Left or Right It's Handed Down by the Genes; THE GO-BETWEEN Researchers, Says Ross Reyburn, Need Your Help in Studying Handedness

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How many parents have tried to get left-handed children to write with their right hand?

Interestingly current research is revealing parents should be far more concerned about ambidextrous children rather than youngsters favouring their left hand.

"Being a left-handed person doesn't appear to be a problem," said Oxford University Professor Tim Crow, who has found ambidextrous 11-year-olds fared less well than their other contemporaries in verbal and mathematical ability tests.

The fact that Alexander the Great and the Italian genius Michelangelo feature among history's left-handers should dispel any prejudices against left-handers. More recent examples of the breed include the West Indian cricket genius Garfield Sobers. And as Professor Crow points out, three key figures in the 1992 American Presidential election campaign, Bill Clinton, his running-mate Al Gore and opponent George Bush were all left-handed.

Prof Crow has spent five years studying the controversial link between handedness and ability and he has appealed for families to come forward as research volunteers so he can get an adult perspective.

His paper on the subject is appearing in December's Neuropsychologic Journal

"The paper is on the relationship between what we call relative hand skill and academic ability," he said.

"Research suggests that being close to ambidexterity is not good for you and being in the extremes is not too good for you either."

His research team has found 11-year-olds who are ambidextrous or favoured one particular hand to an extreme fared less well in verbal and mathematical tests than others.

"It is very clear that people who are close to this point of hemispheric indecision are not doing so well." said Prof Crow. "Their handling skills are slower and they are slower in other things as well.

"The data applies to childhood. We don't really know about adulthood. We suspect it may have long-term effects."

His research has backed the theories of Leicester University psychologist Mrs Marian Annett on cerebral dominance.

"She has long been interested in the genetics of handedness," he said. "She has always thought it was an important gene and it was related to academic ability. Our results tend to support her view."

Writing or simple actions like picking up a hammer are the easiest tests to identify if a person is right or left-handed. It is when children are uncertain which hand to favour problems seem to occur.

"Handedness could be related to conditions such as dyslexia and psychiatric disorders," said Prof Crow.

Finding volunteers for the research has not proved that easy. …