the circle with the hand I chose. Since I was, oh, 6 freaking years old, I of course had a difficult time with this decision. Finally, I chose my left hand, because who knows why (I probably just wanted to go outside and play already). I didn't tell my mom about this because the teacher was an adult and at that age you assume adults know what they're doing (plus she made me feel that using both hands was undeniably wrong in some way, so I think I didn't want my mom to be upset with me). Oh boy, did my mother let the school have it after she found out. But by then it was too late, and a lefty was born. Lord knows how this affected my brain.