In the general population, 10.6% of people favor their left hand over the right for motor tasks. Previous research suggests higher prevalence of atypical (left-, mixed-, or non-right-) handedness in (i) twins compared to singletons, and in (ii) monozygotic compared to dizygotic twins. Moreover, (iii) studies have shown a higher rate of handedness concordance in monozygotic compared to dizygotic twins, in line with genetic factors playing a role for handedness.
By means of a systematic review, we identified 59 studies from previous literature and performed three sets of random effects meta-analyses on (i) twin-to-singleton Odds Ratios (21 studies, n = 189,422 individuals) and (ii) monozygotic-to-dizygotic twin Odds Ratios (48 studies, n = 63,295 individuals), both times for prevalence of left-, mixed-, and non-right-handedness. For monozygotic and dizygotic twin pairs we compared (iii) handedness concordance Odds Ratios (44 studies, n = 36,217 twin pairs). We also tested for potential effects of moderating variables, such as sex, age, the method used to assess handedness, and the twins’ zygosity.
We found (i) evidence for higher prevalence of left- (Odds Ratio = 1.40, 95% Confidence Interval = [1.26, 1.57]) and non-right- (Odds Ratio = 1.36, 95% Confidence Interval = [1.22, 1.52]), but not mixed-handedness (Odds Ratio = 1.08, 95% Confidence Interval = [0.52, 2.27]) among twins compared to singletons. We further showed a decrease in Odds Ratios in more recent studies (post-1975: Odds Ratio = 1.30, 95% Confidence Interval = [1.17, 1.45]) compared to earlier studies (pre-1975: Odds Ratio = 1.90, 95% Confidence Interval = [1.59–2.27]). While there was (ii) no difference between monozygotic and dizygotic twins regarding prevalence of left- (Odds Ratio = 0.98, 95% Confidence Interval = [0.89, 1.07]), mixed- (Odds Ratio = 0.96, 95% Confidence Interval = [0.46, 1.99]), or non-right-handedness (Odds Ratio = 1.01, 95% Confidence Interval = [0.91, 1.12]), we found that (iii) handedness concordance was elevated among monozygotic compared to dizygotic twin pairs (Odds Ratio = 1.11, 95% Confidence Interval = [1.06, 1.18]). By means of moderator analyses, we did not find evidence for effects of potentially confounding variables.
We provide the largest and most comprehensive meta-analysis on handedness in twins. Although a raw, unadjusted analysis found a higher prevalence of left- and non-right-, but not mixed-handedness among twins compared to singletons, left-handedness was substantially more prevalent in earlier than in more recent studies. The single large, recent study which included birth weight, Apgar score and gestational age as covariates found no twin-singleton difference in handedness rate, but these covariates could not be included in the present meta-analysis. Together, the secular shift and the influence of covariates probably make it unsafe to conclude that twinning has a genuine relationship to handedness.