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September 29, 2008



Until today, at 55, I have never researched this left-right problem. I have always accepted it as a strange weakness. I have always had to resort to pretending to play the piano if someone wants to tell me to turn L or R when driving, and I momentarily 'play' the steering wheel with my fingers to remind myself which is left and which right.

I have terrible problems with maths - and get a mental blackout when having to do mental arithmetic. If I hadn't learned my multiplication tables up to 12x12 when I was a child (I'm 55 now)I wouldn't have been fit for life at all. The ensuing problems always caused stress, and a sense of fear and failure.

I can use a computer mouse with no problem, but recently my mouse didn't work, and I had a learn to copy and paste, drag and drop, using the touch pad. I found it extremely difficult, like learning to ride a bicycle backwards.

I'm a Cambridge graduate, and a language teacher. I know I'm not unintelligent, but I have often felt stupid, and have been the butt of ridicule by others who did not understand.

Map reading is also a problem. I have to turn the map upside down if we're driving south, and even then I get confused.
East and West also get muddled. I have to remember that West (W) is left of East (E), forming the word, 'WE'. Such mnemonics do help. I wish I had had more when I was younger.

Onia's explanation above, of the Ranschburg phenomenon, is fascinating. As I speak German, the link provided was very helpful. Thanks, Onia!

I've always had the feeling that these things (poor mathematical ability, L/R , West/East problems) are somehow connected, but I'm not altogether surprised that it hasn't been scientifically studied. Reading about it this evening, I burst into tears, because I have so often been ridiculed about this, and now I know that it's not my fault.

Incidentally, my mother is the same, and so was my grandmother.

Victor Fate

When I was younger, my left-right confusion was more pronounced, when I first learned to drive I would get lost easily, especially if I took diagonal or curved roads. Over time this has improved. It is something that becomes ascerbated by pressure, and if I am lacking in mental focus due to being frazzled or whatnot - it can extend to me communicating directions of east and west. I also have a semi-ambidextrous nature. I discovered when I was in 1st grade when I tried to write with my left hand (I am right handed), I automatically wrote a mirror of what I was trying to write - in other words, if you held it to a mirror, it would be normal writing. This was an unconscious behavior. Later, when I was showing this off to my friends in high school - I found that, as I repeated the action - my handwriting started to improve and eventually the automatic mirroring stopped abruptly. I have been considering recently, since I am a guitarist - to attempt to play a guitar strung for a left handed person and see how long it takes for my motor skills to catch up.


I totally understand what everyone is going through!!! I never been diagnosed with dyslexia but I know I have it. I can't spell out loud, s and c always confused me saying it out loud. I can't tell which way to turn the faucet, to me right is tightening it since it was turning turning towards to my right side. And turning it left was loosening it since I was turning it towards my left side. I am so glad you are all understand what I go through.


I confuse anything that's binary: hot, cold/ left, right,/purple, orange/assets & liabilities. Introductions are challenging because it's 2 sets of binary items -- first/last name, then first/last name. And I have to do them all in the right order. Turning on the shower as a grade schooler was challenging...I couldn't figure out which knob was cold, which was hot. One was left, the other right. Which way do you turn them to make them cold? Hot? Very confusing. I can read just fine. I can read and get a perfect score on a multiple choice reading comprehension exam. But please don't ask me to explain what I read. I can't.


This is totally me. I didn't gain left/right recognition until the past few years, and that's only because I know I'm righthanded. If someone is trying to pass me and says "on your left/right" I always freeze or go in the wrong direction. I constantly "forget" which way to scroll on computers, which way to turn faucets, etc. I occasionally head home and without thinking turn right instead of left and only realize what I've done when I'm hopelessly lost. It's like a lot of things that are "automatic" for other people just never happen for me.


I am amazing at directions, map reading, and figuring out directions if I have been there once or are on my way back from some place. I am even great at inverting/reversing directions. However, for some reason when I am giving directions I often will say "turn right" and point left or vise versa. This is only a problem when I am giving directions because the person usually will see the direction I point and hear the direction I say and will need to double check what direction I mean (I will usually get it correct the second time because it is usually that I am pointing the correct direction). But I don't have this problem when I am the one driving, in other words when I am driving it doesn't matter what direction I say versus the direction that I point I always go the direction I need to go. I also know my left from my right hand, no problem.


I have right-left confusion, as does my father and oldest sister. I have wondered lately if challenges I have had in other skills are related somewhat. For example, the greater and lesser than symbols used in math, still perplex me to this day. I do have some difficulty with the letters b and d, numbers 3 an 8, 3 and E and often switch number order in my head, but I can memorize phone numbers after 2 dials. I have difficulty saying left and right quickly when I am giving directions. I am better using North South East and West and landmarks when giving directions.

I have learned to compensate, a ring tells me which is my left hand. Without the ring, I will chose the wrong hand more often than not.


How many times have friends made fun of my left-right confusion. When trying to give directions, I sometimes must visualize the street and then actually have to turn myself in the direction I envision where the turn will come from. Then I have to wiggle my arm a bit before I can declare the turn to be left or right! I do feel bad for those who've been misdirected by me. Like so many others with this affliction, I'm terrific with cardinal directions, instinctively so!


I am 21 and a college graduate.
Cardinal directions were the easiest thing to learn.
I have great direction in strange houses and neighborhoods.
I simply can't get R and L correct "instinctively".

I've read the experiences and have hit all three.
1) I failed my first driver's test and have been thinking of small ways to tip me off for my right and left while I'm stressed.

2)As an adolescent I always had to think, "I'm right handed. That means. . .this hand." and

3)I feel ripe for mocking when I hold out my left hand to make an L.

