Large Study Reveals How Many People Are Left-Footed

A new study provides surprising insights on left-footedness.

Posted Sep 05, 2020

Most people know whether they are left- or right-handed, but did you know that we also have other side preferences that affect our daily lives? For example, most people have a favorite cheek to turn forward when getting their picture taken, a favorite side to turn their heads to when kissing, or a favorite side to chew their food on.

Besides handedness, footedness is one of the more prominent side preferences. Footedness refers to the fact that most people systematically prefer to use one foot over the other for skilled activities like kicking a ball. While this does not affect the daily lives of most people as much as handedness does, it can be highly relevant for certain groups, such as professional and amateur soccer players.

While researchers have good estimates on how many people are left-handers and right-handers, so far there has been no conclusive evidence about how many people are left-footers. Moreover, it has been unclear whether left-handers are also always left-footers or not. A team of researchers led by German researcher Julian Packheiser from Ruhr University Bochum in Germany set out to answer these questions by conducting the biggest ever global study on left-footedness, which has just been published in the journal Scientific Reports (Packheiser et al., 2020).

The research team (which I have been a part of), from Germany, Greece, Scotland, and Wales, conducted a meta-analysis of 164 different published studies on left-footedness. A meta-analysis is a form of statistical analysis that integrates the results of many different scientific studies. It has the advantage of a larger sample size, increasing statistical power, and rendering the analysis less likely to be affected by characteristics of individual studies.

So what did the researchers find?

The main finding of the study was that about 12.1% of people were left-footed. There was a strong, but not perfect, overlap with handedness. While only 3.2% of right-handers where left-footed, about 60.1% of left-handers were left-footed. Thus, the chance of being left-footed is considerably higher for a left-hander than for a right-hander. Men had a slightly higher chance of being left-footed than women and professional athletes had a higher probability of being left-footed than the general population. Interestingly, footedness was less influenced by cultural and social factors than handedness, probably because no parents ever try to relearn their left-footed kids to be right-footed.

By the way: If you wanted to find out whether you are left-footed or right-footed, this is fairly easy to do. Just try out a couple of activities with both feet, like kicking a ball, picking up a marble with your toes or stomping on something fast-moving like a laser pointer dot. Write down which foot you prefer for each activity and by comparing these preferences across a few different activities, you can get a fairly good estimate whether you are left-footed or right-footed.

References

Packheiser J, Schmitz J, Berretz G, et al. (2020). Four meta-analyses across 164 studies on atypical footedness prevalence and its relation to handedness. Sci Rep, 10, 14501.