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Do we have a natural tendency to turn to the right or left?

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  • Do we have a natural tendency to turn to the right or left?

    I seem to remember reading that right-handed humans have a natural
    preference for turning right (hence walking on the right could be
    regarded as "ergonomic"). Does anyone know of a reference on this? In
    olden times traffic was on the left (it still is in the UK and
    Australia). There are two theories as to why that was. The first is that
    keeping to the left allowed most people (most right-handed people ay any
    rate) to wield their swords when they needed to.

    The other theory is that most beasts of burden (oxen, horses, camels et
    cetera) prefer to turn left. An overseas friend once told me that
    Pakistan tried to change the side of the road when the British left the
    sub-continent but the camels refused to change to the other side of the
    road so they had to revert back to the British system.

    Some tendencies to turn seem to be hard-wired. I received these
    instructions the other day in a social email;
    "1. While sitting at your desk, lift your right foot off the floor and
    clockwise circles.

    2. Now, while doing this, draw the number "6" in the air with your right
    hand (or three sixes if you are feeling devilish). Your foot will change
    direction. Keep trying to see if you can control your foot, but you will
    find that cannot. And there's nothing you can do about it! "

    I found the outcome of this little exercise somewhat weird but possibly
    of interest to some of us (to physiologists and biomechanics experts
    perhaps). Does anyone know exactly why it happens? Is it to do with
    divided attention or brain mapping?

    Has anyone ever written or found any serious journal articles about
    these strange aspects of the motor control of muscles or how they affect
    the choice and design of machinery controls?


    David McFarlane
    Ergonomist, WorkCover Authority
    CBD South Office, Sydney
    New South Wales, Australia

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