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April 26, 2012 at 4:29 PMComments: 26 Faves: 1

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!)

right brain functions vs left brain functionsWhile 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

anatomical brain the parietal lobeAlso 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
  • Navigation
  • Inattention

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:

  • Handwriting
  • Math
  • 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

MBTI, Meyers Briggs Type Indicator Personality TypesOR, 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:

Favorite World:

(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?

Structure:

(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.

RIGHT?! ;)

Sources:

http://bodyodd.msnbc.msn.com/_news/2012/04/24/11359120-why-some-cant-tell-left-from-right?lite

http://www.radiolab.org/blogs/radiolab-blogland/2011/oct/20/krulwich-wonders-not-left/

http://cercor.oxfordjournals.org/content/10/9/866.full

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/3774138

http://typeindepth.com/2010/11/mixing-right-and-left/

http://www.neuroskills.com/brain-injury/parietal-lobes.php

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parietal_lobe

http://www.neurosurvival.ca/ClinicalAssistant/Examinations/parietal%20lobe/parietal_lobe_testing.htm

http://www.myersbriggs.org/my-mbti-personality-type/mbti-basics/

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aphasia

Photo Credit:

Julia Manzerova

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26 Comments

  • I have this problem too, being an NT and left-handed. My left hand is the Right(correct) hand, ok? :) So I have remedied my directions by using compass points, but that only helps the person driving if they have that ability, so.... :P Oh well, another problem of the brain I have to deal with.

  • haha, Yeah, I don't have the excuse of being left-handed, but my mom is and when I posted on facebook trying to get an idea of how many people have this issue (a surprising number of my friends did!), she chimed in "Yeah? Well try being left handed!" I imagine that must be tough.:)

  • Love that it's called Handedness Research Institute! haha. This is such a great blog, Erin. So interesting!

    Also, totally have this problem just as you and Rex do too. Sometimes I even put my hands out in front of me, make an L with them both when people ask me about directions....age old trick from elementary school and still using it! ;)

  • Aww, thanks, Bri! :)

    I hadn't heard of the "write with your right" trick until I started doing research for this blog. I'm the same way - they always told us to do the "L" to figure it out.

    Also hadn't thought about the fact that the problem only really occurs when language is involved. When some says "hold out your left hand" or I'm asked to give directions.

  • Come on, that remembering name thing effects almost everyone! :o)

  • I know! It's horrible. I feel so bad when I forget. I don't want people to think I don't care about them, because I do, my brain just doesn't want to cooperate sometimes. :/

  • I'm an NT and I do this all the time. I suppose being a 'rational' and having an education in psychology I never mistook it for a matter of intelligence (as if somehow you weren't smart enough to learn the simple dichotomy or something, kind of funny to even consider that being possible). My brain tends to be focused on its thoughts most of the time, if you immediately say left or right, I guess it just doesn't feel compelled to get out of that frame and actually consider my body. And I just put up whichever hand, go whichever direction, etc.

    (By the way the security thing didn't work the first time and completely deleted all the forms. Five years ago that was annoying, by now it's a kiss-of-death.)

  • Frank-

    Ugh! I can't tell me how much I hate when my stuff gets deleted. So frustrating. Thank you so much for not giving up and posting regardless!

    I think that's a good point. It's not that we're not intelligent, it's just that our brain is more developed in other areas!

  • I have Left/Right Confusion too. Sometimes even when I do the L I can look at my hands and KNOW but still say the wrong thing. When I'm in a car giving directions if I can't grab right or left quick enough I infamously yell "driver's side!" or "passenger side" or just tap on my passenger's side window in frustration that people don't understand me!

    I'm an ENTP so I'm intrigued by this as well!

  • I confuse my left and right when I am in the Southern Hemisphere (where I live) but when I go the UK in the Northern Hemisphere for a holiday I am suddenly alleviated of this problem! And not only that, my general sense of direction becomes almost infallible, even in places I have never been before. Any thoughts, wise readers, on why this may be so? I do not understand it at all.

  • I do this! I agree that's it's a verbal thing because I have no problem writing down exact directions for somebody. Well, mostly no problem.

    I learned the "make an L" trick in college, but it just confused me. Which one is the L? I'll just stare at my fingers and wonder why I can't figure that out. So, doofus x2.

  • While driving remember Right Radio ...Left Lights. My mother and I both have this problem and we laugh when it comes time for turning because we say the wrong way OR think the other is going to say the wrong way. Lefts mean right... right means left. Just easier to point and say that way.
    I always thought it was a mild form of a dyslexia. I also have a hard time reading numbers out loud. I tend to revert them.

