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Handedness and mathematical ability

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Researchers have suggested a link between handedness and ability with mathematics. This link has been proposed by Geschwind, Galaburda, Annett, and Kilshaw. The suggested link is that a brain without extreme bias towards locating language in the left hemisphere would have an advantage in mathematical ability.[1]

Body of researchEdit

Douglas studyEdit

However, experimental data have been found that are not consistent with this hypothesis. A 1967 study by Douglas, for example, found no evidence to correlate mathematical ability with non-right-handedness (i.e. left-handedness or ambidexterity). The study compared the people who came in the top 15% of a mathematics examination with those of moderate mathematical ability, and found that the two groups' handedness preferences were similar. However, it did find that those who came lowest in the test had mixed hand preferences. A study in 1979 by Peterson found a trend towards low rates of left-handedness in science students.[1]

Jones and Bell studyEdit

A 1980 study by Jones and Bell also obtained negative results. This study compared the handedness of a group of engineering students with strong mathematics skills against the handedness of a group of psychology students (of varying mathematics skills). In both cases, the distribution of handedness resembled that of the general population.[1]

Annett and Kilshaw studyEdit

Annett and Kilshaw themselves support their hypothesis with several examples, including a handedness questionnaire given to undergraduates. Annett observes that studies that depend from voluntary returns of a handedness questionnaire are going to be biased towards left-handedness, and notes that this was a weakness of the study. However, the results were that there were significantly more left-handers amongst male mathematics undergraduates than male non-mathematics undergraduates (21% versus 11%) and significantly more non-right-handers (44% versus 24%), and that there was a similar but smaller left-handedness difference for female undergraduates (11% versus 8%). Annett reports the results of this study as being consistent with the hypothesis, for explaining the cause of handedness, of an absent genetic right-shift factor.[1][2]

Other examples used by Annett include a study that observed the hand use of teachers of mathematics and other sciences from various universities and polytechnics, as they underwent a personal interview, compared to a control group comprising non-mathematics teachers. Again, a statistically significant difference was found for males, and again Annett states this to be consistent with the right-shift model. Further examples are a 1986 study by Benbow and a 1990 study by Temple of staff at the University of Oxford, which, Annett states, show not that there is a predominance of left-handers in talented groups, whether that talent be with mathematics or otherwise, but rather that there is a shortfall in such groups of people who are strongly right-handed.[2]


References Edit

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 D. V. M. Bishop (1990). Handedness and Developmental Disorder, 158–159, Cambridge University Press.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Marian Annett (2002). Handedness and Brain Asymmetry, 227–228, Psychology Press.

Further reading Edit

  • Ann M. Gallagher and James C. Kaufman (2005). Gender Differences in Mathematics: An Integrative Psychological Approach, Cambridge University Press.
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