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Rightie? You might prefer things at your right—even people

Feb. 21, 2012
Courtesy of the Association for Psychological Science
and World Science staff

Right-hand­ed peo­ple are more likely to pre­fer ob­jects and peo­ple that are on their right—whereas “left­ies” take more of a shine to things on their own fa­vored side, a study has found.

If it makes you a bit quea­sy to think that such out-of-the-blue fac­tors col­or your likes and dis­likes, you might opt to make peace with it, re­flect­ing this is just part of what makes you you.

Not so fast. The study al­so sug­gests that all it might take is an in­ju­ry to your “good” hand to flip your pre­ferences the op­po­site way with­in min­utes.

Even can­di­dates for high of­fice might not be im­mune to your hand­ed­ness-related whims, the au­thors of the re­search spec­u­late, al­though they did­n’t in­ves­t­i­gate that sub­ject spe­cif­ic­ally.

The study is the lat­est in a string of re­cent re­search point­ing to seem­ingly ran­dom and ir­rel­e­vant con­sid­era­t­ions that sway our think­ing, in­clud­ing an odd as­sort­ment of sub­lim­i­nal sig­nals, our own ini­tials and the ease of pro­nounc­ing oth­er peo­ple’s names.

“Peo­ple like things bet­ter when they are eas­i­er to per­ceive and in­ter­act with,” said cog­ni­tive sci­ent­ist Dan­iel Casasanto of the New School for So­cial Re­search in New York, who con­ducted the re­search with col­leagues. “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.’”

Along si­m­i­lar lines, the name-pronuncia­t­ion study found that peo­ple with sim­pler names win friends and fa­vor more eas­i­ly. 

When par­ti­ci­pants in the hand­ed­ness proj­ect were asked which of two prod­ucts to buy, which of two job ap­pli­cants to hire, or which of two al­ien crea­tures looked more trust­wor­thy, right-handers rou­tinely chose the prod­uct, per­son, or crea­ture they saw on the right side of the page, the sci­ent­ists found. And left-handers pre­ferred the things on the left. These kinds of ten­den­cies were found in chil­dren as young as five years old.

But right-handers who’ve had their right hands per­ma­nently hand­i­capped start to as­so­ci­ate ‘good’ with ‘left,’ Casanto and col­leagues said, and the same goes for right­ies whose ‘good’ hand is tem­po­rarily hand­i­capped in the lab­o­r­a­to­ry. “After a few min­utes of fum­bling with their right hand, right­ies start to think like left­ies,” said Casasanto. “If you change peo­ple’s bod­ies, you change their minds.”

Casanto be­lieves peo­ple with dif­fer­ent kinds of bod­ies think dif­fer­ently, an idea he calls the “body-spe­cif­i­city hy­poth­e­sis.” It might even play a role in vot­ing be­hav­ior, he said. Casasanto notes out that many states still use but­terfly bal­lots, with can­di­dates’ names list­ed on the left and right.

“S­ince about 90 per­cent of the popula­t­ion is right-handed,” said Casasanto, “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.”

Casasanto’s work is reviewed in the Dec­em­ber issue of the jour­nal Cur­rent Direc­tions in Psych­o­logical Sci­ence.


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Right-handed people are more likely to prefer objects and people that are on their right—whereas “lefties” take more of a shine to things on their own favored side, a study has found. If it makes you a bit queasy to think that such out-of-the-blue factors color your likes and dislikes, you might opt to make peace with it, reflecting this is just part of what makes you you. Not so fast. The study also suggests that all it might take is an injury to your “good” hand to flip your preferences the opposite way within minutes. Even candidates for high office might not be immune to your handedness-related whims, the authors of the research speculate, although they didn’t investigate that subject specifically. The study is only the latest in a string of recent research pointing to odd and seemingly irrelevant considerations that sway our thinking, including an odd assortment of subliminal signals, what letter our name starts with and the ease of pronouncing other people’s names. “People like things better when they are easier to perceive and interact with,” said cognitive scientist Daniel Casasanto of the New School for Social Research in New York, who conducted the research with colleagues. “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.’ Along similar lines, the name-pronunciation study found that people with simpler names win friends and favor more easily. When participants in the handedness project were asked which of two products to buy, which of two job applicants to hire, or which of two alien creatures looked more trustworthy, right-handers routinely chose the product, person, or creature they saw on the right side of the page, while left-handers preferred the one on the left. These kinds of preferences were been found in children as young as five years old. But right-handers who’ve had their right hands permanently handicapped start to associate ‘good’ with ‘left,’ Casanto and colleagues said, and the same goes for righties whose ‘good’ hand is temporarily handicapped in the laboratory. “After a few minutes of fumbling with their right hand, righties start to think like lefties,” said Casasanto. “If you change people’s bodies, you change their minds.” Casanto believes people with different kinds of bodies think differently, an idea he calls the “body-specificity hypothesis.” It might even play a role in voting behavior, he said. Casasanto notes out that many states still use butterfly ballots, with candidates’ names listed on the left and right. “Since about 90 percent of the population is right-handed,” said Casasanto, “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.”