Wednesday, August 18, 2010

When Life is Not Wonderful/ Hand Dominance/ What the Future Holds

School starts one week from today. I will still be in a cast, and my face will still be shades of purple and yellow from when I fell on my hosts' tile kitchen floor while I was trying to heat up instant oatmeal in their microwave and my crutch got caught between their tile and grout. Some people's bruises disappear fast. Mine don't. Since I have to go to school regardless, I'm going to be very mysterious about how the bruises got there. My brother pays little enough attention to me that I seriously doubt he's heard any discussion of how they got there -- he probably hasn't even noticed that my face is bruised, for that matter -- so he can't tell anyone how benign the incident really was.

I'm afraid of being knocked down and hurt again all over in the halls by people who are careless when they're in a hurry to get to one class from the next. It's bad enough with the cast on, but with it off, the danger of being reinjured is actually greater. The Utah doctor warned me not to break any fall with my right arm or I'll re-fracture my clavicle. What am I supposed to do? Just fall on my face again? It's a lose-lose proposition from every angle. If I were to break the fall with my left arm, I'd probably end up breaking that wrist, because non-dominant arms aren't as strong as dominamt arms. Let's see, a broken left wrist, or a re-fractured right clavicle? Which one would you choose?

I wonder why nature made it so that almost all of us have dominant and non-dominant hands/arms (and feet/legs for that matter, although it's less noticeable or significant). If one takes an evolutionary angle to view such things, were our less cerebral ancestors so dull-witted that they had a tough time directionally without hand dominance for reference? Did they even have dominant limbs then, or is THAT something that evolved later? Two summers ago at a summer camp I took a university-level course in motor learning. I did my research paper on hand dominance. I'm still a bit obsessed with the topic.

Many more people claim to be ambidextrous than actually are. It's something people like to be, for some odd reason. (Many people like to boast of being "legally blind" because their vision is 20/400 or worse without their glasses or contacts, too, but "legal blindness" by definition is vision of 20/400 or worse with correction . What a dumb thing to brag about, anyway.) Often it's a matter of their non-dominant hands being more coordinated than most of ours are. Then they perfect a particular skill with the non-dominant hand, and suddenly they're calling themselves "ambidextrous." The correct term for when one does some things with one hand and some with the other is technically ambilateral rather than ambidextrous, anyway. On the other hand, even if one had equal ability to master skills with either hand, the smarter thing, for the most part, would be to master a given skill with one hand, rather than spending time mastering it with both hands. That would then make most ambidextrous people ambilateral.Depending upon what skills a person was talking about mastering, it would be a waste of time to perfect every skill with both hands, anyway.

For some skills, there would be an advantage, as in hitting or throwing in baseball, or serving in tennis. For baseball, the ability to hit effectively from either side of the plate would give one a tremendous advantage against pitchers who have difficulty facing batters of a particular dominance. (Usually it's lefty hitters that give pitchers trouble.) Left-handed pitchers often bother batters as well, but mysteriously, the pitching advantage disappears when the batter is also left-handed. It's all a bit confusing to me. The main problem with any of this is that you would need to spend more time practicing to master the skill equally with both hands. Would that time be better spent becoming a super hitter with one's preferred hand? It would vary from case to case. Then we have the concept of "lateral transfer of learning" to consider. In theory, if you've mastred a skill with a particular hand, you have an advantage at mastering it with the other hand than you would have mastering the skill with the other hand if you'd never mastered the skill with either hand in the first place. The degree to which lateral transfer of learning exists varies from person to person, often depending upon cognitive intelligence and relative coordination of the non-preferred hand, but it exists to some degree in everyone. My father's idea in teaching my brother to hit, which my father didn't invent but read somewhere, was to teach my brother to hit first on the non-dominant side, which was left for my brother. Then once he had some degree of mastery in hitting as a lefty (my dad waited two years for my brother), he had him bat right-handed, and it came fairly naturally. This appproiach owrked for my brother, who finshed last season as a junior in high school baseball batting around .400.

Where throwing is concerned, there's less advantage. With pitching, for one thing, a baseball glove fits only the left or right hand. I believe there are baseball rules regarding keeping extra gloves on the mound, and I don't think players and coaches are allowed to randomly toss gloves back and forth for exchange purposes. On the other hand, if the team at bat put in a pinch hitter who was a lefty, and the pitcher could also pitch as a lefty, a trip to the mound could be used to exchange a glove. (Coaches' trips to the mound are limited per inning in all but little peewee leagues for children below the age of eight, and must be used judiciously.) Also, in leagues where pitchers' innings aren't limited, if a player's arm tires, he could switch gloves between innings and be fresh for a few more innings with the other arm. Overall, for reasons of practicality and practice time, switch-pitching idn't one-hundredth as common as switch-hitting. it might be adantageous for a quarterback to be able to throw with either arm in football. Still, this sort of thing is a rarity. i don't think it's ever been seen in the NFL. The difference between success in switch-hitting and switch-throwing could likjely be accounted for in the degree of arm strength required for throwing, and that throwing is a skill that is accomplished entirely with one arm independently, where, in hitting, both arms work together to accomplish the task, so with the other hand assisting, arm strength isn't quite such a factor. (Batting left-handed for a righ-hander is much like hitting a two-handed backhand for a right-handed tennis player, which is practically the norm in tennis ever since the days of Chris evert and Jimmy Connors.)

