Research team links hand preference in children to executive function

Children who have a significant hand preference may have better behavioural control, memory and planning skills, according to a new study published by a team of researchers at the University of Lethbridge.

Drs. Claudia Gonzalez, left, and Robbin Gibb are working to formalize the working relationship between kinesiology and neuroscience.

The group found that a more lateralized brain supports the development of Executive Function (EF) - a blanket term that is considered to include self-regulation, working memory and planning. In the study, children (ages 5-6 and 9-10) undertook a series of tests of hand preference for grasping items while their parents filled out a questionnaire to determine their EF.

The study was recently published by Frontiers in Psychology.

“In our experiment, all children self-reported as right-handed, yet many of them failed to show a right-hand preference for grasping. Overall, these children showed more problems with EF,” says Dr. Robbin Gibb, a neuroscientist at the U of L’s Canadian Centre for Behavioural Neuroscience (CCBN).

Using Lego® blocks, researchers observed how often children who were right-handed used their dominant hand to build a model. What they found is that those who used their right hand at a higher rate also had, according to their parents, higher EF. Children who used both hands to complete the task generally had a lower EF rating.

“Our results suggest that EF enjoys privileged support from the left hemisphere, which also controls the right hand. More likely, however, the results indicate that the greater the degree of lateralization (either to the left or right hemisphere) supports better behavioural control,” says Dr. Claudia Gonzalez, a Canada Research Chair in Sensorimotor Control, and an associate professor in the Department of Kinesiology.

Establishing a link between degree of hand use for precision grasping and EF may allow parents and caregivers to predict if children are likely to experience issues in learning and maturing. This would allow for the opportunity to introduce early interventions, something the U of L researchers will explore in the coming year.

Gonzalez and Gibb will study whether exclusively exercising a child’s dominant hand (for brief intervals of time each day) helps to develop EF, and if developing a more lateralized hand preference helps to develop a more efficient brain.

The study was a result of a unique collaboration between Gonzalez’s kinesiology lab and Gibb’s lab at the CCBN, located at the U of L. Funded by the Office of Research Services, this research also included Dr. Nicole Rosen (now at the University of Manitoba), Dr. Inge Genee from the Department of Modern Languages, Dr. Fangfang Li from the Department of Psychology and Dr. Noella Piquette from the Faculty of Education.

Considering the potential of this type of collaborative research, Drs. Gonzalez and Gibb are working to formalize the working relationship between kinesiology and neuroscience.

The Frontiers in Psychology paper can be found at the following link: