Handedness, homicide and negative frequency-dependent selection

Charlotte Faurie, Michel Raymond

Abstract

Humans exhibit hand preference for most manual activities in which they are specialized. Right- and left-handers have coexisted at least since the Upper Palaeolithic, and left-handers are in the minority in all human populations. The persistence of the polymorphism of handedness is a puzzle because this trait is substantially heritable and several fitness costs are associated with left-handedness. Some countervailing benefit is required to maintain the polymorphism. Left-handers may have a frequency-dependent advantage in fights--the advantage being greater when their frequency is lower. Sports data from Western societies are consistent with this prediction. Here, we show that the frequency of left-handers is strongly and positively correlated with the rate of homicides across traditional societies. It ranges from 3% in the most pacifistic societies, to 27% in the most violent and warlike. This finding is consistent with a frequency-dependent selection mechanism maintaining left-handedness in these societies.