Massachusetts and Vermont Have a Lot of Lefties

One set of data suggests there are higher proportions of lefties in Massachusetts and Vermont than in any other states.

Associated Press

Associated Press

It is Left Handers Day, and there’s some evidence to suggest that this is a bigger deal in Massachusetts than in other states.

First off … Left Hander Day? According to the official site, since 1992, August 13th has been the official day for lefties to “celebrate their sinistrality and increase public awareness of the advantages and disadvantages of being left-handed.” Those advantages and disadvantages are constantly being noted and weighed against each other, but most studies agree that about 10 percent of the population is left-handed. Does that rate vary geographically, though?

There isn’t a ton of data comparing handedness across U.S. states (it’s a pretty specific research question, after all) But, according to a 2009 paper in Language Lateralisation and Psychosis  by I.C. McManus, one set of data from 1992 showed that Massachusetts had the second highest rate of left-handedness in the United States.

This was determined because in 1992, National Geographic Magazine put a scratch-and-sniff card inside an issue on olfaction along with a survey asking a bunch of questions, including which hand a respondent used to write and which hand she used to throw. The card also asked respondents for a zip code, making it possible for researchers to later use the data to map handedness across the United States. This revealed that the 10 percent rule does not hold steady across states. In fact, McManus writes, “The highest rates of left-handedness are in the north-east, in Maine, Vermont, Massachusetts, and Connecticut, whereas the lowest rates are in the mid-West, in Wyoming and North Dakota.”

Specifically, 13.2 percent of Massachusetts respondents were lefties. That figure was second only to Vermont’s 13.3 percent. (If the Simpsons really do live in Springfield, Vermont, as the movie marketing suggested, then Ned Flanders’s Leftorium has as better chance of survival there as anywhere else.) Meanwhile, in North Dakota, just 9.7 percent of respondents were lefties.

The reasons for this are unclear. McManus believed that geographic differences are explained mostly by genetic differences in populations, not a bias against lefties that causes some cultures to suppress their natural handedness. But the paper also found that geographic differences didn’t hold steady through time. Earlier in the 20th century, rural states seemed to have higher incidents of left-handedness. So we should add that in the decades that have passed since the National Geographic data was collected, things could have changed. Regardless, we know that Massachusetts was, at least at one point, a hotbed of sinistrality. So a happy Left Hander Day to you all.

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