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JAMA 100 Years Ago
February 23, 2005


Author Affiliations

JAMA 100 Years Ago Section Editor: Jennifer Reiling, Assistant Editor.

JAMA. 2005;293(8):926. doi:10.1001/jama.293.8.926-d

The faculty of being able to use the right and left hands interchangeably has long been considered desirable in surgeons, and by some has been urged as a desideratum for all engaged in work requiring manual dexterity. In England the matter has been carried so far that an “Ambidextral Culture Society” has been formed, which distributes considerable literature on the subject. At first sight such a faculty seems eminently desirable, and undoubtedly is so in a limited number of callings. In any attempt to supersede a natural and instinctive manner of doing things it is well to dispassionately review the why and wherefore of the process before suggesting sweeping changes, and it is doubtful whether the Ambidextral Culture Society has done this. Harman1 has recently sought to explain why we are naturally righthanded, and to show that our apparent righthandedness is in reality a form of ambidexterity. He suggests that our righthandedness comes down to us from the period when human ascendancy was dependent on physical prowess, and depends on the knowledge of the vulnerable heart region. Under such circumstances, he suggests, man learned to use his right arm as a fighting arm and his left arm as a shield arm. This tendency has been inherited, and is seen to-day in the use of the right hand as the active agency, while the left is used as a supplementary assistant. Harman’s argument is that the supplementary work performed by the left hand is, in its way, just as important as the active work performed by the right. In other words, while we are not ambidextrous in the strict sense of the word, we are eminently gifted with co-ordination of bimanual action. This being the case, it would seem undesirable to advocate any widespread training such as the Ambidextral Culture Society suggests.

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