Do left-handers possess superior spatial skills?

Extensive gaming study debunks long-standing debate


Researchers from the University of York and University College London have conducted a groundbreaking study that challenges the widely held belief that left-handers possess superior spatial skills. By utilizing a video game that captured user information and tracked navigational challenges, the research team examined the demographic data and activity of over 420,000 participants from 41 different countries.

Spatial skills, which involve perceiving and navigating the physical environment, have long been associated with handedness. However, the study's findings reveal that left-handers are neither better nor worse than their right-handed counterparts when it comes to spatial tasks. This discovery puts an end to the ongoing debate surrounding the relationship between handedness and spatial abilities.

The brain's two hemispheres control opposite sides of the body, meaning that left-handed individuals have their dominant hand controlled by the right hemisphere, while right-handers have their dominant hand controlled by the left hemisphere. Cognitive abilities and patterns of lateralisation, the specialization of brain regions, differ between right and left handers. Therefore, discussions about cognitive differences related to handedness often revolve around the effects of brain lateralisation on cognitive abilities.

Spatial cognition, a fundamental set of brain-based skills, does not clearly favor either hemisphere. This has left scientists uncertain about any potential links between spatial skills and handedness. Although some inconclusive research has suggested that left-handers may have an advantage in navigating virtual and real games, it has been challenging to study this topic due to variations in handedness prevalence across different cultures. Additionally, testing for handedness effects requires a significant number of participants.

To overcome these obstacles, the researchers employed the video game "Sea Hero Quest," which measures spatial navigational ability and originally aimed to contribute to dementia research. Participants were asked to navigate a boat towards goal locations on a map as quickly as possible. Only those who reached level 11 of the game were included in the study.

Dr. Pablo Fernandez-Velasco, a researcher at the University of York and co-leader of the study, explained that recruiting participants through a video game allowed them to standardize the test across a vast sample size. The study revealed no reliable evidence of any difference in spatial ability between left and right-handers across all countries. Furthermore, the large data sample confirmed that factors such as age, gender, and education do not impact the relationship between hand preference and spatial ability.

While the research indicates that left and right-handers do not differ significantly in terms of spatial skills, Dr. Fernandez-Velasco suggests that further investigation may uncover differences in navigation styles or preferences for different types of environments based on handedness.

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