Do Other Animals Show Handedness?

Researchers look at the relationship between handedness and brain asymmetry in animals.

Vocabulary: handedness, dominance, reaction time

NGSS: LS2.D: Social Interactions and Group Behavior, LS4.B: Natural Selection

Common Core State Standards: CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.6.1, CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.7.1, CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.8.1, CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.9–10.1, CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.11–12.1

Orangutan, from Shutterstock

The human tendency to be right-handed is obvious — especially if you’re a lefty, and have to deal with right-handed desks and scissors, not to mention spiral notebooks.

But humans aren’t the only members of the animal kingdom that show handedness, or the preference for one hand over the other. Other primates exhibit right-handed or left-handed proclivities, as do animals that don’t technically have hands.

Access the full article here.

Questions for Students

  • How is handedness related to brain symmetry?
  • Why do you think “animals take sides”? Choose one animal mentioned in the article (orangutan, gorilla, chimpanzee, frog, or fish). Based on what you know about that animal, why do you think animals have handedness?
  • Explain how you would go about investigating the claim “…that population-level handedness is beneficial for social species”. What kind of data would you need to collect? How would you determine what types of species to target in your study? Could you use data collected from other research aims?

Activity Suggestions

  • Experiment with reaction time focusing on the variable of handedness. As a first step, think about incorporating a version of the Edinburgh Handedness Inventory or another tool that can provide a numeric value for handedness. Have students look at whether there is a correlation between handedness and footedness.
  • Have students research more about the genetics of handedness and footedness. They can get started here. For more of a challenge, have students investigate handedness in other animals by interpreting the references provided by Nicole Wetsman.