Artwork by Ahmed Gamal
Relationship Between Handedness and Academic Performance in Primary School
by Yonas Ackholm
Handedness throughout the ages has been a subject marred by controversy. The left-handed phenomenon is scantly researched. As a result, many traditions and superstitions in several different cultures have developed a negative attitude towards left-handers. Culture and religion play a role in the determination of hand preference, with the left hand usually being an indicator of evil. As a result, left-handers face prejudice and discrimination from the predominantly right-handed society. The word left is derived from the Latin form “Sinistro”; literally meaning sinister.
Corren (1992) explains these views of left-handers by tracing them to the Anglo-Saxon word “Lyft” which means “broken, foolish or “weak”. In Japan, having a left-handed wife was sufficient grounds for a divorce. For thousands of years, the devil has been depicted as being left-handed, thus causing the left-hand to being associated with evil. Muslims are forbidden to touch any holy scripture with the left-hand, as it is believed to be unclean. This view is universal with Christianity as well it is depicted in both the Quran and the Bible that God's chosen ones? sit on His right-hand sidewhile the ruined on His left (Coren, 1992).
1.1 Theoretical Background
Left-handedness is the preference and ability to use the left hand more efficiently than the right hand. “The activity of the right and left side of the body is different due to unequal construction of the brain hemispheres that innervate the body functions” (Kula 2008: 60). If the right hemisphere was dominant, the left hand, foot, eye and ear would be more efficient and on the other hand, dominance of the left hemisphere would cause the right side of the body to be more efficient (Meyer, 1998). “The dominant hand is more accurate and flexible; it also expresses individual and emotional peculiarities better” (Kula 2008: 60). For the majority of people around the world the right-hand is dominant and for about 10% it is the left-hand (Meyer, 1998). The number of left-handers is dependent on several factors such as age, gender and genetic background (Llaurens, Raymond & Faurie, 2008). There are 2-3 times as many left-handed males as there are females (Meyer,1998). Researchers such as Llaurens et al (2008), McManus (1991), and McKeever (2000) believe that genetics play a major role. Results show a strong hereditary connection to handedness; two right handed parents produce fewer left-handed offspring than parents with any other handedness combination and two left-handed parents produce the highest number of left-handed children in the range of 30%-40% (McManus 1991; Mckeever 2000). Table 1 shows the frequency of left-handed writers in families according to parental handedness and sex of offspring (Results adapted from McKeever (2000)). Numbers in brackets indicate sample sizes (total 8605), L, left, and R, right.
1.2 Learning Difficulties Associated With Handedness
The belief that handedness impacts intelligence is highly controversial and to the researcher’s best knowledge no evidence as of yet exists to support that argument. According to (Kopietz & Sommer, 1999), left-handers are more creative, have a more developed visual memory and learn foreign languages quicker and better when compared to right-handers. However, research in Finland shows that left-handers do worse academically than their right-handed counterparts. In particular, left-handed boys-this is due to the fact that the neuro-physiological development of boys is slower than that of girls. “Boys experience slower development of the brain, especially the left-brain hemisphere: therefore the development of brain hemisphere asymmetry is also slower” (Kula, 2008:61). The central nervous system of boys is biologically susceptible to disturbances. This could explain why most left-handers are boys (Kansanes & Lauerman, 1993). Paul (2002) believes that as of yet there are no standard systems to help left-handed pupils and the statistics show that left-handers have more problems in the classroom than right handers of the same age.
1.3 Research Objectives
The purpose of this research is to study the relation if any between handedness and academic performance in primary school. The research would also find the number of left-handers in proportional to the total number of students surveyed as well as gender proportion. Furthermore the research aims to discover if teachers have any knowledge regarding handedness.
525 students from Wesgreen International School Primary section in Sharjah, United Arab Emirates were used for the research. 297 from grade 3 spread across 12 sections and 230 from grade 4 spread across 10 sections. The participants ages ranged from 8-11 years old. Approximately half of all students researched were female, around 51%, while males represented 49%. The final sample consists of all left-handed children and an equivalent number of right-handed children, and gender balance is applied. This age group was selected to not only satisfy the purpose of this research but also because what influences pupils at this age will likely form a foundation for their future learning. Furthermore 22 teachers each representing a section were interviewed and asked 3 questions. One class section was discarded from the final results as the teacher refused to participate.
2.2 Interviews and Statistics
Teachers were asked 3 questions: to provide the number of left-handed pupils in their class and their gender, if they believed handedness impacted academic performance, and if they have any knowledge or training regarding handedness. The department heads of each respective grade were visited in order to receive the grades of left-handed students in the subjects of art, math, and English language and compare them to right-handed sample of similar size. (Refer to appendix)
2.3 Data Analysis
To analyze the data of the statistics and interviews, the following graphs are used: column percentages and row percentages that compare past findings with present findings, bar graphs, and tables and pie charts to illustrate results.