Where tennis is concerned, some people have thought that there would be an advantage to hitting groundstrokes or volleys in tennis with either hand, which would leave the player hitting entirely forehands -- the preferred groundstroke for most players. Preference of forehand to backhand notwithstanding, a forehand does have more extension. atill, the fraction of time it takes to change the racquet from one hand to the other would cost a person. In the long run, developing a good backhand would be more advantageous. With two-handed backhands being the norm, it's not all that hard to master the backhand stroke. The theorectical idea of mastering the tennis serve with either hand could offer some benefits. Spins and curves would come in the opposite direction, which is confusing to the player receiving the serve. A glove to catch balls is not needed in tennis, so that wouldn't be a drawback as in baseball. One identical disadvantage to throwing, especially pitching, is that it's a task accomplished entirely one-handed, and a strength factor is involved. (A tennis serve is fundamentally a throwing motion.) Few people theoretically possess the strength in a non-dominant hand to master the skill of serving effectively in tennis. On the other hand, when a person's dominant hand is permanently disabled, he or she usually masters the skills anyone else has with his or her non-dominant hand. That would indicate that if a person cared enough to put in the time, skills such as throwing or serving could ultimately be mastered with the non-dominant hand. Not too many people want to put in that much time, though.

In many sports, there is no advantage or disadvantage to using one hand or another. In golf, for example, each player hits his own hots and is not reactive to anything about the other player's strokes. Each player is just trying to hit the ball into the hole using fewer trokes than anyone else. There's the practical disadvantage to a lefty of beeding equipment made for left-handed golfers, and of left-handed golf clubs being not as available, but for the most part, lefty clubs can usuaully be rented and can always be ordered for purchase.

Extending the idea of dominance in handedness from sports to music (I'll focus on the piano, because that's what I know most about), fingers on both hands have to play the keys. Because of the configuration of the piano, with the higher-pitched keys being to the right, the melody of a song is mostly played with the right hand. The accompanying notes may be more or less difficult than the melody, which gives a left-handed pianist no advantage or disadvantage. Mozart wrote many piano pieces using rapid movement of the fingers of the left hand, for which left-handedness might give one an edge. bach keyboard works usually require the right hand and left hand to play the very same lines of music at different times. A truly ambidextrous pianist probably pprefers palying th music of bach to the music of other composers. Regarding other instruments, some are played the same way, while others are played different ly by right- or left-handers.
That could be considered in choosing an instrument.

Exactly why I digressed for seven paragraphs on the motor-learning subtopic of dominance or handedness is probably because I didn't want to think about real issues facing me. I'm still eager to get this awful cast off my leg, but I'm worried about how it will look. Some of the lesions from the infection may have scarred. I'll have to use that scar-fading cream on them. Does it actually work? Then there are the scars from the surgeries themselves. Will my right leg look as though it has railroad tracks running and lunar craters all over it? Probably, but that is the least of my concerns. Will it be straight? When I'm allowed to put weight on it approximately three weeks after the cast comes off, will I have much trouble regaining the ability to walk? Will it be the same length as the other leg? With physical therapy, will I ever run as fast or hurdle as high as I did before? Will even my diving be impaired because of the strength of it? Will it look so awful that I'll lose points on my dives because it looks so ugly that the judges are subconsciously affected by the appearance? Even though girls wear long dresses to the prom, will any boy ever ask me when he knows how ugly my leg is?

I'll find out the answers to all these questions soon enough, I suppose.


  1. I've noted that Benjamin uses both of his hands while eating, drawing, and throwing a ball. My friend, Katie's dad insists that Ben is going to be a left handed pitcher for some baseball team. We'll see. :)

  2. He's three, isn't he? Often boys especially haven't established dominance by then. He could go either way. My mom would say if she were talking to me (which she isn't) that you should still let him make the choice, but that the sooner he chooses, the better for his overall development. Still, they have five-year-olds entering kindergarten who haven't picked a hand yet. Learning is more difficult early on for kids who have no hand dominance. (If they figure out their own code for directionality, they'll be fine regardless.)Left-handed is good for pitching or hitting, but not so good for other strong-side baseball positions(mainly third base and shortstop0. They can play catcher or first base, and I'm not sure if it matters in the outfield. It's really good for pitching and hittig. i don't think it makes any difference for football. A team has to reconfigure plays for a lefty quartrback. but it's not that big a deal.

    My mother is still mad at me becuase of the question I asked JA. She cancelled my appointment because she said she had a meeting (She didn't even ask to see if my aunt could take me, and by the time I suggested it, it was too late and the appt. was postponed.) I now have to wait until Tuesday, August 31 all because of a meeting I don't even believe she really has. My mother is vindictive. I wish she would break her leg and have to have a cast for a really long time.

  3. Hi Princess,
    I'm not sure what that part about handed- ness was all about, but you certainly don't sound happy. i know you've had a string of rotten luck, but it can't last forever. I'll see what I can do about the appointment change. I'll talk to your orthopedist and call your orthopedist in Utah. Aunt Heather will pick you up in the morning so you can hang out here for a day or so. We'll have an ultrasound done tomorrow to check on the progress.

    Whatever that nonsense was with your judge correspondent, it can't be that serious. I read what you wrote. You probably would have been better off if you had not written it, but it wasn't all that bad. Maybe his wife reads his Twitter account and maybe she was offended.
    Your dad's out of town until tomorrow, so he can't do much to help you tonight. It sounds like your mom is getting sick. That still doesn't give her good reason to take it out on you. I know you don't really want her to break her leg, but I understand your anger. Is your brother giving you a hard time?
    Call me on my cell or home phone if you read this before midnight. I'd call you but I don't want to wake up your mom.
    Everything's going to be OK. I'll talk to you tonight or tomorrow.
    Uncle Steve