Why Some People Can't Tell Right from Left

Some people have trouble making left-right distinctions. It's not a big deal, so long as you don't work in a medical profession.

Some people confuse easily when asked to distinguish left from right and vice versa, and it's not a terribly uncommon occurrence.


Gerard Gormley, a senior academic general practitioner at Queen's University Belfast, writes in The Conversation about this problem that he says affects “a significant portion of our population.” It may not seem like rocket science to some of us, but Gormley says that left-right confusion is a “complex neuro-psychological process involving several higher neurological functions such as the ability to integrate sensory and visual information, language function, and memory.”

When someone (most likely your GPS) is giving you directions, do you pause when they say, “Turn right here”? Taking a wrong turn is hardly life-threatening; for most people the issue causes no more than some embarrassment or inconvenience. But what if you were in a profession where it was your livelihood to know the difference?

Gormley writes:

“Some of the most tragic errors in medicine have been when surgery was performed on the wrong side of a patient: removing the wrong kidney or amputating the wrong leg.”

Consider the hospital environment for a moment — it's a distracting place to work, making the moment of distinguishing right from left all the more difficult for those who struggle.

Gormley has published research exploring “the impact of such interruptions on medical students’ ability to correctly discriminate right from left. While objectively measuring 234 medical students' ability to distinguish right from left, we subjected them to the typical ambient noise of a ward environment and interrupted them with clinical questions.”

He writes that even the mere background noise of a hospital ward was enough to throw off the medical student's ability to make a distinction between right and left. Asking them questions while trying to determine right from left “had an even greater impact.” Gormley notes that these distractions had the greatest effects on students who were older and female.

What's more, some people may not realize they have a problem making left-right judgments. Try out this handy test to see if you might be deluding yourself.

Also, don't try suggesting the "make an 'L' with your hand" trick. Gormley writes that research shows this technique has failed to assist people who struggle with this issue.

Read more at The Conversation.

Photo Credit: Shutterstock

China’s artificial sun reaches fusion temperature: 100 million degrees

In a breakthrough for nuclear fusion research, scientists at China's Experimental Advanced Superconducting Tokamak (EAST) reactor have produced temperatures necessary for nuclear fusion on Earth.

Credit: EAST Team
Surprising Science
  • The EAST reactor was able to heat hydrogen to temperatures exceeding 100 million degrees Celsius.
  • Nuclear fusion could someday provide the planet with a virtually limitless supply of clean energy.
  • Still, scientists have many other obstacles to pass before fusion technology becomes a viable energy source.
Keep reading Show less

A dark matter hurricane is crashing into Earth

Giving our solar system a "slap in the face."

Surprising Science
  • A stream of galactic debris is hurtling at us, pulling dark matter along with it
  • It's traveling so quickly it's been described as a hurricane of dark matter
  • Scientists are excited to set their particle detectors at the onslffaught
Keep reading Show less

Here's how diverse the 116th Congress is set to become

The 116th Congress is set to break records in term of diversity among its lawmakers, though those changes are coming almost entirely from Democrats.

(Photo: MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
Politics & Current Affairs
  • Women and nonwhite candidates made record gains in the 2018 midterms.
  • In total, almost half of the newly elected Congressional representatives are not white men.
  • Those changes come almost entirely from Democrats; Republican members-elect are all white men except for one woman.
Keep reading Show less