Does using your non-dominant hand unleash creativity?
By Wendy Wagner
This is a question I asked myself after a recent studio fall left me with a broken radius and a chipped ulna in my dominant hand.
Pro tip: Do not use random furniture as a ladder to hang artwork. Take the time to get out a steady stool.
After my injury, I began drawing with my non-dominant hand. When I posted this on social media, friends sent me articles on the benefits of this, which provided some comfort that the break was not a roadblock, but rather, a detour. After all, who wants to stop making art for 8 weeks?
After reading an article on the Good Financial Cents website, I was encouraged! The author cites, "When using the non-dominant hand, both hemispheres are activated, which may result in thinking differently, thus becoming more creative." Good news, as I could not even hold paper with my dominant hand. Certainly, it sounded positive, but I wondered, Is this scientifically factual?
In the early 1900’s, John Jackson, head of the Ambidextrous Cultural Society, assumed that by training to be ambidextrous, each hand could work independently of each other, thus using both sides of the brain. When these claims were dismissed, the lingering thought that this improves overall brain function still exists today.
Some businesses suggest that they can develop your “whole” brain. For a fee, of course. Other articles claim that by brushing your teeth with your non-dominant hand, you will not only strengthen neural connections but grow new brain cells.
Although the brain can be altered by new experiences and training, and it does continue to multiply cells in small numbers throughout one’s life, there is no scientific evidence to suggest training the non-dominant hand has these benefits. In fact, it was proposed that the asymmetries of the brain may have evolved to allow the two sides to specialize, so there is no need to tamper with their functions.
I reached out to artist/neuro enthusiast Anthony Waichulis for more direction. He generously provided me with links to continue the search.
In a study posted on the PubMed Central, subjects were tested at a baseline with dominant and non-dominant hands. They were given tasks to perform at intervals (using a stylus on a tablet), then were scanned via MRI to see the changes.
While they improved in smoothness and speed performing the tasks, “there was no evidence for training-related changes in Functioning Connectivity between left- and right-hand sensorimotor representations”. Meaning, they just improved at those specific tasks. Like anything, with practice, you will improve.
Anthony also directed me to a brainfacts.org article which states that both hands have their own strengths; one is not ‘weaker’ than the other.
In addition, I found information which may provide better strategies for getting into flow than practicing further with my non-dominant hand: Brain breaks. Intense focus sets up mental fatigue. The solution to replenishing attention, and improving learning is to take a break, not keep pushing. Walk away from the easel for a bit to boost creativity.
In conclusion, although abundant pop psychology articles imply that there IS a benefit, there are no conclusive scientific studies to prove this theory correct.
With my own experience, it was easier to draw and paint slowly with the non-dominant hand than it was to write the alphabet. Using my left hand helped get me through the time of healing, however, and once the cast was removed, I was encouraged to use my right hand as often as possible. At least my setback did not prevent me from making art!