Right hand, left brain: genetic and evolutionary bases of cerebral asymmetries for language and manual action



Most people are right-handed and left-cerebrally dominant for language. This pattern of asymmetry, as well as departures from it, have been reasonably accommodated in terms of a postulated gene with two alleles, one disposing to this common pattern and the other leaving the direction of handedness and language asymmetry to chance. There are some leads as to the location of the gene or genes concerned, but no clear resolution; one possibility is that the chance factor is achieved by epigenetic cancelling of the lateralizing gene rather than through a chance allele. Neurological evidence suggests that the neural basis of manual praxis, including pantomime and tool use, is more closely associated with cerebral asymmetry for language than with handedness, and is homologous with the so-called “mirror system” in the primate brain, which is specialized for manual grasping. The evidence reviewed supports the theory that language itself evolved within the praxic system, and became lateralized in humans, and perhaps to a lesser extent in our common ancestry with the great apes. WIREs Cogn Sci 2012, 3:1–17. doi: 10.1002/wcs.158

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