Handedness results from complementary hemispheric dominance, not global hemispheric dominance: evidence from mechanically coupled bilateral movements

Elizabeth J. Woytowicz, Kelly P. Westlake, Jill Whitall, Robert L. Sainburg

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39 Scopus citations


Two contrasting views of handedness can be described as 1) complementary dominance, in which each hemisphere is specialized for different aspects of motor control, and 2) global dominance, in which the hemisphere contralateral to the dominant arm is specialized for all aspects of motor control. The present study sought to determine which motor lateralization hypothesis best predicts motor performance during common bilateral task of stabilizing an object (e.g., bread) with one hand while applying forces to the object (e.g., slicing) using the other hand. We designed an experimental equivalent of this task, performed in a virtual environment with the unseen arms supported by frictionless air-sleds. The hands were connected by a spring, and the task was to maintain the position of one hand while moving the other hand to a target. Thus the reaching hand was required to take account of the spring load to make smooth and accurate trajectories, while the stabilizer hand was required to impede the spring load to keep a constant position. Right-handed subjects performed two task sessions (right-hand reach and left-hand stabilize; left-hand reach and right-hand stabilize) with the order of the sessions counterbalanced between groups. Our results indicate a hand by task-component interaction such that the right hand showed straighter reaching performance whereas the left hand showed more stable holding performance. These findings provide support for the complementary dominance hypothesis and suggest that the specializations of each cerebral hemisphere for impedance and dynamic control mechanisms are expressed during bilateral interactive tasks. NEW & NOTEWORTHY We provide evidence for interlimb differences in bilateral coordination of reaching and stabilizing functions, demonstrating an advantage for the dominant and nondominant arms for distinct features of control. These results provide the first evidence for complementary specializations of each limb-hemisphere system for different aspects of control within the context of a complementary bilateral task.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)729-740
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Neurophysiology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Aug 9 2018

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Neuroscience(all)
  • Physiology


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