5 Scientific Facts About Left-Footedness

Left-handedness is not the only form of side preference in humans.

Posted Feb 15, 2020

Pretty much everyone knows whether they are left- or right-handed (read my recent blog post on new scientific findings about left-handedness here). But did you know that handedness is not the only form of side preference humans show? 

For example, we also have a preferred side when kissing (read this blog post if you want to know more) or hugging (read this blog post if you want to know more). One of the most widely investigated forms of side preferences in psychology is footedness, e.g. whether you prefer to do skilled activities like kicking a ball with the left or the right foot. Here are some recent scientific insights about footedness.

1. Most people are right-footed.

According to the newest studies, about 10.6 percent of the world’s population is left-handed, while 89.4 percent is right-handed (Papadatou-Pastou et al., 2020). But how many are right-footed and left-footed?

A recent study with more than 12,000 participants found that just like for handedness, most people have a right-sided preference (Tran and Voracek, 2016). Overall, there were 61.6 percent right-footers, 8.2 percent left-footers, and 30.2 percent mixed-footers. Thus, the numbers of left-handers and left-footers are comparable. However, there is a much higher number of people who are mixed-footed than mixed-handed or ambidextrous. This is likely caused by the fact that we have to choose a hand for writing, but it is not as important to have a preferred foot to carry out foot-specific activities in everyday life.

2. It is easy to find out whether someone is left-footed or right-footed.

In the laboratory, psychologists often use a questionnaire called the Waterloo Footedness Questionnaire (named after the University of Waterloo in Canada, where it originated) to determine whether someone is left-footed or right-footed (Elias & Bryden, 1998; Elias, Bryden & Bulman-Fleming, 1998).

This questionnaire contains a number of items such as:

  • If you were asked to shoot a ball on the target, which leg would you use to shoot the ball?
  • Which foot would you use to stomp an insect while you were standing?
  • If you had to pick up marbles while standing and put the marbles in a box, which foot would you use to pick them up?

You can easily try some of them at home! Just think about different activities that you can carry out with your feet. Do you prefer to carry out most of them with your left foot? Then you are probably left-footed. If you prefer to carry out most of them with your right foot, you are probably right-footed.

3. Left-footedness is related to left-handedness.

Footedness and handedness are related in most people, but not every left-hander is also a left-footer. Tran and Voracek (2016) reported that out of 1026 left-handers investigated in their study, 59 percent were left-footed, 25 percent were mixed-footed and only 17 percent were right-footed. In contrast, out of 11397 right-handers, 67 percent were right-footed, 30 percent were mixed-footed and only 3 percent were left-footed.

4. Being mixed-footed can make you rich (if you are a professional soccer player).

One study investigated whether footedness was related to income in professional European soccer players (Bryson et al., 2009). The authors found that the majority of professional soccer players were right-footed, but that players who were able to play with both feet equally well earned a substantial salary premium over one-footed players. On average, the mixed-footed players earned 15.4 percent more money than their teammates. Given the high salaries professional soccer players get in Europe, these can add up to quite a substantial sum.

5. Humans are not the only ones that show footedness.

You might have heard that similar to human handedness, cats and dogs show pawedness (read my recent blogs post on cats here and my recent blog post on dogs here).

But did you know that there is also a lot of research on footedness in animals? 

This is especially the case for birds, as they do not have hands. For example, it was recently shown that in Steppe Buzzards (Buteo vulpinus) 53 percent of animals are right-footed, 40.3 percent are left-footed, and 6.3 percent are mixed-footed (Yosef et al., 2019). Thus, comparable to humans, most Steppe Buzzards are right-footed.

References

Bryson A, Frick B, Simmons R. (2009). The Returns to Scarce Talent: Footedness and Player Remuneration in European Soccer. CEP Discussion Paper, 948.

Elias LJ, Bryden MP. (1998). Footedness is a better predictor of language lateralisation than handedness. Laterality, 3, 41-51.

Elias LJ, Bryden MP, Bulman-Fleming MB. (1998). Footedness is a better predictor than is handedness of emotional lateralization. Neuropsychologia, 36, 37-43.

Papadatou-Pastou, M., Martin, M., Munafo, M. R., Ntolka, E., Ocklenburg, S., & Paracchini, S. (2020). Papadatou-Pastou, Martin, Munafò, Ntolka, Ocklenburg, & Paracchini. Handedness: a meta-analysis. PsyArXiv, preprint.

Tran US, Voracek M (2016). Footedness Is Associated with Self-reported Sporting Performance and Motor Abilities in the General Population. Front Psychol, 7, 1199. 

Yosef R, Gindi C, Sukenik N. (2019). Footedness in Steppe Buzzards (Buteo vulpinus). Behav Processes, 158, 113-116.