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Ambidextrous People: Definition & Brain Activity

Instructor: Sharon Linde
Ambidextrous people can use both hands equally well. But did you know this has also applies to their brain structure and brain activity? Learn about these and other facts associated with ambidextrous people in this lesson.

Definition of Ambidextrous

Have you ever injured the hand you use most often, maybe through a sprain, an inopportune door slam, or even just a paper cut? If so, then you know how difficult it can be to do even the simplest things one-handed. Brushing your teeth or eating cereal with your 'off' hand can make most of us feel uncoordinated. However, about 1% of the population would have no trouble with this type of task because they can use both hands equally well. These people are ambidextrous. Let's take a closer look at this unusual ability.

Brain Activity in Ambidextrous People

It turns out that ambidextrous people don't just have their hands wired differently -- there are differences in the brain as well.

Symmetrical Brain Hemispheres

While 95% of right-handed people and about 20% of left-handed people have highly asymmetric brains, all ambidextrous people have symmetrical brains. Scientists theorize that asymmetry is useful from an efficiency point of view. Having both sides of the brain knowing how to do math is redundant and inefficient. If only one hemisphere needs to know how to do math, then this frees up the corresponding brain power on the other side free to contribute in a different way, like judging emotions, for example.

Slightly Lower IQ, Higher Creativity

This symmetric brain activity comes at a cost: ambidextrous people score slightly lower on IQ tests than those with a dominant hand. They have lower ability in reasoning, math and memory. But it's also true that ambidextrous people tend to do better in sports, arts, and music. So what's going on here?

One theory by Michael Corballis, PhD, a brain hemisphere expert from the University of Auckland in New Zealand, would explain both facts, if it is proven true. Corballis thinks the brain has trouble communicating with itself across the hemispherical divide -- even in ambidextrous people with symmetrical brains. This slight loss of information explains the slightly lower IQ, but could also explain the increased creativity if more creative thinking is caused by this missing information.

Schizophrenia

Schizophrenia has been shown to be much more common in left-handed and ambidextrous people compared to right-handed people. It appears to have something to do with the LRRTM1 gene on chromosome 2, which is less common for right-handed people, but it's not yet known what role this gene plays in the disease or hand-dominance.

Benefits to Ambidextrous Training?

Can ambidexterity training change our brain in a way that results in more creativity? This theory has been around for centuries, and some people claim anecdotal evidence of the benefits of this type of training (better balance and writing skills for example), but nothing has been proven one way or the other.

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