Field of Science

The handedness of belief

People who are ambidextrous are more likely to have magical beliefs. That's something that was known before but has recently been confirmed by Gjurgjica Badzakova-Trajkov and team from Auckland University, New Zealand.

The figure on the right shows how high their subjects scored on a 'magical ideation' scale, which asks questions such as "Some people can make me aware of them just by thinking about me" and "I think I could learn to read other’s minds if I wanted to".

Handedness was assessed just by asking their hand preferences for a variety of tasks, like throwing or using scissors. As you can see, those people without a strong hand preference were also the most likely to have magical ideas.

So you might think that ambidextrous people are more likely to be religious? Well hold on.

A few years ago Christopher Niebauer, at Slippery Rock University in the USA, showed that ambidextrous people are more likely to believe evolution (in the USA at least). [That paper was sent to me last year, but I can't remember who sent it. If it was you - well thanks!]

The explanation seems to be that mixed-handed people are more open minded and more creative. So they are more likely to shake often creationist dogma, but also more likely to take other 'heretical' thoughts seriously. Incidentally, in a later paper Niebauer also showed that ambidextrous people are more gullible!

Why should this be? Well, one theory is that the brains of ambidextrous people are wired up differently. Not only are their hands less one sided, but their brains also may be more even across the two hemispheres - less 'lateralized'.

And that's where Badzakova-Trajkov's research comes in. She showed that the brains of people who think magically were just as lateralized as the brains of more rational thinkers. What's more, when she measured handedness by a proper test - rather than just asking people about their preferences - the relationship with magical thinking disappeared.

She concludes from this that the connection between ambidexterity and magical thinking is behavioural, not neuropsychological. What's probably happening is simply that those people who are open to magical thinking, and who are willing to take on-board radical ideas such as evolution, are also more open to the idea of using their non-dominant hand to do normal daily tasks.

These people are just iconoclasts by nature!

ResearchBlogging.orgBadzakova-Trajkov, G., Häberling, I., & Corballis, M. (2011). Magical ideation, creativity, handedness, and cerebral asymmetries: A combined behavioural and fMRI study Neuropsychologia, 49 (10), 2896-2903 DOI: 10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2011.06.016

Lee Niebauer, C., Christman, S., Reid, S., & Garvey, K. (2004). Interhemispheric interaction and beliefs on our origin: Degree of handedness predicts beliefs in creationism versus evolution Laterality: Asymmetries of Body, Brain and Cognition, 9 (4), 433-447 DOI: 10.1080/13576500342000266

Christman, S., Henning, B., Geers, A., Propper, R., & Niebauer, C. (2008). Mixed-handed persons are more easily persuaded and are more gullible: Interhemispheric interaction and belief updating Laterality: Asymmetries of Body, Brain and Cognition, 13 (5), 403-426 DOI: 10.1080/13576500802079646

Creative Commons License This article by Tom Rees was first published on Epiphenom. It is licensed under Creative Commons.


  1. Isn't magical thinking considered one of the symptoms of schizoid/schizotypal personality disorder? Is there any connection?

  2. Anonyous, the answer is yes for both questions, incredibly our society consider that in the DMR-V

  3. I suspect this is a spurious association. See
    Bishop, D. V. M. (1990). How to increase your chances of obtaining a significant association between handedness and disorder. Journal of Clinical and Experimental Ñeuropsychology, 12, 786-790.

  4. The Handedness Study was fascinating on several levels!
    But I found this post confusing because of "handedness" testing methods. I was hoping you could clear up my confusion:

    (1) Measuring Handedness
    A very important point seems to be that methods of measuring handedness yield different results.
    Self-Reported Ambidexterous (srA) make up a different set than Actual-Ambidexterous (aA).
    Niebauer's study was of srA (correct? You don't tell us )
    Badzakova-Trajkov's study was of both srA & aA: srA according to paragraph 3, but in paragraph 8 you tell us she used a "proper test".

    I would start out the post by discussing the two methods since you tell us they yield very different and contradictory results. And then, for each test named, I would label them srA or aA so we can keep them straight. [or some such method]

    Your opening sentence said, "People who are ambidextrous are more likely to have magical beliefs." but who did those studies and which method did they determine ambidextrousness with? Were the srA or aA? This would be critical. Did they use the same operative definition of "magical beliefs"?

    (2) Proper Test
    What the heck is that -- this is critical. fMRI? EEG?
    So would Niebauer's studies and previous studies have had different conclusions if they had done "proper tests" for aA?

  5. is this true of people who have become ambidextrous due to injury or other outside factors?

  6. Very interesting topic that I think needs more study. How large was the control group? Do we know for sure that ambidextrous people's brains are wired differently?

    Definitely something to think on.

  7. There were a total of 203 people in the study, so it was a decent size. To address deeveybees point, although the graphic uses cut-offs for the sake of visual clarity, the main points of the study are made using regression. So it's not likely to be an artefact of arbitrary thresholds.

    Sabio, people who are self-reported ambidextrous are genuinely ambidextrous. They genuinely use either of their hands for a range of daily tasks. However, when you test them using a computer response game, the results you get are a little different (although they basically correlate). Niebauer used self reported handedness.

    In this study, the result was that magical ideation correlated significantly with self-report, but not with assessed handedness.

  8. I'm ambidextrous and schizotypal, but neither makes me a follower of " The Transcendental Temptation," the superstitions - the supernatural and the paranormal, and I objurgate both!
    Yes, anonymous, that applies to schizotypy.

  9. Since when is evolution a radical idea? 150+ years of peer-reviewed observation and experimentation should be more than enough to remove ay such stigma...

  10. Hey, I resemble that. Left handed writing/ eating, right handed throwing, cutting. I'm also a useful research scientist. I'd like to see more data along these lines.

    1. Hey, I resemble that too...I'm exactly the same way...."Left handed writing/ eating, right handed throwing, cutting"! I'm extremely creative, have a sensitive disposition, and I'm definitely an iconoclast!!

  11. When you relate magical thinking to evolution, every scientist die a little in the inside

  12. I just came across this post (linked from the end-of-year round up) and found it fascinating. One of the studies on analytical thinking and religious belief found that there was an inverse correlation between the personality openness to experience and belief in God. On other hand, openness to experience is also positively correlated with magical thinking and paranormal beliefs. (I wrote an article about this here.) This seems to parallel the findings in this article that ambidextrous people reject certain "conventional" religious ideas such as creationism and yet are also more gullible. I wonder if ambidextrous people are higher than others on openness to experience as well?


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