laterality /lat·er·al·i·ty/ (lat″er-al´ĭ-te) a tendency to use preferentially the organs (hand, foot, ear, eye) of the same side in voluntary motor acts.
A couple months ago, I put out a questionnaire on the web asking poi spinners from all over the world a few questions in pursuit of a question that’s hovered in my mind for a few years now: does a spinner’s dominant direction of spin have anything to do with their dominant hand? As a teacher, for years now I’ve known that everybody seems to have a direction they’re most comfortable spinning their poi in when in wall plane. For me, it is clockwise, but it’s almost inevitable that in every workshop that I teach I’ll have one or two folks whose dominant direction is counter-clockwise. On a practical level this can lead to a lot of problems as when I teach from my dominant direction, they may try to learn a move the same way I’m performing it and thus make it doubly hard on themselves. But what if there was a quick and easy way to determine those folks that I’d need to reverse the directions for ahead of time?
Side dominance definitely has an effect on other physical pursuits, after all. Having been a snowboarder and skateboarder throughout my teen and college years, the role of having a goofy versus regular stance preference was all too familiar to me. Given the focus that poi has on the hands, could we then look for spin direction dominance in which hand a person was more comfortable with? I’d seen a lot of anecdotal cases of lefties being more inclined to spin counter-clockwise (though also many cases where this wasn’t true at all), so I resolved to get to the bottom of the question myself. My first attempt to answer this question came a couple years ago when I put a questionnaire on Facebook. At that time I got only 40 responses and thus not enough to really draw any significant conclusions from. But I was still curious, so I decided to relaunch my probe again this year, this time using all the tools at my disposal for putting out information. This time I got a huge response and I feel much more confident that I can give a full picture on the role laterality has in a poi spinner’s dominant direction of spin. What are those conclusions? Read on:
If you’re just interested in what the numbers told me, here’s the Cliff’s Notes:
To gather data, I decided to use an anonymous Google Form shared via all the different social networking sites I had access to. The questions on this form were designed to test laterality across three different categories: respondents were asked which hand they preferred to write with, which foot they preferred to kick a ball with, and which stance they preferred for board sports. While the latter two clearly had less to do with skills based in the upper body, I was curious if I might find a correlation between an equal preference in direction of spin with people who favored one side of their body for one pursuit and the other side for another (if my brain is already working on both sides evenly, will it then work in both directions of spin equally?). I’d considered asking for eye preference as well, but ruled it out as I believed describing the test necessary to determine this would take too long and be too prone to error. I wanted this form to be able to be filled out in less than two minutes.
Once the form was composed, I put it out on Facebook via my own personal profile and several poi-centered groups, as well as Google+, and Twitter. I asked friends to repost the link to their own profiles in an effort to cast as wide a net as possible. The result was a smashing success as compared to my earlier effort with over 400 responses as of this writing (a few responses keep coming trickling in, but my guess is they won’t overall effect the results that much at this point). With the results in, it was time to start analyzing them.
Out of a total of 418 responses, 355 (85%) reported that they were right-hand dominant, 53 (13%) reported being left-hand dominant, and 10 (2%) reported ambidexterity. The interesting thing about these numbers is that they fall into the normal range we find with the general population. This tells us two things: the first is that our sample is a good representative of the population at large and the second that poi spinning itself attracts equally people of either lateral dominance. Statistically, there are a few pursuits in which left-handed individuals engage in greater frequency than right-handed individuals, including some for which the differentiation should have no effect (half of the last 12 United States Presidents have been left-handed--three times in the last 20 years there has been a presidential election where all major party candidates were left-handed). This tells us that poi is not one of those pursuits.
356 (56%) of responses reported being right-footed, with 42 (10%) being left-footed and 20 (5%) reporting ambidexterity with their feet. Again, this falls into the normal range we find with the general population and is further evidence that this sample group is a good representation of the poi community as a whole. 226 (54%) use regular stance for board sports, 112 (27%) are goofy, 31 (7%) report being ambidextrous with their board stance, and 49 (12%) had never attempted a board sport and thus could not report their preferred stance.
