The term “handedness” refers to the tendency to use one hand over the other, such as left-handedness or right-handedness. It’s also known as hand preference.

So, if you naturally use your right hand to perform tasks, you’re right-handed. If you naturally use your left hand, you’re left-handed. But if you can use both hands to perform tasks, you’re considered to be ambidextrous.

Ambidextrousness, or ambidexterity, is sometimes called mixed-handedness, though the terms are slightly different. Ambidexterity is the ability to use either hand to skillfully perform tasks. Mixed-handedness is the tendency to use different hands for different tasks. It usually refers to preference, not skill.

There’s less research on ambidexterity than on mixed-handedness. However, since both involve using both hands, research on mixed-handedness might shed some light on ambidexterity as well.

Read on to learn about the possible causes and risks associated with being ambidextrous.

The exact cause of ambidexterity is unknown, but there are several theories.

Cultural preference for right-handedness

It’s thought that many people with ambidexterity are actually left-handers who have taught themselves how to use their right hand.

This is due to the cultural preference for right-handedness.

Historically, many objects have been designed for right-handed people. Some examples include:

  • can openers
  • scissors
  • the number pad on keyboards
  • classroom chair desks

So, one theory is that ambidexterity comes about when left-handed people use right-handed objects.

In fact, many people who identify as ambidextrous tend to write with their right hand. This may emphasize how society prefers right-handedness.

Pain in the left hand

Another possible explanation relates to injuries or pain.

If a left-handed person injures their dominant hand, they might be forced to perform tasks with the other one. As a result, they can become ambidextrous. The same can be true for a right-handed person who injures their dominant hand and learns to use their left.


It’s possible that genetics might play a role. A 2021 study found seven gene variants associated with ambidexterity. However, more research is needed to understand these variants.

Imbalanced coordination between brain hemispheres

The brain consists of left and right hemispheres. These hemispheres work together to perform various functions, like remembering information.

Ambidexterity might be due to an imbalance in this coordination. But again, more studies are needed.

True ambidexterity is rare. Approximately 1 percent of the population is ambidextrous.

Ambidexterity is also more common in males than females, the 2021 study mentioned earlier suggests.

People use the terms “ambidextral” and “ambisinistral” to describe different levels of ambidextrousness.

Ambidextral refers to ambidextrous people who use both hands like a right-handed person’s right hand. Likewise, ambisinistral refers to ambidextrous people who use both hands like a left-handed person’s left hand.

These terms aren’t widely used in science, though. More research is needed to determine if there actually are different types of ambidextrousness and how they differ from each other.

Again, the research on ambidexterity is lacking. No studies explicitly examine the link between ambidextrousness and health risks.

However, researchers have examined risks related to mixed-handedness, which involves using different hands for certain tasks. There’s also research on left-handedness and risks, which may apply to ambidextrous people who are actually left-handed.

Here’s what the science says so far:

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)

Cerebral laterality refers to the fact that one side of the brain specializes in certain functions, while the other side specializes in others. It’s also known as lateralization of brain function.

According to a 2010 study, mixed-handedness is associated with atypical cerebral laterality. It’s also linked to ADHD in children and adolescents.

Researchers in a 2015 study also note that non-right handedness is associated with ADHD symptoms. Non-righthandedness includes ambidextrous people, which may include those who were originally left-handed.


There’s some speculation that ambidextrous or mixed-handedness people have a higher risk of developing schizophrenia.

According to a 2021 study, ambidexterity is associated with variants in the gene VRK2. This gene is also involved in the development of schizophrenia as well as major depressive disorder, according to a 2018 study.

Additionally, a 2013 study found a connection between left-handedness and schizophrenia. This association may also apply to ambidextrous people who are actually left-handed.

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

A 2007 study found that veterans who use both hands in combat are more likely to develop PTSD. This is a mental health condition that occurs after experiencing a scary or shocking event.

According to the study, atypical cerebral lateralization may be related to PSTD. It’s thought to increase a person’s sensitivity to threats, potentially increasing the risk for PTSD.

As mentioned earlier, abnormal cerebral lateralization is associated with using both hands. This might explain the link between PTSD and ambidexterity or mixed-handedness, though more research is needed.

Learning difficulties

Atypical lateralization of the brain, which is involved in ambidexterity and mixed-handedness, may also cause learning difficulties in children.

According to a 2015 study, this may be related to trouble with skills like:

  • verbal fluency
  • writing pace
  • retrieving information

The study also notes that children with an inconsistent hand tendency are less coordinated than those who are just right- or left-handed. This may affect learning in school.

Synesthesia is a neurological condition in which one sense, like hearing, is perceived by another sense, like sight. For example, a person with synesthesia might see colors when they hear sounds.

Currently, there’s no research that directly links ambidexterity with synesthesia. But it’s said that left-handed people are more likely to have synesthesia. So, an ambidextrous person who is actually left-handed might be more likely to have the condition.

Ambidextrousness is the ability to skillfully use both hands. It’s similar to mixed-handedness, which involves using different hands for different tasks.

Researchers are still learning about ambidexterity. The exact cause is unknown, but it’s thought that many ambidextrous people are left-handed individuals who have learned how to use their right hand. Certain genetic variants might also play a role.

Being ambidextrous may be associated with ADHD, schizophrenia, and PTSD. More studies are necessary to understand the causes and risks of ambidexterity.