Are your values right or left? The answer is more literal than you think

Up equals good, happy, optimistic; down the opposite. Right is honest and trustworthy. Left, not so much. That's what language and culture tell us. "We use mental metaphors to structure our thinking about abstract things," says psychologist Daniel Casasanto, "One of those metaphors is space."

But we don't all think right is right, Casasanto has found. Rather, "people associate goodness with the side they can act more fluently on." Right-handed people prefer the product, job applicant, or extraterrestrial positioned to their right. Lefties march to a left-handed drummer. And those linguistic tropes? They probably "enshrine the preferences of the right-handed majority."

Casasanto, of The New School for Social Research, and Evangelia G. Chrysikou, of the University of Pennsylvania, wanted to find the causes of these correlations. Does motor experience "give rise to these preferences, or are they hardwired in the ?" If the former, "how flexible are these preferences? How much motor experience does it take" to instill them?

Their surprising findings are published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for .

To investigate the first question, the researchers recruited 13 right-handed patients who'd suffered cerebral injuries that weakened or paralyzed one side of their bodies. Five remained right-handed. The rest lost their right side and became effectively left-handed. The patients were shown a cartoon of a character's head between two empty boxes and told that he loves zebras and thinks they are good, but hates pandas and thinks they're bad (or vice versa). Then they were asked to say which animal they preferred and which box, left or right, they'd put it in.

All the patients who were still right-handed put the "good" animal in the right box. All but one of the new lefties put it in the left.

Could these results be explained by neural rewiring? To rule out that possibility, the researchers experimented with 53 healthy righties. They asked 26 to wear a ski glove on the left hand and 27 on the right. The experimenters attached the other glove to the same wrist, letting it dangle. In a putative dexterity test, participants were instructed to pull dominos from a box, two at a time using one hand for each, and place them symmetrically on dots spaced across a table. If a domino fell, they were to set it aright with the appropriate hand only.

They were then escorted to another room and administered three questionnaires (two fillers), supposedly irrelevant to the first task. In one, the participants performed the same animal-box task as the brain-injured patients.

Three-quarters of those with ungloved right hands put the good animal in the right box, two-thirds of the temporary lefties in the left. How much motor experience did it take to switch their loyalties? About 12 minutes' worth.

What does it all mean? "People generally believe that their judgments are rational and their concepts are stable," says Casasanto. "But if a few minutes of gentle training can flip our judgments about what's good or bad, then perhaps the mind is more malleable than people think."

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

A glove on your hand can change your mind

Mar 10, 2011

(PhysOrg.com) -- Unconsciously, right-handers associate good with the right side of space and bad with the left. But this association can be rapidly changed, according to a study published online March 9, ...

Lefty or Righty? A new hold on how we think

Aug 06, 2009

(PhysOrg.com) -- Whether you’re a lefty or righty, chances are you never thought your dominant hand played a role in the decisions you make. But what may seem as an unimportant trait might actually influence ...

Good and bad in the hands of politicians

Jul 29, 2010

"In laboratory tests, right- and left-handers associate positive ideas like honesty and intelligence with their dominant side of space and negative ideas with their non-dominant side," says Daniel Casasanto ...

To remember the good times, reach for the sky

Mar 31, 2010

A study published in the April issue of Cognition shows that motor actions can partly determine people's emotional memories. Moving marbles upward caused participants to remember more positive life experiences, and moving ...

Recommended for you

Brains transform remote threats into anxiety

Nov 21, 2014

Modern life can feel defined by low-level anxiety swirling through society. Continual reports about terrorism and war. A struggle to stay on top of family finances and hold onto jobs. An onslaught of news ...

Mental disorders due to permanent stress

Nov 21, 2014

Activated through permanent stress, immune cells will have a damaging effect on and cause changes to the brain. This may result in mental disorders. The effects of permanent stress on the immune system are studied by the ...

Could there be a bright side to depression?

Nov 21, 2014

(Medical Xpress)—A group of researchers studying the roots of depression has developed a test that leads them closer to the idea that depression may actually be an adaptation meant to help people cope with ...

User comments

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

frajo
5 / 5 (1) Apr 14, 2011
And those linguistic tropes? They probably "enshrine the preferences of the right-handed majority."

Casasanto, of The New School for Social Research, and Evangelia G. Chrysikou, of the University of Pennsylvania, wanted to find the causes of these correlations.
Assuming that Evangelia Chrysikou ("Golden Eve") knows Greek I'm astonished she didn't consider the Greek words "aristera" ("left-hand") and "aristos" ("optimal/best").
And, of course, they should repeat the experiments with Greek participants.

All languages are not equal. This influences thinking:
There is no word in the English language which can convey the meaning of the Greek "dikaiosyni" (or the German "Gerechtigkeit"). None of the six English nouns listed by Google Translator (justice, righteousness, equity, fairness, justness, impartiality) does the job.

How many languages might be out there where the left-right difference is denoted by referring to the position of the heart?
ZephirAWT
Apr 14, 2011
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
ryggesogn2
1 / 5 (1) Apr 14, 2011
There seems to be quite few article being posted here that somehow tie a political POV to some physical measurement.
What is the motivation of the 'research' or of physorg posting?
Is it some way to claim those opposed to them politically have some sort of medical condition that MUST be treated? That only if all these 'disabled' people would obtain the proper govt medical care the political opposition to 'progressive' would be reduced or eliminated?
To 'progressives', it's your message that is disabled, not your intended victims.
ZephirAWT
Apr 14, 2011
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
ryggesogn2
1 / 5 (2) Apr 14, 2011
the mind is more malleable than people think."

'Progressives' can only hope.
Skeptic_Heretic
not rated yet Apr 15, 2011
the mind is more malleable than people think."

'Progressives' can only hope.

No, we know it is. We've seen yours manipulated so many times by talk show hosts that it's quite obvious.
ryggesogn2
1 / 5 (2) Apr 15, 2011
the mind is more malleable than people think."

'Progressives' can only hope.

No, we know it is. We've seen yours manipulated so many times by talk show hosts that it's quite obvious.


People on the right have generally been called and call themselves 'conservative'.
People on the left can't seem to make up their minds. 100 years ago they were 'progressives'. Then when they became unpopular they called themselves 'liberal'. Now that is the 'l' word and 'progressive' is back in vogue.
Of course the message from the left has not changed: collectivism, statism, socialism.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.