Frequency-dependent maintenance of left handedness in humans

Proc Biol Sci. 1996 Dec 22;263(1377):1627-33. doi: 10.1098/rspb.1996.0238.


The percentage (10-13%) of left handedness in human has apparently not changed since the Neolithic. Left handedness is heritable and appears to be repeatedly associated with some reduced fitness components; the persistence of left handedness implies that left handers have a fitness advantage in some situations. We propose that left handers have a frequency-dependent advantage in fights and for that reason a fitness advantage. To test this hypothesis, left handedness frequencies in the general population and in sporting individuals (both students and the sporting elite) have been compared, as sporting performance is likely to be a good indicator of fighting abilities. The higher proportion of left-handed individuals in interactive sports (reflecting some fighting elements), reaching 50% in some sports categories, but not in noninteractive sports, is consistent with the fighting hypothesis. The greater frequency of left handedness in males than in females is also consistent with this hypothesis, as male-male fights are universally more frequent than other combinations. The frequency-dependent advantage in fights of left handers might explain the stability of left handedness.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aggression
  • Biological Evolution
  • Female
  • Functional Laterality / genetics*
  • Functional Laterality / physiology*
  • Gene Frequency
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Models, Biological
  • Physical Fitness
  • Selection, Genetic
  • Sports