Now we come to dominant direction of spin: 197 (47%) report clockwise as their dominant direction of spin, while 161 (39%) report counter-clockwise as their dominant direction of spin, finally 60 (14%) report feeling that spinning either direction was just as comfortable. These numbers are remarkably close given the spreads we’ve seen in the other questions, suggesting strongly that they don’t correlate very closely if at all. Let’s dive into comparing all the numbers to see if that conclusion bears out.
Okay...we’ve got the raw numbers, what do they add up to? Let’s start with handedness: I broke out each hand across the available options so I could graph them against each other. This was immediately troublesome given the responses from right-handed people vastly outnumbers those from other respondents, but I found a way around this that I feel gave an even more compelling picture.
First, here’s how these numbers break out: among the 355 people who reported being right-handed, 166 (47%) said their dominant direction of spin was clockwise, 140 (40%) reported counter-clockwise as their dominant direction of spin, and 49 (13%) gave no preference in their spin direction. For the 53 lefties, 30 (56%) preferred to spin clockwise, 19 (36%) preferred counter-clockwise, and 4 (8%) reported no preference in their direction of spin. Finally, for the 10 people who reported being ambidextrous, 1 said they preferred spinning clockwise, 2 said they preferred counter-clockwise, and 7 had no preference at all. Now, it’s hard to draw any kind of large conclusions when you’re talking about percentages of only 53 people, let alone 10, but there are some pretty interesting conclusions we can draw when we do pull out these numbers.
For one, thought the percentages at first seem rather random, if we graph them against each other, we see a similar trend emerging out of both the right and left handers: a majority of respondents spin clockwise with counter-clockwise trailing behind and ambi spinners making up the smallest proportion. I’m willing to bet that if I were able to get 400 left-handed spinners to respond to the survey we’d see percentages much closer to those of right-handed spinners. This comparison seems to eliminate any possibility that handedness and direction of spin could be directly related--indeed, it seems that regardless of which of your hands is your dominant one, you will be more likely to spin clockwise. In other words, the percentage of spinners of either direction that we see overall is distributed through each hand in nearly equal proportion.
It appears there could be one tantalizing exception: though there were only a total of 10 responses from people who claimed to lack a lateral dominance in their hands, the majority of them reported also not having a preference in their direction of spin. Could these two traits be linked? The numbers are so small it’s difficult to say for sure, but I could see making a case for it. Perhaps in a follow-up study I’ll have a better opportunity to get a larger pool of ambidextrous spinners to work from. The other possibility is that the respondents to this field are more likely to be people resisting pigeon-holing rather than truly ambidextrous.
But what about foot dominance? The numbers are actually shockingly similar to those of hand dominance: of the 356 people who reported being right-footed, 167 (47%) spun clockwise, 139 (40%) preferred to spin counter-clockwise, and 50 (13%) reported being equally comfortable spinning in either direction--the numbers are nearly identical to the numbers for right-handed people. For the 42 people who reported being left-footed, 21 (50%) spun clockwise, 17 (40%) spun counter-clockwise, and 4 (10%) had no preference at all. Again, the numbers closely resemble those for the southpaws. As for the 20 people who reported ambidexterity with their feet, 9 (45%) spun clockwise, 5 (25%) spun counter-clockwise, and 6 (30%) had no spin direction preference. Here, we see the correlation between ambidexterity and being equally comfortable with either direction of spin disappear, but I would argue that footedness is also less likely to have a direct correlation to the use of the hands, though I would also point out that a nearly equal number of respondents for ambidexterity in feet reported equal preference in direction of spin to those reporting ambidexterity with their hands--there were just twice as many people reporting ambidexterity with feet. Yet again, the small numbers of respondents for this category may be skewing data.
