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
br /> 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.