What Is It Called When You Can Use Both Hands? Is It Actually Good?

JAN 23, 2023 AT 12:57 PM

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The long, complicated words Ambidextrousness or ambidexterity are sometimes referred to as mixed-handedness, Healthline tells us. When you naturally use one hand over the other, you are either right-handed or left-handed.

If you comfortably can use both hands, you are ambidextrous. To complicate things further the meanings of being ambidextrous and mixed-handed (cross-dominant) are slightly different. Ambidexterity means that you are skilled in using both hands to perform the same tasks, whereas mixed-handedness or cross-dominance is when you use different hands to do different tasks.

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Some examples of mixed-handedness are when you use your left hand to bat in a ball game, you write with your right hand but eat with a knife and fork like a left-handed person.

Ambidexterity

There is less research on ambidexterity than on cross-dominance. Since both involve the use of both hands and the corresponding body parts, the studies on cross-dominance may have bearing on ambidexterity. The exact cause of ambidexterity is unknown, although there have been a few theories. Healthline gives these options:

Cultural

In the past, a left-handed person in a culture of right-handedness was taught from an early age to use their right hand, especially when writing. Some older children and adults have taught themselves.

Tools

Throughout history, many tools have been designed with the right-handed in mind. Examples are tin openers, scissors, keyboard number pads, classroom desks, and others. Left-handed people are required to use their right hand to use such objects.

Injury

If a person permanently injures their dominant hand leg or another body part, they have to learn to use the opposite one.

Genetics

The results of a study conducted in 2021 found that "there are 7 gene variants associated with ambidexterity." A gene mutation is most probably responsible for 10% of left-handed people, says The Healthy. Twins don't always use the same hand, however, which does not support the theory that handedness is genetic. Research is ongoing. 

Ambisinistral

The Urban Dictionary defines ambisinistrous as both left-hand dominant, or left-handed but the person uses their right hand for certain tasks. Historically, this condition was unjustly referred to as being clumsy with both hands.

Most left-handed people are forced to be ambisinistrous as we live in a predominantly right-handed world. 

Anatomy

Anatomically (how the body parts are arranged), the ambidextrous person's brain is symmetrical and wired the same, whereas a right-handed person's brain has a well-developed left hemisphere and vice versa.

The world's population is more than 90% right-handed, 5-10% left-handed, and only about 1% truly ambidextrous or cross-dominant. It is an extremely rare trait.

Cross-dominance

When a person is either right or left-handed, they prefer to use the other body parts foot, eye, or ear, on that side of the body as well. With cross-dominance, the person may be more adept and stronger on the opposite side of the body they prefer.

The Biology

Meghan Jones from Readers Digest wrote an article in March 2022 entitled "10 Fascinating Facts You Never Knew About Ambidextrous People. In it, she mentions the biology of this unique condition. She cites a journal called Neuron that explains why our brains prefer a certain side. Complex tasks require power. Instead of your whole brain taking on every task, certain sections are delegated to accomplish certain tasks.

Normally, the left half of the brain is more detailed, while the right side sees the bigger picture. An example of how this works is that the left side will solve a Mathematics equation, while the right half recognizes a familiar face.

We can use both sides of our brains at the same time. When the brain assigns a particular task, the saying 'practice makes perfect' comes into play. The more you do a task, the more efficient you become at it. As this is the way the brain normally works, it may explain why there are so few truly ambidextrous people in the world.

Development

How the brain is wired in a mixed-handed child, may cause delays in development. The brain in both children and adults with cross-dominance may work slower than in predominantly right or left-handed people due to the jumping across from one side to the other for different motor functions.

If a person's dominant eye and ear circuits are on different sides a person may not be able to read and listen at the same time. Marissa Laliberte of The Healthy mentions that ultrasounds have proven that fetuses start to favor one hand over the other in the womb. A journal in the publication eLife suggests that handedness may be determined by the spine. This, however, may be environmental.

Learning Challenges

Children that exhibit ambidexterity and cross-dominance may have problems and delays in mastering certain language skills such as vocabulary and grammar. This is due to atypical lateralization of the brain. These difficulties are related to skills such as verbal fluency, writing pace, and the retrieval of information.

Health Issues

Although no studies have implicitly shown that ambidextrousness causes health issues, some studies have indicated that Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is seen more in ambidextrous, left-handed individuals and those that were originally left-handed.

Healthline mentions these findings were a result of studies done in 2010 and again in 2015. Studies in 2018 and 2021 showed that Schizophrenia and Major Depressive Disorder are also more prevalent in non-right-handed people. More mental health issues have been seen in ambidextrous war veterans than those that favor one hand.

Mental Health Improvement

Laliberte cites a statement by a doctor, that states that "There are no disorders of the human brain that are not linked to brain asymmetries". If this is the case more studies may discover how brain wiring in early development occurs and what can be done to solve these mental health issues. Because of the stigma of mental illness, many people hide issues such as depression

and spend their lives on medication to keep it at bay. Severe issues such as schizophrenia and Bi-Polar disorder may only be discovered when the person's behavior warrants an investigation or after a suicide attempt. A whopping 50% of mental illness cases begin by the age of 14 years, although many of these children are only treated years later.

IQ and Creativity

Although researchers have found that many ambidextrous people have a lower-than-average intelligence quotient (IQ), they score higher in levels of creativity.

Measuring intelligence with IQ can be misleading as collectively it is the average of many people, right, left, and cross-handed. This can not then be a sign that a particular ambidextrous person has a low IQ. Where these people excel, however, is in the arts and music.

Famous Artists

Top Tens mentioned these famous artists, all of whom were ambidextrous:

  • Ludwig van Beethoven – one of the most influential and famous composers and pianists of all time.
  • Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart – another famous composer who is said to have written and composed with both hands. In a time, when all children were forced to write with their right hands, Mozart was probably left-handed.
  • Scott Travis – a rock musician who played the drums for heavy metal bands Judas Priest and Racer X.
  • Stewart Copeland – a multiple instrument player, but most well known as a drummer for the rock band The Police.
  • Paul McCartney – before his solo career, he enjoyed worldwide fame in the hit band The Beatles.
  • Ringo Starr – Also of the Beatles, musician, singer, songwriter, and actor. Although born left-handed, he played a right-handed drum kit.
  • Justin Bieber – singer and songwriter. He plays the guitar both left and right-handed.
  • Leonardo da Vinci – A famous painter. He was multi-talented, with interests in sculpting, music, literature, writing, poetry, and others.

Conclusion

Ambidexterity, being able to use both hands with equal skill, is very rare. Only 1% of the world's population is truly ambidextrous. Most people that tend to use both hands are cross-dominant or originally left-handed and through circumstance began using their right hand for some or most tasks.

Being ambidextrous has been shown to put the individual at risk of learning problems and mental health issues. Although they may not score as highly on IQ tests, this does not mean that they have lower-than-average intelligence.

Ambidextrous people, and those that were predominately left-handed, show a natural propensity for the arts. Many famous artists used both hands to create and play music and paint.