Two-handed computing

A question that probably doesn’t get asked very often:

Why do right-handed people use a mouse with their right hand?

I am but I don’t, you see…

When I first used a computer with a mouse, I was working for someone who was interested in psychology. He had a theory that it was best to use the mouse with his non-dominant hand. As a violinist, having to do all my fingering with my left hand, and as someone who is also interested in psychology, I decided he might have a point. So, rather than use the mouse with my right hand–which is also my writing hand–I learnt to use it with my left hand.

I think he was right–the left hand tends to be used for more instinctive actions such as holding an awkwardly-shaped object in place, and the right hand for more conscious ones such as working on the awkwardly-shaped object with tools. Using the mouse is an instinctive action so the left hand is the ideal candidate.

If I use someone else’s computer, invariably the first thing I do is move the mouse over from where they’ve put it to the left-hand side. Then then normally ask whether I’m left-handed. In fact, the reason I use my left hand for it is that I’m right-handed. Basically

  • the left hand moves the mouse

while the right hand is free to

  • use the keyboard, especially the Return key
  • hold a pen to write notes with
  • hold the coffee mug!

Why doesn’t everyone do it?

When you’re used to this way of working, using the same hand for the mouse as for everything else seems quite labourious and clumsy. For example, as I typed the full stop at the end of that sentence with my right hand, my left hand moved to the mouse in anticipation of saving the post… then back to type another sentence… and in a moment, to the mouse again to click the Save button.

One response to “Two-handed computing

  1. Carl Vigilante

    I agree that this makes sense. I too am right-handed and use the mouse with my left hand. I switched a year ago as a New Year’s resolution to use my non-dominant hand more. If I’m doing a lot of mouse work though and my hand gets tired, I switch between both hands. This New Year’s resolution is to do even more with my left hand, including learning to play guitar left-handed. Just a fun learning challenge to keeps my brain active.

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