E-letter Re: Handedness in Boxers

“Effects of left- or right-hand preference on the success of boxers in Turkey”, is an interesting and important addition to the research literature on the effect of handedness in sport. However, we believe that the explanation of the cause of the advantage of left- handedness is misleading and needs correction.

Gursoy attributes the superior performance of left-handed boxers to ‘superior spacio-motor skills’ and links this to neurological factors and brain lateralisation. A more prosaic alternative explanation is not mentioned, namely a frequency-dependent advantage accruing to the individuals of the minority disposition simply by virtue of their minority status1,2 . Consider a right-hander competing against a left-hander: the right-hander has had less experience facing left-handers than his opponent has had facing right-handers. The left-hander is therefore at an advantage.

Support for this interpretation is provided by the observation that the advantage accruing to left-handers does not appear to extend to ‘non- interactive’ sports, where opponents compete separately and in sequence 3,4 . For example, no advantage appears to operate among darts players or ten-pin bowlers 5 . In these sports, a competitor’s unfamiliar handedness is unlikely to have an effect on the performance of his opponents. However, ‘superior spacio-motor skills’ of the sort implicated by Gursoy as underlying the effects observed would presumably still be of value.

The results of Gursoy’s paper are particularly interesting from an evolutionary perspective. A frequency-dependent advantage accruing to left -handed individuals in male-male combat has been hypothesised to explain the evolution of a balanced polymorphism of handedness during human evolutionary history 6,7 . Although the apparent advantage accruing to left-handedness in combat has been observed by fencing masters as early as the sixteenth century 8 , to our knowledge Gursoy’s paper is the first to rigorously demonstrate an advantage in combat and adds empirical support to this theory.

1 Wood CJ, and Aggleton JP. Handedness in ‘fast ball’ sports: do left -handers have an innate advantage? Br J Psychol. 1989; 80(2):227-40

2 Brooks R, Bussiere L, Jennions MD, Hunt J. Sinister strategies succeed at the Cricket World Cup. Proceedings of the Royal Society Series B (Biology Letters, Supplement) 2003 271: S64-S66

3 Raymond M, Pontier D, Dufour A and Møller AP. Frequency-dependent maintenance of left-handedness in humans Proc R Soc Lond B 1996 263: 1627- 1633

4 Grouios G, Tsorbatzoudis H, Alexandris K and Barkoukis V. Do left- handed competitors have an innate superiority in sports? Percept Mot Skills 2000 3(2): 1273-822000

5 Aggleton, J. P. & Wood, C. J. Is there a left-handed advantage in ‘ballistic’ sports? International Journal of Sport Psychology, 1990, 21, 46-57.

6 Billiard S, Faurie C and Raymond M. Maintenance of handedness polymorphism in humans: a frequency-dependent selection model Journal of Theoretical Biology 235(1), 7 July 2005, Pages 85-93 2005

7 Faurie C and Raymond M Handedness, homicide and negative frequency- dependent selection Proc. R. Soc. B (2005) 272, 25–28

8 Harris, Lauren Julius (2007). In fencing, what gives left-handers the edge? Views from the present and the distant past. Laterality: Asymmetries of Body, Brain and Cognition, 99999 (1), 1-41. Retrieved February 24, 2009, from http://www.informaworld.com/10.1080/13576500701650430

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