Fact Check: Do right-handed people live longer than left-handed people?

Quick Take

A number of social media users share a “Do you Know” fact that claims “Left-Handed people die much earlier than Right-handed people.” We fact-checked and found that the claim is half-true.

Though there are two studies published in reputed journals, these studies were heavily refuted by experts, and follow-up studies could not ascertain similar findings.

The Claim

The myth is been widely shared by social media users. Such posts can be seen here and here. A snapshot is given below.

Fact Check

Is there any research supporting the claim that “Left handed people live longer than Right handed people” ?

Yes. There are two studies done that conclude that right-handed people live longer than left-handed people, both done by the same two psychologists.

The first study, published in the scientific journal Nature in 1988 titled “Do right-handers live longer?” looked at data of right- and left-handed baseball players and concluded that right-handed people live longer.

The second study titled “Handedness and Life Span” was published in 1990 in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) looked at the people who died in California within a period.

Is the research conclusive and credible?

The research is not conclusive. While both the research were published in highly credible journals, a number of experts have criticized the research methodology and termed them as biased. A series of letters were written by experts to the editor of the journal where the second research was published. These letters pointed out various mistakes in the assumption and methodology of the research.

The overall sample size of both the studies is not a large one and does not take into account population over various geographies. Hence a universal statement like “Right-handed people live longer than left-handed people” don’t look justified.

Another strong criticism of the studies is that they were done on data collected from an era when many natural left-handers were pushed by parents to become right-handers. In a BBC report, Chris McManus, professor of psychology and medical education at University College London and the author of Right Hand, Left Hand called this as a “subtle error” that went unnoticed by the journal while publishing the study findings.

Furthermore, in a follow-up study done on opposite-handed twins born between 1900-1910 researchers could not find any connection between handedness and longevity. “There was no evidence of differential survival between right-handed and non-right-handed individuals,” researchers of the study noted.

Another similar study was done between right-handed and left-handed cricketers where researchers found the life expectancy of left-handed people is shorter. But when they removed the “accidental death” from the list, the difference between the two groups was reduced. “when these unnatural deaths were removed from the sample the longevity difference between the right-handers and left-handers was considerably reduced,” researchers noted.

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