As any schoolboy could tell you, winning fights enhances your status. If, in prehistory, this translated into increased reproductive success, it might have been enough to maintain a certain proportion of left-handers in the population, by balancing the costs of being left-handed with the advantages gained in fighting. If that is true, then there will be a higher proportion of left-handers in societies with higher levels of violence, since the advantages of being left-handed will be enhanced in such societies. Dr Faurie and Dr Raymond [the authors of the hypothesis] set out to test this hypothesis.
By trawling the literature, checking with police departments, and even going out into the field and asking people, the two researchers found that the proportion of left-handers in a traditional society is, indeed, correlated with its homicide rate. One of the highest proportions of left-handers, for example, was found among the Yanomamo of South America. Raiding and warfare are central to Yanomamo culture. The murder rate is 4 per 1,000 inhabitants per year (compared with, for example, 0.068 in New York). And, according to Dr Faurie and Dr Raymond, 22.6% of Yanomamo are left-handed. In contrast, Dioula-speaking people of Burkina Faso in West Africa are virtual pacifists. There are only 0.013 murders per 1,000 inhabitants among them and only 3.4% of the population is left-handed.
Saturday, December 11, 2004
Beware of left-handers
The Economist tells us why left-handedness is rare but not extinct. According to a new study, it’s because, in prehistory, left-handedness conferred an evolutionary advantage to those who possessed it, but only if there were few in number. As the report puts it, “the strategic advantage of being left-handed in a fight is very real, simply because most right-handed people have little experience of fighting left-handers, but not vice versa. And the same competitive advantage is enjoyed by left-handers in other sports, such as tennis and cricket.” The report continues: