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10 Fascinating Facts You Never Knew About Ambidextrous People

A tiny fraction of the population can use both hands with equal skill. Here's the biology behind this cool ability, plus some other tidbits you never knew.

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There are very, very few of them

Truly ambidextrous people only make up about 1 percent of the population. People who have no dominant hand, and can use both hands with equal skill, are about 1 in 100, though many people who are left-handed can use their non-dominant hand nearly as well as their dominant one.

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There are a couple of variations

The rarest form of ambidexterity is when people can use both hands with strong skill, all the time. These people can be called “ambidextral,” which means “pertaining equally to the right-hand side and the left-hand side.” There are other people, however, who don’t have equal skill with both hands but who use their right hands for some things and their left hands for others. Another term altogether, “ambisinistral,” refers to people who have no dominant hand, and use both hands… but neither hand is very strong. As Mental Floss puts it, both hands have the approximate skill of a right-hander’s left hand. Here are 14 hilarious tweets all lefties will relate to.

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It’s all in your head

Ambidexterity indicates that the left and right sides of that person’s brain are pretty much symmetrical (which is true for lefties, too!) On the other hand, right-handed people tend to be left-brain dominant. Here’s more about how your brain determines which hand you prefer.

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Many of them started out as lefties

Since ambidextrous and leftie brains are so similar, it’s only natural for one to start out as the other. For hundreds of years, there was quite a stigma surrounding left-handedness, as the left hand carried Biblical associations with witchcraft and demons. The word “sinister” comes from the Latin word “sinistra,” which originally meant “left.” Many left-handed people, from the Middle Ages to the 21st century, experienced pressure to use their right hands instead and ended up developing ambidexterity. Other people, meanwhile, may become ambidextrous after injuring their dominant hand.

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Academia may not be their strong suit

Surprisingly, even though this skill is so connected to the brain, ambidextrous people tend to be more in tune with their physical abilities than their mental ones. It may be for this reason that they tend to perform more poorly on general intelligence tests than people who favor one hand. In a Finnish study, seven- and eight-year-old children completed several different academic tests. 87 out of the 8000 participants were comfortable using both hands. The ambidextrous students were 90 percent more likely than the right-handed ones to struggle with math problems and were also more likely to have difficulties with language.

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It also has ties to ADHD…

In the same Finnish study, left-handed and ambidextrous teenagers were twice as likely as right-handers to show signs of ADHD. Of the teenagers in the study who’d already been diagnosed with ADHD, the ambidextrous ones showed more severe symptoms.

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…and schizophrenia

The gene that contributes strongly to left-handedness, LRRTM1, also increases a person’s risk for schizophrenia. Since left-handed and ambidextrous people’s brains are so similar, ambidextrous people are at a higher risk for the condition as well. On the flip side, schizophrenics are far more likely to be left-handed or ambidextrous than the rest of the population. Here are other hidden dangers that come with being left-handed.

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They’ve got skills and their share of famous representatives

Ambidexterity tends to give people a major advantage in activities such as music, art, and sports. Leonardo da Vinci, Ben Franklin, and Albert Einstein are some of history’s most famous ambis. (Franklin signed the Declaration of Independence with his left hand!) Maroon 5 frontrunner Adam Levine, while not totally ambidextrous, writes with his left hand but does most other things with his right. Figure skater Michelle Kwan and LeBron James are just two of the many athletes skilled at using both hands.

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Their emotions are more adaptable

According to a Montclair State University study, ambidextrous people are more likely to experience a change in their emotions based on their surroundings. The authors of the study tried to trigger certain emotions in the participants. Right-handed people tended to be more resistant to the rapid emotional change than the left- and multi-handed participants.

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Ambidexterity often comes hand-in-hand with synesthesia

The brains of ambidextrous people tend to be pretty symmetrical—a trait they share with people who have synesthesia. If you’ve ever heard about people being able to hear colors, feel physical sensations that other people are feeling, or even associate numbers with personalities, all of those sensations are variations of synesthesia. This fascinating brain condition triggers more than one of the five senses at once. A person with synesthesia is far more likely to be left-handed or ambidextrous than the average person is. Now that you’ve learned about all the amazing things about ambidextrous, check out the 25 famous left-handed people you probably never knew before.

[Sources: Mental Flossmindamuse.comNational Geographic, wisegeek.com]

Meghan Jones
Meghan Jones is a word nerd who has been writing for RD.com since 2017. You can find her byline on pieces about grammar, fun facts, the meanings of various head-scratching words and phrases, and more. Meghan graduated from Marist College with a Bachelor of Arts in English in 2017; her creative nonfiction piece “Anticipation” was published in the Spring 2017 issue of Angles literary magazine.