Left or Right? Why Some Smart People Confuse Them
By Erin Froehlich More Blogs by This AuthorFrom the Id and Ego Blog Series
Okay. SO. I do pretty well writing, hold a wide variety of interests, and I read science and psychology articles for fun. Overall, I consider myself to be a pretty smart girl, but I've got to admit to having a less than confidence inspiring issue.
I'm notoriously bad at telling my left from my right.
When I'm sitting in a car giving directions, I point (and often too late). When I'm giving directions over the phone (trust me - you DON'T want my over-the-phone directions) you can just forget left or right. My directions go something like - "go towards this store, turn by that one store next to it, look for the blue house with the lawn flamingo"Just the other weekend, I was buying tickets for a show when the guy checking IDs asked me for my left hand. "Umm.." I hesitated, held one tentatively out, and...
"Your OTHER left, please."
Wrong left. His tone rolled his eyes for him.
It's kind of embarrassing, and it does feel pretty dumb, but it's not that I dont know it. I just... I don't know... I feel like it's less intuitive to me than it should be.
Now though, seeing the latest from one of my favorite health blogs MSNBCs Body Odd I take some comfort in finding I'm far from the only one. In fact, as many as one in five of us has this issue to some degree! (and chances increase if you happen to be either left handed or a woman.)
Also good to know, is that this confusion has nothing to do with intelligence. In fact, upon further research in another favorite blog of mine, Krulwich Wonders, I found even Freud had this problem!
When it came to left or right he wrote, "No organic feeling told me,"He admitted to using the write with your right trick, "I used to test this by quickly making a few writing movements with my right hand." ( I myself use the L trick I learned as a child. You know how when you close your fingers together and point your thumbs out, only the left hand makes the "L?")
There have even been studies done on the subject of left/right confusion. One involving 364 university faculty workers - once again, pretty intelligent people - found the condition to be common as well.
So whats the deal with us 20%ers?
Our Brains Are Asymmetrical (Just a Little Though, Don't Worry!)
While there's actually no definitive answer yet, executive director of the Handedness Research Institute (Yes, apparently there IS a Handedness Research Institute.) M.K. Holder believes the problem resides in the degree a brain function is "lateralized," or divided between hemispheres. This explains why women and left-handed people are more likely to have this peculiarity. Men and right-handed people tend to be more strongly lateralized than do women or left-handed people. To put it simply, the more "biased" the brain is towards one hemisphere over the other; the more likely there is to be left/right confusion.
The Parietal Lobe
Also of interest in this phenomenon, is the region of our brain called the "parietal lobe" -the.left. parietal lobe to be specific. Together, it's the left and right parietal lobe's job to interpret sensory and relational information. However, they each play their own part in this equation.
The Right Parietal Lobe: The right, for example, focuses on sensation and perception and helps to integrate sensory input. Irregularities in this area may cause problems with:
- Attention of the left - both of the space we are in and of our body's left side.
- Ability to perceive our own movement
- Putting things together
- Muscle memory
- Ability to write or draw
- Personality Changes
The Left Parietal Lobe: The left, on the other hand, is needed for understanding spatial relationships and symbolism such as in language and mathematics. In addition to problems with left/right confusion, irregularities (which can range from minor to major) may cause problems with:
- Aphasia - ranging from difficulty remembering words to complete inability to write or speak
- Agnosia - trouble recognizing objects or people
- Remembering names
The moral of this story being that if you are one of the 20% that has a problem detecting left from right, you may very well have the other problems associated with the left parietal lobe. (I am also horrible with names. Joy!)
It's a Personality Thing
OR, as one more intriguing theory suggests, your left/right confusion may just be due to your SF or NT type personality!
As, Phillippe De Sainte Maresville, a Jungian expert with a left/right problem points out, "A researcher told me: 'Dont worry, youre SF. It comes with the SF package. It is normal. It sometimes may also occur with NTs.'"He was referring to the Myers-Briggs personality test that divides every single personality in the world into just one of 16 types, using combinations of just 4 basic characteristics:
(E)xtroverted - focused on others OR (I)ntroverted - focused on self?
Information Gathering Method:
(S)ensing - focused on senses OR I(N)tuiting - focused on patterns and possibilities?
Decision Making Process:
(T)hinking - more concerned for facts OR (F)eeling - more concerned for people?
(J)udging - stubborn and reliable OR (P)ercieving - flexible and changeable?
He believes people that combine the (S)ensing method of gathering information and the (F)eeling process of decision making are more prone to this problem of left/right confusion. Ill let him explain why:
"SF people have theirdominance in their basal cortex.1 This part of the cerebral cortex is a lot more "awake" and "efficient" than the frontal part. Another characteristic of SFs is the fact that their two preferred functions are "driven,"one from the right (F) and the other one (S) from the left hemisphere. Havinga preference on each hemisphere provides them with a strong inner reference of where their right and their left sides are, so they don't have to think about it.
So why do they mix up?
In fact they mix up only when they talk. As I said before, if you look at their hands they are always correct. Only the language is wrong. The reason seems to be that the language area (Brocas area) is located in the frontal lobe where SFs have no preference, so retrieving the correct word requires more energy and control. When there is pressure and lack of attention, their brain does the 'minimum job' and selects the word 'left' or 'right' on a first-come basis"-Phillippe De Sainte Maresville
Personally, I'm an INTP, so I was a little disappointed that he never explained why it "sometimes may also occur with NT"as well. For now though, I can just be satisfied knowing I have some excuse, Im not alone, and I'm NOT dumb either.