Hemispheric dominance and cell-phone usage – what the study really shows

left-right-brainSomewhat unusually, an article in a fairly obscure medical journal (Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery) has been getting some press lately. The press coverage (Science Daily News, USA Today, NY Daily News) makes extensive and wearying use of the dreadful old left/right brain neuromyth. It’s also been pretty popular with idiots on Twitter.

Yes, some functions are somewhat lateralised, and you can identify a dominant hemisphere for things like, handedness, language and auditory function, but unless they’ve had a radical hemispherectomy, you can’t describe some people as ‘left-brained’ or ‘right-brained’. It just doesn’t make any sense.

Anyway… This new study claims to find a link between hemispheric dominance and cell phone usage, specifically, that right-handed people (who tend to be left-hemisphere dominant for functions like language and audition) tend to use their right ear for their cell phone. Left-handers (who vary more in their language dominance) more often used their left ear. They collected the data through an internet survey, so they basically just asked people whether they were right or left-handed and which ear they used for their cell phone.

So, the claim is that right-handers preferably use their right ear (and therefore their left hemisphere). Presumably using your right ear also means using your right handAnd they’re right-handed. See where I’m going here? This study essentially shows that right-handed people prefer to use their right hand for holding things and left-handed people prefer to use their left hand. This result could be nothing to do with hemisphere dominance at all, simply about handedness.

Stop talking about this study. It’s utterly crap and totally meaningless.

7 responses to “Hemispheric dominance and cell-phone usage – what the study really shows

  1. Actually, in the context of handedness, I don’t think this is all that trivial. A hand which is holding something (i.e., a simple supporting motor task) is no longer free to interact with the world (and take notes or whatnot). Now, it might be a function of the way cell phones have to be answered (with a finger swipe or whatever), which requires more manual precision. I bet people fall into 2 categories here – those who hold in dominant hand and swipe/answer with their thumb, and those who hold it in their left hand, swipe/answer with their right hand and then switch the holding hand to speak (or not).

  2. I’m pretty sure Dr. Richard Restak (admittedly a populist of neuroscience) claimed that he [almost?] always found the language center in the opposite side of “handedness” if the patient wrote while holding his hand below the pen. The common “lefty twist” where a lefty holds the pen beneath and behind the hand means that the language center was on the other side. Not sure if he was interested in publishing because he wasn’t about to operate without the proper scan.

  3. The study makes sense to me, but for supporting the dominance theory. Think about it, if you are right brain dominant and left handed, holding the phone to the left hemisphere, or left ear is protecting the right hemisphere from the radiation put out by the cell phone. Not only that but the dominance applies to how you experience things or perceive them. I think you should have more experience before assuming, I’m still learning due to my own, my sons and mothers injuries…but that’s just 3 in many cases. What ever my studies reveal, the goal is recovery and knowing the body and brain adapt to circumstances. There is never one answer and no one is ever wrong having their own experience. Judgement without that, especially by others facts…now that feels out of touch with truth.

    • I’m not saying that there’s nothing of interest in phone-holding behaviour – there may well be – but I think this study doesn’t go nearly far enough or make any serious attempt to rule out potential confounds.

  4. It’s not about dominance, but which hemisphere is responsible for each function in our brain…

    When we’re painting our right hemisphere is more activated and develops – it helps with other activities for which it is responsible. And when we perform mathematical operations or spatial our left hemisphere is developing and therefore we have, at a later time, greater ability in this area.

    So if you have a problem with imagination, creativity and other things for which the right hemisphere is responsible – you should practice them – then its efficiency will improve. The same applies to the left hemisphere.

  5. There are clear developmental, anatomic & functional differences in the two hemispheres. The contribute unique computational abilities and outputs. The simplest way to think about is that they use different data-formats to code and organize information (abstract verbal vs. perceptual). Observed hemispheric specialization simply reflects that these different data formats exhibit different degrees of utility for different types of operations. However, and importantly, both hemispheres/data-formats/computational systems are involved in everything … just like our arms and legs are involved in all upright motion, but contribute different bio-mechanical assets, and play qualitatively distinct roles.

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