LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:
If you thought the world was stacked against lefties, from scissors that pinch to stick shifts on the wrong side, think again. Come this January, five of the last seven presidents will have been left handed. No political predictions necessary because both Obama and McCain are southpaws. Is this a coincidence, or does it mean something? We've invited Melissa Roth, author of "The Left Stuff: How the Left-Handed Have Survived and Thrived in a Right-Handed World," and she joins us from NPR West. Melissa Roth, welcome.
Ms. MELISSA ROTH (Author, "The Left Stuff: How the Left-Handed Have Survived and Thrived in a Right-Handed World"): Thank you. Good to be here.
WERTHEIMER: Do you thing there's something to this trend of lefty leaders?
Ms. ROTH: It could be coincidence. But statistically speaking, we should only have a left-handed president once every eight or nine administrations. One explanation is that in the past century, the percentage of lefties in the U.S. has increased from just two to five percent of the population in the early 1900s to somewhere between 11 and 15 percent today.
WERTHEIMER: We've also had, apparently, an abundance of left-handed political candidates for other offices. Do you think there's something about southpaws that makes them want to run for office?
Ms. ROTH: Well, the lefties do seem to share a few traits that are commonly found in leaders. They realize from an early age that they're different in a fundamental way. They might be told that they're more creative because of it, or they might be told it's a sign of the devil. But either way, it's a difference that makes them stand apart. But their brains do look and act somewhat differently. That's been linked to different kinds of creativity. There are studies that find lefties score better in tests of the style of reasoning that leads to new ideas and new concepts.
WERTHEIMER: But in terms of politics, is there anything particular about being left handed that makes for better political skill?
Ms. ROTH: When it comes to something like political speeches, you're more likely to be integrating the literal elements of speech with the more figurative elements - the symbolism, visual imagery - and these are all very important when it comes to inspiring the electorate.
WERTHEIMER: In view of the fact that both of these candidates are left handed, would your research tell you whether they should pick a left-handed or a right-handed vice presidential candidate? Maybe they should pick a righty, so that there'd be one of each.
Ms. ROTH: Well, there's actually some research to show that the mixed handed are more likely to incorporate new information and update their beliefs and refresh their global perspective.
WERTHEIMER: All things that would be useful in any kind of candidate.
Ms. ROTH: Yes.
WERTHEIMER: One of the most important things that presidents do is sign legislation. Left-handed people have got to write in such a way that they don't drag their hand across what they just wrote.
Ms. ROTH: Well, you'll actually notice that McCain and Obama both write with what they call the hook, where they arc their hand around so that they don't smudge their handwriting. So, they're actually pulling the pen. Personality studies show that the lefties that write with the hook as kids are the least preoccupied with blending in.
WERTHEIMER: Do you know how many left-handed presidents there have ever been?
Ms. ROTH: Come January, it will be a total of nine, possibly 10. Harry Truman threw out the first pitch for a Washington senators' game in 1946 with his left hand, which everybody jumped all over. And Herbert Hoover makes a lot of lists, but there's some debate about him. And then James Garfield, who wrote with both hands simultaneously, but a lot was made of his left handedness. That was the turn of the century. It was very rare.
WERTHEIMER: There might have been more, I assume. But they were urged not to be left handed.
Ms. ROTH: Definitely. The handwriting is the first to be switched. Social scientists will look at people to see how they brush their teeth or open a jar, which tend to be a little more revealing about how someone's wired.
WERTHEIMER: Melissa Roth is the author of "The Left Stuff: How the Left-Handed Have Survived and Thrived in a Right-Handed World." Thanks very much for talking with us.
Ms. ROTH: Thank you.
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