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Distinguishing Right And Left

PROCEDURE. Say to the child: "_Show me your right hand._" After this is
responded to, say: "_Show me your left ear._" Then: "_Show me your right
eye._" Stress the words _left_ and _ear_ rather strongly and equally;
also _right_ and _eye_. If there is one error, repeat the test, this
time with left hand, right ear, and left eye. Carefully avoid giving any
help by look of approval or disapproval, by glancing at the part of the
body indicated, or by supplementary questions.

SCORING. The test is passed if all three questions are answered
correctly, or if, in case of one error, the three additional questions
are all answered correctly. The standard, therefore, _is three out of
three, or five out of six_.

The chief danger of variation among different examiners in scoring
comes from double responses. For example, the child may point first to
one ear and then to the other. In all cases of double response, the rule
is to count the second response and disregard the first. This holds
whether the first response was wrong and the second right, or _vice

REMARKS. It is interesting to follow the child's acquisitions
of language distinctions relating to spacial orientation. Other
distinctions of this type are those between up and down, above and
below, near and far, before and behind, etc. As Bobertag has pointed
out, the child first masters such distinctions as up and down, above and
below, before and behind, etc., and arrives at a knowledge of right and
left rather tardily.

How may we explain the late distinction of right and left as compared
with up and down? At least four theories may be advanced: (1) Something
depends on the frequency with which children have occasion to make the
respective distinctions. (2) It may be explained on the supposition that
kinaesthetic sensations are more prominently involved in distinctions of
up and down than in distinctions of right and left. It is certainly true
that, in distinguishing the two sides of a thing, less bodily movement
is ordinarily required than in distinctions of its upper and lower
aspects. The former demands only a shift of the eyes, the latter often
requires an upward or downward movement of the head. (3) It may be due
to the fact that the appearance of an object is more affected by
differences in vertical orientation than by those of horizontal
orientation. We see an object now from one side, now from the other, and
the two aspects easily blend, while the two aspects corresponding to
above and below are not viewed in such rapid succession and so remain
much more distinct from one another in the child's mind. Or, (4), the
difference may be mainly a matter of language. The child undoubtedly
hears the words _up_ and _down_ much oftener than _right_ and _left_,
and thus learns their meaning earlier. Horizontal distinctions are
commonly made in such terms as _this side_ and _that side_, or merely by
pointing, while in the case of vertical distinctions the words _up_ and
_down_ are used constantly. This last explanation is a very plausible
one, but it is very probable that other factors are also involved.

The distinction between right and left has a certain inherent and more
or less mysterious difficulty. To convince one's self of this it is only
necessary to try a little experiment on the first fifty persons one
chances to meet. The experiment is as follows. Say: "I am going to ask
you a question and I want you to answer it as quickly as you can." Then
ask: "Which is your right hand?" About forty persons out of fifty will
answer correctly without a second's hesitation, several will require two
or three seconds to respond, while a few, possibly four or five
per cent, will grow confused and perhaps be unable to respond for five
or ten seconds. Some very intelligent adults cannot possibly tell which
is the right or left hand without first searching for a scar or some
other distinguishing mark which is known to be on a particular hand.
Others resort to incipient movements of writing, and since, of course,
every one knows which hand he writes with, the writing movements
automatically initiated give the desired clue. One bright little girl of
8 years responded by trying to wink first one eye and then the other.
Asked why she did this, she said she knew she could wink her left eye,
but not her right! One who is resourceful enough to adopt such an
ingenious method is surely not less intelligent than the one who is able
to respond by a direct instead of an intermediate association.

It seems that normal people never encounter a corresponding difficulty
in distinguishing up and down. The writer has questioned several hundred
without finding a single instance, whereas a great many have to employ
some intermediate association in order to distinguish right and left. It
is the "p's and q's" that children must be told to mind; not the "p's
and b's." The former is a horizontal, the latter a vertical distinction.

Considering the difficulty which normal adults sometimes have in
distinguishing right and left, is it fair to use this test as a measure
of intelligence? We may answer in the affirmative. It is fair because
normal adults, notwithstanding momentary uncertainty, are invariably
able to make the distinction, if not by direct association, then by an
intermediate one. We overlook the momentary confusion and regard only
the correctness of the response. Subjects who are below middle-grade
imbecile, however long they have lived, seldom pass the test.

This test found a place in year VI of Binet's 1908 scale, but was
shifted to year VII in the 1911 revision. The Stanford statistics, and
all other available data, with the exception of Bobertag's, justify its
retention in year VI. It is possible that the children of different
nations do not have equal opportunity and stimulus for learning the
distinction between right and left, but the data show that as far as
American and English children are concerned we have a right to expect
this knowledge in children of 6 years.

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