The picture emerging from the data is that there is absolutely no correlation between laterality with any appendage and dominant direction of spin, so let’s test it on a variable that surely has little or nothing to do with poi spinning: stance in board sports. It’s already known that stance has little if any direct correlation to footedness and we already know from the raw numbers that it’s unrelated to handedness, so if the conclusion the data seems to be pointing us to is correct, we should see the exact same picture emerging from this data that we have from all the others.
Of the 226 people with a regular stance, 111 (49%) reported spinning clockwise, 94 (41%) reported spinning counter-clockwise, and 21 (10%) had no direction preference. Of the 112 goofy respondents, 59 (52%) spun clockwise, 39 (35%) spun counter-clockwise, and 14 (13%) had no direction preference. Again, the numbers aren’t terribly different from those of handedness or footedness. For the 31 people who reported being equally comfortable with either stance, 10 spun clockwise, 11 spun counter-clockwise, and 10 were equally comfortable with either direction of spin. Interestingly, after a suggestion for one respondent, I added a field for people who’d never tried board sports to respond rather than lumping them in with the ambi stance people. For the 49 who’d never tried a board sport, 17 spun clockwise, 17 spun counter-clockwise, and 15 had no preference in direction of spin. This is odd because you’d expect that people who’d never tried a board sport would potentially have the same breakdown as the rest of the population and we’d see a preference for clockwise, with counter-clockwise trailing slightly behind it and ambidirectional spinning trailing far behind both. I’m unsure how to account for this anomaly and it may just be a statistical hiccup in the data.
But what about the potential for cross-body preference to influence direction of spin? Could my hypothesis that a right handed person who kicks balls with their left foot is in some fashion cross-training their brain and thus more likely to be able to spin both directions? Let’s look at the data factoring in both variables:
Of the 322 people who were both right handed and right footed, 153 (47%) reported spinning clockwise, 124 (38%) spun counter-clockwise, and 45 (14%) were equally comfortable spinning both directions. What about those right handers who were left footed? Unfortunately, there were only 21 people for whom that was the case...of those, 8 (38%) spun clockwise, 11 (52%) spun counter-clockwise, and 2 (10%) spun either direction. So there is an odd spike here in that people who were right handed but left footed were more likely to spin counter-clockwise unlike all the other variables we’ve played with so far, but the numbers are so small that two responses throw them off by 10 percentage points--can we really trust them? What about contrasting them with left handers who are right foot dominant? If we see the same spike there, it could mean that there’s something to it. For left handers, 28 reported being right footed of whom 13 (46%) spun clockwise, 13 (46%) spun counter-clockwise, and 2 (8%) had no direction preference. So we do see a spike here, but it’s not as pronounced as it was for the right hand-left foot combo. Plus which, again, the numbers of respondents are so small I don’t think we can draw a real conclusion from them.
There are at least a couple conclusions that I think it’s safe to draw from the data: the first is that poi spinners have lateral dominance that is in line with the general population. The second is that all poi spinners regardless of dominant hand, foot, or board sport stance, are approximately 10% more likely to prefer to spin clockwise than counter-clockwise but that overall these two spin direction preferences are nearly even. 14% of us are likely to be equally comfortable spinning in either direction, though those of us who are naturally ambidextrous may be more likely to possess this quality. Why this abnormally high number of people able to spin both directions (higher even than in board sports) when ambidextrous people are comparatively rare in the general population? My guess is that poi is an art that encourages people to explore both directions of spin equally in wall plane. For example, when spinning in opposites or split-time opposites it is almost inevitable that a spinner will wind up training both hands on both directions as a matter of course.
If you’re a teacher, it just means that you’ll have to be prepared to teach in both directions to any given workshop. But don’t worry, that’ll just make you a better spinner in the long run ;)
So there you have it...a huge debt of thanks is owed to everyone who responded to and shared this questionnaire. If you’ve got more questions about the data, you can view it here. Please note that all my numbers are taken from the form as it appeared the night of 11/9/2012, so if more people discover the form and decide to fill it out the numbers may wind up changing over time. Thanks again :)