A large-scale population study of early life factors influencing left-handedness
Hand preference is a conspicuous variation in human behaviour, with a worldwide proportion of around 90% of people preferring to use the right hand for many tasks, and 10% the left hand. We used the large, general population cohort of the UK biobank (~500,000 participants) to study possible relations between early life factors and adult hand preference. The probability of being left-handed was affected by the year and location of birth, likely due to cultural effects. In addition, handedness was affected by birthweight, being part of a multiple birth, season of birth, breastfeeding, and sex, with each effect remaining significant after accounting for all others. Maternal smoking showed no association with handedness. Analysis of genome-wide genotype data showed that left-handedness was very weakly heritable, but shared no genetic basis with birthweight. Although on average left-handers and right-handers differed for a number of early life factors, all together these factors had only a minimal predictive value for individual hand preference. Therefore other, unknown effects must be involved, including possible environmental factors, and/or random developmental variation with respect to the left-right formation of the embryonic brain.
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