Jingle cash

Natural born killers

Evolutionary theory has long been puzzled by left-handedness. Southpaws are in the minority, and they get into many more accidents than do the right-handed; in the modern context, this is partly because so many quasi-lethal tools are engineered primarily for right-handed use. So the question is, given that left-handedness is so dangerous to one’s health, why haven’t southpaws evolutionarily vanished?

Possibly because southpaws are extremely good at one thing: Killin’ people. In a recent Proceedings of the Royal Society, professors Charlotte Faurie and Michel Raymond published a study noting that left-handed people traditionally excel at combat sports, such as fencing and boxing, because their attacks so flummox the majority of opponents who are overaccustomed to right-handed attacks. They theorized further that this would mean that societies prone to violence would have an overabundance of left-handed people. When they gathered some data, it seemed to support their hypothesis; as The Economist summarized their findings:

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.

You can read the actual paper itself online here in PDF format.

(Thanks to John for this one!)

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I'm Clive Thompson, the author of Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Minds for the Better (Penguin Press). You can order the book now at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Powells, Indiebound, or through your local bookstore! I'm also a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine and a columnist for Wired magazine. Email is here or ping me via the antiquated form of AOL IM (pomeranian99).

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