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Left-Eyed Fish Are Faster Learners

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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Jimi Hendrix is one of the many famous left-handed guitarists

You may have heard the claim that left-handed people are smarter than right handed people. Specifically, it seems that left-handed people are over represented in musicians, architects and art and music students. Why this might be isn’t entirely clear, but it is possible that it has something to do with the left-handed brain being larger and having greater connectivity than the right-handed brain.

The reason some people are left-handed while others are right-handed is because of brain lateralization: the division of the brain into two hemispheres. However, we’re not the only animals that have brain lateralization; many animals have a preference for using either their right or left leg, paw, eye, foot, or ear, for example. Cats are generally right-pawed, dogs are pretty evenly split between being left- or right-pawed, while wall lizards are generally left-eyed.

The rainbowfish, Melanotaenia duboulayi

However, how does being right- or left-haded/eyed/eared actually affect how we think? A recent study looked into this using the rainbow fish. Using wild and captive individuals of this Australian fish, the researchers looked to see if whether the fish was left- or right- eyed would affect it’s ability to learn. Left-eyed fish turned out to be faster learners than right-eyed fish. Also, fish that were hatched in the wild tended to be faster learners than captive-bred fish. Whether the fish was male or female had no effect on their ability to learn.

Why it might be that the left-eyed fish are faster learners isn’t entirely clear. Hopefully more studies of this type with other animals will help us gain a greater understanding of what exactly is going on.



Photo Credits

Jimi Hendrix statue: Bleachers

Rainbowfish: Roan Art



Bibost, A. L., & Brown, C. (2014). Laterality influences cognitive performance in rainbowfish Melanotaenia duboulayi. Animal cognition, online first. DOI: 10.1007/s10071-014-0734-3


Felicity Muth About the Author: Felicity Muth is an early-career researcher with a PhD in animal cognition. Follow on Twitter @notbadscience.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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  1. 1. SJCrum 6:34 pm 05/16/2014

    As for why wild fish are better learners, the science is that they are more alert to handle all types of survival, while tame fish are far more relaxed and unafraid. So, the wild fish respond far more quickly to any type of situation, especially anything that is thought of as threatening.
    As for why left-eyed fish are faster learners also, that is because all fish always turn in a left direction when threatened, and because predators of fish always view fish from their right eyes. The point is that all predators see to attack through their right eyes, and have the left one for their own defense. This might seem odd, but with a fish’s eyes on opposite sides of their heads, and their not being able to see with both forward like humans, the right and left side types of eyes have to work individually in this way.
    So, that is why left-eyed fish do it that very purposeful way.

    Link to this
  2. 2. SJCrum 6:36 pm 05/16/2014

    So, that’s not “bad science”, huh? (hee, hee)
    Nope, kinda’ fun.

    Link to this

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