Handedness Shapes Children’s Abstract Concepts


  • Daniel Casasanto,

    1. Neurobiology of Language Department, Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics
    2. Donders Institute for Brain, Cognition, and Behaviour, Nijmegen, Radboud University
    3. Department of Psychology, New School for Social Research
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  • Tania Henetz

    1. Department of Psychology, Stanford University
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should be sent to Daniel Casasanto, Department of Psychology, The New School for Social Research, 80 Fifth Avenue, 7th Floor, New York, NY 10011. E-mail: casasanto@alum.mit.edu


Can children’s handedness influence how they represent abstract concepts like kindness and intelligence? Here we show that from an early age, right-handers associate rightward space more strongly with positive ideas and leftward space with negative ideas, but the opposite is true for left-handers. In one experiment, children indicated where on a diagram a preferred toy and a dispreferred toy should go. Right-handers tended to assign the preferred toy to a box on the right and the dispreferred toy to a box on the left. Left-handers showed the opposite pattern. In a second experiment, children judged which of two cartoon animals looked smarter (or dumber) or nicer (or meaner). Right-handers attributed more positive qualities to animals on the right, but left-handers to animals on the left. These contrasting associations between space and valence cannot be explained by exposure to language or cultural conventions, which consistently link right with good. Rather, right- and left-handers implicitly associated positive valence more strongly with the side of space on which they can act more fluently with their dominant hands. Results support the body-specificity hypothesis (Casasanto, 2009), showing that children with different kinds of bodies think differently in corresponding ways.