3. Results and Analysis
The analysis showed that the 22 teachers involved in this research guided 525 students, 257 males and 268 females. Forty six of them were left-handed, that is, approximately 9 percent of the total student body examined. This caused the final sample size to be 92 students (46 left-handed and 46 right-handed). The studies of Paul (2002) confirm these results. In the current study 28 males were left-handed and 18 females were left-handed (5.3% and 3.4% respectively).There was a higher number of male left-handers in proportion to right-handers and this is again confirmed by the studies of Paul (2002).
The results of the research are compared here in tables 2 and 3, which show that the findings of the research are consistent with other findings in the literature on handedness.
Table 2 shows the frequency of handedness in primary school. (Results adapted from Johnston, Nicholls, Shah & Shields, 2009). Total sample size (10,000).
The results of the pie charts further illustrate the findings of the research and correspond to the findings and studies of Paul (2002) and Leppik (1997).
The results show that left-handers slightly have the edge over their right-handed counterparts although the difference is not sufficiently significant. Furthermore, in response to the three questions asked of them, that is, 1) To name and number the left-handers in their classes and their genders, 2) If they believed handedness impacted a child’s performance at school, 3) If they have ever received any training on handedness, teachers universally failed to answer question 1 with the exception of one teacher who stated that she believed that her left-handed students performed better, but she did not know why. Unanimously, they believed that handedness had nothing to do with academic performance. Lastly, all teachers stated they have never received any training with regards to handedness.
According to the research 8.8% of all students researched were left-handed which is well in line with findings of (Kula, 2008; Paul, 2002 & Leppik, 1997) the larger percentage of left-handers being male as opposed to female. The research also shows that there are almost twice as many left-handed boys as there are girls again in line with the results of Kula (2008) and Paul (2002) who argue that the central nervous system of boys is more biologically susceptible to disturbances that lead to left-handedness as compared to girls. This results in a higher percentage of boys being left-handed.
Left-handers performed slightly better or the same as their right-handed counterparts, in art, math, and English language. These results contradict the theoretical research of Paul (2002) and Kansanes & Lauerman (1993) who state that the reason for persistent learning difficulties is slower mental development, which can be due to the physiological peculiarities of a child whose brain hemisphere functions develop later. The differences in performance between left-handers and right-handers in all three subjects can be explained using Kopietz and Sommer’s (1999) research, which says that left-handers do better in the areas of learning languages, music, and art, due to them being more creative and possessing a better visual memory. This helps with the development of reading and mathematical skills. It is important to note that the largest difference in performance in the current research was in English language due to the fact that English is not many of the students’ first language. Kopietz and Sommer (1999) confirm that left-handers learn foreign languages better. However, due to time constraints this correlation was not explored further. Moreover, a combination of gender and handedness seems to also affect performance; namely, left-handed females who outperformed all their peers academically. However this too was not further explored due to time constraints.
The interviews revealed that teachers have insufficient knowledge and therefore the skills to assist students when it comes to matters of handedness. Teachers need training in matters related to handedness in order to support the strengths and weakness of left-handed children to develop at the same pace as other handed children when the need arises.
This research set out to discover if there was a link between handedness and academic performance, and we have seen that the number of left-handed students used in this research was consistent with other research both statistic wise and gender wise. Furthermore, we have seen that the handedness does impact academic performance, but only to a certain extent. There seems to be a link that exists; nonetheless, this warrants future research. Moreover, we have seen that teachers have little to no knowledge regarding handedness.
However, this research is not without shortcomings. First, the sample size was too small to truly provide fully accurate information. Future research will need to try this research with a larger sample than the sample of 86 which was used for this research since it was insignificant for a topic of this size. Second, the age of the participants might have been too old as some of the participants may have adapted academically. Furthermore, the interviews although more informative quality wise, should have been supplemented with a questionnaire in order to better back up the results. Last, due to time constraints, two important aspects that arose during the research were not investigated: the ability of left-handed children to learn languages better and faster than their right-handed counterparts, and the combination of handedness and gender on academic performance. I propose that this research is repeated with a larger sample and that the link between handedness and gender be further explored.
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Yonas Ackholm is a senior International Studies student pursuing a concentration in International Economics at the American University of Sharjah. He is passionate about writing, and truly believes it is enjoyment that separates ordinary writing from phenomenal writing. Yonas is a major Taylor Swift fan.