Psychology in the News

October 3, 2007

Left? Right? Confusion!

Filed under: brain wiring — Tags: , — intro2psych @ 7:49 pm

by Alex Rodabaugh

During a spring break road trip to Disney Land, I helped my friend navigate to the exit of magical adventures. As we came to the exit I reported, “Now, take a left… a left… LEFT! LEFT!!” And as our car sped in the wrong direction she screamed back, “I AM TURNING LEFT!!” We missed the exit because, for some reason, I had confused my left with my right. This scene has been recreated throughout my life from simple misdirection to being slightly confused when learning dances as I put up the wrong arm or place the wrong leg in front.

Left and right confusion comes from the parietal lobe of our brain, and according to a website hosted by Eric H. Chulder, the director of Education and Outreach at the University of Washington Engineered Biomaterials, it is more common than you might think. He states, according to his sources, that nearly 20% of college professors and over 26% of college students have difficulty identifying right from left either occasionally, frequently or all the time. On the website, Right – Left Confusion you can take a test to get a feel for your own left and right confusion and see how well our parietal lobe is performing.


  1. Really? I never knew this.

    Comment by Christine Rodabaugh — December 9, 2008 @ 10:43 am

  2. I do that as well. Even worse they tell me right when driving and i turn left or backwards. But anyways i grew up with it.

    Comment by roberto — February 24, 2009 @ 1:45 am

    • The test is not well designed. They use hands to denote the direction. My initial response is which hand am I looking at rather than which direction is it pointing. eg I’m looking at a left
      hand which is pointing right.
      They need to use arrows otherwise the test result is clouded.

      Comment by Eddie — August 17, 2011 @ 6:59 pm

  3. I thought it was just normal confusing left from right or vice versa until I noticed it seemed that I’m the only (as far as I know) confused about it… I started wondering why until I came across about this on the internet… thanks for posting this… ^_^

    Comment by nics — September 4, 2010 @ 9:50 am

  4. I suffer from this, and it’s so frustrating and strange at the same time. I don’t have any problems with forward and backward, up and down, but left and right or east and west are an ongoing issue with me.
    Because I can identify other directions immediately with no conscious thought, I understand how people who don’t confuse left and right would find this difficult to understand and appreciate the problems we who suffer from this have.
    It take conscious active thought, rather than an unconscious thought to identify the direction, I’m trying to research this problem at the moment, because I feel there is either a learning or development issue which seems to be linked in some cases with other conditions such as dyslexia.
    I’m left footed and right handed which could be causing me a problem, because both halves of my body have a left and right involved, it depends how we identify direction and what we use to identify it with; if you were to stand on your head would you have a problem identifying up and down, because you use your head to orientate yourself. I would love to get to the bottom of this, my objective is to be able to orientate left and right subconsciously in the same was as I orientate the other direction. Unfortunately this would involve experimentally and psychological testing which I not qualified or able to do.

    Comment by Mark — June 26, 2011 @ 6:07 am

  5. I have been aware of this difficulty since I was a kid. Now as I approach old age it is worsening. Practice is the only thing that helps (unless there is an iPhone app?) Always good to know you’re not alone!

    Comment by nhg — July 19, 2011 @ 8:32 am

  6. I did a little more research on the subject and came to the following conclusions

    Our brains require a degree of external physical stimulus to help us deal with direction, gravity helps us negotiate up and down and inertia to help with forward and backward, these combined with other senses help us identify direction.
    If you remove the physical stimulus it can confuse the brain and we can find it difficult to identify direction, for example in zero gravity, with no visual aid it would be difficult to identify what is up and what is down, also if you have ever been on a train and the train next to you starts moving you can get the sensation of movement when you are actually stationary. Left and right, I believe also requires a degree of external physical stimulus to assist the brain in working out which is which, in this case the external factor could be magnetism.

    It has been identified that a light-sensitive protein in the human eye has the ability to act as a “compass” in a magnetic field; this protein was put in to fruit flies to replace their own natural “magnetoreception” protein.

    Even though it has been identified that the human eye has a protein that can sense a magnetic field, there is no proof that any of the information reaches the brain. It would be an interesting extension to the study to see if people who experience left right orientation issues have the same quantity of the protein to those who have no difficulty.

    Comment by maesspace — January 19, 2012 @ 4:20 pm

    • this test is lame…the diif between my up down and left right is like 32 sec….and I took 50 sec to read all the left right…what does that imply?

      Comment by Mukul Yadav — July 2, 2012 @ 5:38 am

  7. I have this problem as well…I would be telling people to go right and I am pointing and thinking left….it is very frustrating…the weird thing is I have excellent sense of direction, as long as I don’t have to communicate it to someone else….I rarely get lost.

    Comment by Lisa Narvaez — November 19, 2012 @ 6:13 pm

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