Mind Your Body: Side Effects

Why your left and right sides matter.

By Sonya Sobieski, published on January 1, 2010 - last reviewed on June 9, 2016


Our brains are cross-wired: The right half controls the left side of the body and the left hemisphere controls the right. But there are some tasks that one side of the brain—and its attendant, opposing side of the body—perform better.


Whisper Sweet Somethings

Got a secret? Tell it to your confidant's left ear. Words with emotional import are heard more clearly when sent directly to the touchy-feely right hemisphere, says Teow-Chong Sim, a psychologist at Sam Houston State University. All signals travel to both hemispheres eventually—just not with the same sensitivity.

Hold Steady

Don't discount your non-dominant side. In right-handers, the left arm has a better sense of itself in space, known as proprioception. While your eyes attend to fine motor tasks performed by your right hand, your left can rely on nonvisual feedback—say, holding a nail still while your right hammers it. (The effect is reversed in left-handers, who need a steady right hand holding the nail.)

Cuddle Up

Human beings have a "left-side cradling bias": Most of us hold infants so their heads nestle in our left elbows. Positioned this way, babies' facial expressions are processed first by the caregiver's emotional right brain, allowing for faster communication of the babies' needs and stronger bonding.


Be Recognized

Don't worry about that zit on your left cheek; the right side of your face is the one others notice most. In fact, if you take a picture of your right half and pair it with a mirror image, it will look more like you than two left halves put together, says Olivier Pascalis, a psychologist at the the University of Sheffield. Why? Primates innately look first at the top left of their visual field. Once identity is established, why keep going?

Get Your Facts Straight

Nonemotional information is processed more effi-ciently when heard by the right ear, since it speeds first to the organizational, fact-handling left hemisphere. So if you're asking for driving directions, get out of the car. Or at least turn your head.

Control Yourself

Research subjects who tapped the fingers on their right hands for 30 to 45 seconds became less willing to engage in risky behaviors like drinking and driving. Right-side movement—a foot works as well as a finger—activates the risk-averse left hemisphere. These findings may be used to combat unhealthy eating behaviors, says Todd McElroy, a psychologist at Appalachian State University.

Ambidextrous = Democrat?

Strongly left- and right-handed people—about half the population—think differently from those who use their nondominant hand for some tasks.* Some traits of the strong-handed:

  • Less likely to update their beliefs based on new evidence
  • More likely to be creationists
  • Less likely to remember early childhood memories
  • Less sensitive to sensory illusions
  • Less likely to love M.C. Escher
  • Less tolerant of ambiguity
  • More homophobic
  • Less hypochondriacal

*Research by Stephen Christman of the University of Toledo and Christopher Niebauer of Slippery Rock University