Relative hand skill predicts academic ability: global deficits at the point of hemispheric indecision
Population variation in handedness (a correlate of cerebral dominance for language) is in part genetic and, it has been suggested, its persistence represents a balanced polymorphism with respect to cognitive ability. This hypothesis was tested in a sample of 12,770 individuals in a UK national cohort (the National Child Development Study) by assessing relative hand skill (in a square checking task) as a predictor of verbal, non-verbal, and mathematical ability and reading comprehension at the age of 11 years. Whereas some modest decrements were present in extreme right handers the most substantial deficits in ability were seen close to the point of equal hand skill (hemispheric indecision). For verbal ability females performed better than males, but the relationship to relative hand skill was closely similar for the two sexes; for reading comprehension males close to the point of equal hand skill showed greater impairments than females. Analysed by writing hand the relationship of ability to hand skill appeared symmetrical about the point of hemispheric indecision. The variation associated with degrees of dominance may reflect the operation of continuing selection on the gene (postulated to be X–Y linked) by which language evolved and speciation occurred.