What is Cross Dominance?

Hands and eye (photo by Daniel E Bruce - CC-BY)

Hands and eye (photo by Daniel E Bruce - CC-BY)

You probably know if you’re right or left handed, but do you know if you’re right or left eyed? How about left or right footed, or eared?

Dominance, sometimes called laterality, refers to the preference that most people show toward one side of the body or the other, usually thought of as handedness. With the exception of a few rare ambidextrous people, most people are either right or left handed. Science teaches that the left side of the brain controls the right side of the body, and vice versa, so there is a tendency to think that the left side of the brain is more dominant in a right handed person while the opposite would be true for a left handed person.

But the dominant hand is actually only one of four areas of dominance on the body, the others being foot, eye and ear. Ideally and normally, all four points are the same. That is, if you are right handed, your right foot, eye and ear will or should also be dominant. But this is not always the case, and when it’s not, the problem of brain hemisphere dominance becomes less clear, and some challenges and problems can arise, mainly in the areas of perception and performance.

For instance, cross hand-foot dominance can cause some forms of clumsiness or trouble with coordination in sports or other athletic activities. One easy way to determine your foot dominance is to notice which foot you naturally use to kick a ball. That is your dominant foot, and if it’s not the same side as your dominant hand, you are cross dominant in that area.

As for ear-hand cross dominance there is some evidence that this might be associated with difficulty in remembering math facts, as well as with long term memory in some individuals. One way to determine ear dominance is to notice which ear you naturally turn toward a voice or sound when you’re having trouble hearing. If it’s not on the same side as your dominant hand, you may be ear-hand cross dominant.

Cross dominance between hand and eye probably causes the most problems as that can get in the way of good eye hand coordination for activities that require it. If you’ve ever had trouble accurately batting a ball, for instance, or throwing a dart, or shooting an arrow, you may have a problem with cross hand-eye dominance.

Here’s a quick exercise that can help to tell. First, with both eyes open, point your finger at and focus on a distant object, a doorknob, or something on the wall. Then close each eye in turn and watch what happens to your finger in relation to the object you’re looking at. With one eye open, it will appear to stay in exactly the same place as you’re pointing. That will be your dominant eye.

But with the other eye, your finger will appear to “jump” to the side. That is your non-dominant eye. If the eye that saw the object and finger stay aligned is the same as your dominant hand, you don’t have eye-hand cross dominance. But if the eye that saw your finger “jump” is the same as your dominant hand, you are eye-hand cross dominant, and that could be the explanation for any eye-hand coordination problems.

The best way to compensate for this is to simply train yourself to use your non-dominant hand. For activities that use both hands, this is not as hard as it might seem. Many people have learned to bat or shoot with their non-dominant hand. Throwing or catching may be harder, as those are generally single-handed efforts, but might still be learned, and learning to use the non-dominant hand could help to overcome the aiming problems.

Some people believe that attempts should be made to correct all cross dominance therapeutically, and have devised ways and exercises to accomplish that. But others say it’s such a common occurrence (more than 20% of people have some cross dominance) and is so relatively easy to compensate for, that unless it causes unusually serious problems, there’s really no need to worry about it. Nevertheless, it’s an interesting exercise to try to discover your own dominance.

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