Left-Handed and Goofy-Footed Humans

Recently I heard that all polar bears are left-handed. Could that be true? What an amazing possibility! I started researching the internet on handedness.

I learned that roughly 10% of human beings are left handed, 1% are ambidextrous and the rest are right-handed. That unlucky 10% face constant annoyances in a largely right-handed world. I learned that roughly 10% of human beings are left handed, 1% are ambidextrous and the rest are right-handed. That unlucky 10% face constant minor annoyances in a world of right-handed scissors, watches, and writing in English from left to right. Wrist watches have the buttons on the wrong side and 3-ring binders are impossible; the list goes on and on.

But research has shown that left-handed people are often more intelligent, creative and flexible in their thinking. Some studies proposed that the higher scores might not result from southpaws having a better-wired brain, but simply because they have vast experience devising strategies to cope with living in a right-handed world. Either way, It only seems fair that they enjoy some compensation for their struggles.

Why are people right and left handed in the first place?  Do animals show left or right footedness? And what the heck is a Goofy-Foot?

Why are people right or left handed?
Scientists theorize that allocating skills to the left and right hemispheres of the brain is a way to distribute the work load.  Although people tend to do many tasks with their right hand, most people have tasks that they designate to the left as well. I started paying attention to my own habits. I immediately learned that holding my hair up to the blow dryer to style it is nearly impossible to do with my right hand, while my left does it without effort.

This might be a fun experiment to try yourself. Are there certain tasks where you are more comfortable being opposite-dextrous?

Are Animals Right And Left-Footed?
So what about animals? Are they dominantly right or left-footed? Some are. Gorillas are about 75% right-handed. On the other hand(!) about 66% of orangutans are lefties.

Cats?  Dogs? Some research has analyzed which paw dogs use to shake and which paw they use to nudge a treat out from under a sofa (among other experiments). The research found that dogs are divided roughly 50/50 in their left and right preference, depending on the task. It was also discovered that most dogs do have a paw preference and resist attempts to change that preference.  Dogs (unlike cats) are never ambidextrous.

Fifty percent of domestic cats are right-pawed, 40% are left-pawed, and 10% are ambidextrous . . . ambi-pawtrous? As for wild cats, researchers are still trying to figure out how to conduct research while managing to keep both of their own right and left hands.

Do fish show left and right preferences? Some do. The preference isn’t actually in the use of left or right fins, it’s in which direction a particular species turns when startled. Imagine a school of fish, noticing the approach of a shark. They react instantly, as a cohesive group. Within each species they all tend to dart in the same direction.

Question:  What do you call a left-leaning fish in a school of right-leaning fish?
Answer:  Lunch.

Goofy Foot
You might not realize that you are right or left footed until you try a sport like soccer or surfing. Turns out, most of us have a dominant foot. It is often the same side as your dominant hand, but not always. For instance, I am boringly right handed.  But learning to surf I discovered I am left-footed.

When the instructor had us park our boards up on the dry sand to practice pulling ourselves to our feet in one smooth motion, I always ended up with my left foot in the rear, stabilizing position.  The instructor pronounced me to be a Goofy Foot:  surfing slang for someone who is left footed, regardless of what hand they use most.  Pretty cool, huh?

Polar Bears
So what about polar bears, the creatures that got me wandering off into handedness in the first place? I never could find definitive proof that they are lefties. But other fascinating facts surfaced so research is always rewarding. I found out that polar bears actually have black skin under their white fur. And their fur is not actually white. It’s transparent with a hollow core that reflects light. This helps them blend in with their surroundings when they’re hunting.

I’m left speechless. . . or downright speechless. (You choose.)

Polar bear clipart, courtesy Cory Thoman

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