Whether we're right-handed or left-handed can have a huge impact on what we subconsciously associate with good and bad. Right-handers, according to psychologists, see things to the right them as being better than things on their left.
But it's remarkably easy to change this association. Putting a ski glove on your dominant hand changes how you perceive the world. That's the conclusion reached by researchers at the Max Planck Institute and the University of Pennsylvania, who discovered a crucial link between the primary hand we use to interact with the world and what we see as good and bad.
The vast majority - about nine-tenths - of people are right-handed, and recognition of that fact has seeped into our language. It's partially why it's good to be "in the right", and it helps reinforce why unexpected and unpleasant news comes "from out of left-field." But these linguistic connections are trifles compared to the more subtle spatial associations people make between the hand they use and the world around them.
Lead researcher Daniel Casasanto demonstrated that in all cases where people had to choose between two alternatives that where one was on the left side of the screen and one was on the right, right-handers would overwhelmingly prefer the option on the right, and lefties would prefer the one on the left. It didn't matter what the choice was - Casasanto used everything from rating two household products to two job applicants to the intelligence of two alien species. He hypothesized that this link is all in the hands:
"People can act more fluently with their dominant hand, and come to unconsciously associate good things with their fluent side of space."
To test this idea, Casasanto and his team handicapped a bunch of right-handers so that they were forced to make their left hand their dominant one. First, he looked at right-handed stroke patients who had lost the use of one of their hands. Those who had lost the use of their left hand showed no change in the "right is good" pattern, but those who had lost the use of their right hand - and were now forced to rely on their left hand - had now switched to associate good with the choices on the left.
And it wasn't just victims of serious brain injury for whom this trend prevailed. Casasanto had healthy university students slip bulky ski gloves on one of their hands, then tested them again. For right-handers who had the ski glove on their dominant hand, just twelve minutes of this impeded motor experience was enough to switch their unconscious associations to favoring the left side, as though they had been lefties their entire lives.
"People generally think their judgments are rational, and their concepts are stable. But if wearing a glove for a few minutes can reverse people's usual judgments about what's good and bad, perhaps the mind is more malleable than we thought."
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