Q&A: Right-Hand Man

Daniel Casasanto on the flexibility of the human mind

By Katherine Schreiber, published on July 3, 2012 - last reviewed on June 9, 2016

 Daniel Casasanto

Think your attitudes and opinions are pretty much fixed? Try holding your pen with the other hand. PT blogger Daniel Casasanto, Ph.D., a psychologist at the New School for Social Research, has found evidence that slight changes in what we do with our bodies can significantly alter how we understand and react to the world around us.

What's the big idea?

The way we use our bodies causes our minds to develop along unique trajectories, rather than along some universally preprogrammed course. Our understanding of certain words, our attitudes, and our decisions are largely influenced by individual physical experiences with our environments.

What are some examples of how this works?

People who are right-handed tend to evaluate images, objects, and information more favorably if they appear on their right side. The opposite is the case for lefties.

Is this preference fixed?

No. When lefties and righties had to use their nondominant hand to do simple tasks (like picking up objects), the sides they previously considered good and bad reversed.

What are some applications of these findings?

One of our studies found that a job candidate who appears on the dominant side of an evaluator is judged in a more positive light than a candidate who appears on the evaluator's nondominant side. Recruiters and applicants may both want to keep this in mind!

How does this expand our understanding of the human experience?

The mind is more malleable and individualized than we previously thought. As we asymmetrically interact with the physical world, we come to associate goodness with the side of our bodies that most fluently carries out tasks. A slight difference in how you engage your environment can alter your perception of it.