  • I am an INFP and do this, when I was a kid, I was helpless at it, but I developed a wart in my left hand which I considered my least favorite hand, so I memorized that the one that I don't like is the one with the wart and that one is called the left hand. I still sometimes check where the wart used to be that this is the left one, but I am fairly OK with it now... but I pause.

    The idea that the language is wrong hit home even though I am not the right type. The words left and right essentially mean the same thing, they are not feeling words at all, they have very little emotional or relevant context, they've just decided that that side is left and the other is right, even though there's nothing to support that. Maybe that's exactly what they mean when they say it makes no sense to our type of people. Left is no different to the right, apart from being right handed, that makes right better. I also have trouble remembering numbers and telling them apart, similarly they are just... labels on quantities which offer very little contextual or emotional meaning. So yeah. I can see why they'd be confusing, but I don't understand how people would tell them apart, instinctively. :D

  • I have issues with left and right, too. If I drive, I figure out which side of the road to be on based on where the driver's seat is in relation to the side of the road. This would probably be to my advantage if I ever decide to go live in the UK. I thought it was interesting that they connected this to Myers-Briggs. I'm an INFP, and according to this article, it's supposed to be SFs and NTs that have this issue, not NFs. I do test as INTP sometimes, but I'm told I act more like an INFP than an INTP.

  • I eat with my left, and do everything with my right.

  • I also have a problem with numbers. I can't remember formulas, for example. I did good on maths (algebra, geometry) in school, but my physics were terrible, I couldn't "overlap" the theory with the reality inside my head. Also, I confuse sequences of numbers quite often, unless I remember to pay "extra special attention". Case in point: I work in a warehouse as a forklift driver and I have to stack the merchandise/products/goods on shelves. Just like with most warehouses, it is organized like laneX/rowY/levelZ (2.14.3, for example). So I take a stack of goods and place it on 2.14.3, but I note it on my documents as 2.13.4, or 1.14.3.

  • I don't have only problem with left / right , I have a problem telling the time if i look at a regular watch(I prefer the elctronic ones) and also when read 2 numbers like 76 I say 67 I know I meant to say 76 but the words come out switched . Keys are also one of those obstacles that I am not good at . Your article helped a lot , thanks but what is my condition called? I am 14 and I have great grades so that doesn't have to do with my grades.

  • Katia - I think the problems with watches and keys are actually pretty common, and have more to due with lack of familiarity and consistent use of them. You will become better with keys over time ( I was terrible with keys when I first started using them!) and if you consistently challenged yourself to use a traditional clock, I'm certain you would become better with that as well.

    The switching numbers in speech thing is also fairly common. Flipping words around is called "spoonerism." It happens when your brain in working in-overdrive and creates two different ideas of what should be said before you speak. I get this most frequently when I am feeling anxious, which makes sense, because when you're feeling anxious, your brain is more concerned with fight or flight than it is about self-expression. It can also happen when I'm preoccupied - thinking about something else and not fully focused on the subject I'm talking about.

    In short, I'd say you have nothing to worry about. :)

  • INTP here too- same issue:) I mix sharps and flats in music around too when I hear someone tuning- a sound which I associate to be "sharp" is in actuality flat.

  • Nice one

  • My wife has this issue. It was shocking the first time it happened while I was driving and she was giving me directions. She would give me the exact opposite direction to turn and become incensed when I didn't do it. At first I was afraid she had had a stroke or had a brain tumor. I was so relieved to learn that it isn't anything serious. She was relieved as well.

  • Great article, I often confuse the right for the left...

  • I am a right handed person and don't have any trouble or confusion between left/right directions. Once in a while, I practice writing with my left hand just for fun.

  • Woah, so relieved that I'm not alone in this. I've been too hard on myself with this issue. I've been terrified my whole life that someone will eventually figure out this glitch in my system..

    I literally freeze up every time I'm instructed to do this and that with my left / right..
    Sometimes, I even confuse real simple stuff, like clockwise and counter-clockwise, greater than and less than sign, etc.

    This is a really great read by the way, great job!

  • I'm was so embarrassed I didn't tell many people. When I went for my drivers test 15 some years ago, my confusion got me failed. The instructor called out right and I went into a middle Lane!!. I have not been able to go back. I also have that number confusion thing. I have to quadruple check if I'm banking. I have made deposits into wrong accounts before. It becomes a mission to rectify.

  • Good read!

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