I have tried rote memorization of my right and left as often as the problem comes up but I think I somehow believe that left begins one foot to my right arm. and the side I don't naturally gravitate towards must be named "right".

Until recently when I started looking for others who have my quirk, I always assumed I was so empathetic that I tried using other people's left and right for them when directing: "Your right. Your Left"(Like standing in mirror) except, when the people were sitting beside or behind me, I still couldn't fix it.

A Dhuriya

I am 44year female and always had problem with Right and left also my two siblings have similar problem. My sense of direction is poor, and I often tend to get losted while driving

Mukul Yadav

@Lorna : I'm 20 years old from India. I have gone through the same, my parents taught me to write and eat with right hand, and I always have confusion in left-right...I still play badminton/tennis with left hand..

I am pasting this stuff from yahoo voice, might help some of us to not feel embarrassed :
"the vast majority of children have learned left from right, and do not need to consider which is which before correctly labeling them. Others, often those who are of average or above-average intelligence, don't learn to differentiate the two until much later in childhood-- and some, like myself, still struggle as adults."

Joy Hansen

I wonder, if anyone drew a connection between being ambidextrous and confusing left and right. I am somewhat ambidextrous, playing tennis with both hands. Doing household chores with both hands, that is changing hands over, when one hands gets tired using the other hand. I just know I can do most things with both hands, it may just be a matter of training. Now, I equally mix up left and right and east and west. I simply have to think about which hand is left which is right, especially bad in traffic when someone tries to direct me. I do not have directional disorder I am pretty good at directions and I do not have dyslectic disorder. I would be very interested to know if anyone has made the connection between being ambidextrous and confusion of left and right. To me it seems there is a connection. Have not found evidence on the internet yet so far.

Dr. Barb

I have the same trouble as the writer above. I look at the "L" when I hold my hands up and I can't tell if it's the correct one or not because they both look OK to me. I've never learned left from right and I'm over 50 now. Age has nothing to do with it. My daughter has the same issue, so I think it is genetic in this case. I can't spell, and I can never dial a phone because I always get the numbers confused -- but that being said I've always compensated at school because now I have a PhD. At least now I just look excentric. Glad to know I'm not the only one turning the wrong way, or the only one who can't possibly join an exercise dance class!

Sarah grey

I got carpel tunnel in my right wrist so I now remember left and right easily but my problem is that I cant remember simple things like how to set a table. I have worked in hospitality for 15 years, I had to google it just last week to save embarrassment. I have also worked at sea for ten years and can't remember port or starboard. I have to google that or look at ship plans constantly. I also find it hard to remember which hand I eat with or fish with even tho I am not really left handed. I find I can say words backwards easily, even the alphabet comes naturally to be backwards. I am a cook but can't remember recipes I have cooked a hundred times and have to read and re-read them each time I use them. I can't seem to remember very simple things especially if it concerns numbers.
I am not sure if anybody has any ideas what any of this might mean. It occurred to me that at 30 I really should be able to remember if the fork goes on the left! Any ideas???


I am 27 years old and still have trouble knowing left from right. Sometimes using the 'L' on the left hand doesn't work, because my mind says 'okay that's an L, that's right (as in correct)' but immediately makes me pick the wrong hand. An issue that I have discussed with my mum and two brothers. My mum and 1 brother suffer from the same thing.
This leads me to believe it could be genetic in our case.
Although driving with them is a breeze, because there are no left and rights to think about... Just 'turn your way' 'turn my way'.

Shivani Bail

I just did the most embarrassing thing. I wrote a comment on a discussion forum calling China, Thailand and Vietnam West Asia :P Didn't realise what I had done till someone pointed it out. I actually sat and thought about it for a few minutes before writing it down and I still wrote West.

I don't have trouble identifying my left hand from my right (though I did have trouble when I was a kid) thogugh there's this weird thing I do when I face people and have to direct them. It's not a big deal but I just want to know if other people do it too. For example, when I face a person and they've got something stuck on the right side of their face I always point to my right side and tell them 'you've got something stuck here'. They always lift their left hand. I don't know why I do that. I also don't know why I always get confused between East and West. Left and right isn't so bad but I still have to think about it for a minute and put my hands out in front of me to know which way is which (learning how to reverse my car was very difficult).

I have trouble with certain spellings (like neccessary and embarrassed) and despite correcting myself over and over again I don't get it right. While writing I often get confused between 'their' and 'there' and 'your' and 'you're'. I don't know if I'm mildly dyslexic (I often invert my 3s and 7s). I have struggled with maths for a long time.

I didn't think I had a problem but I get so embarrassed sometimes that I just hope that I do have a problem and that I'm not stupid.

Thank you Onia for writing about the Ranschburg phenomenon. That explains a LOT. I'm sure faulty learning has messed up my basic understanding of how to spell, count and tell directions.

Lorna McNerthney

What I wonder is if right/left confusion has anything to do with the fact that, while growing up, I was always told that using my left hand was "wrong" or "improper". My grandmother instead would always make me use my right hand to write, color, draw, etc. because the mass majority of individuals use their right hand. Thus I am now strongly right-handed. Could this be a cause of confusion?


I have directional dyslexia and I can't dance if my life depended on it. I also never learned to swim nor drive anything other than a trike. (sigh)

Gregg Sheehan

I am a 55 year old New Zealand male. My IQ (on an American test) was 152 (most criteria around 160-164 but computational speed IQ was 120 bringing the average down).

I cannot instinctively tell left from right or east from west. I can easily tell up from down and north from south. If someone tells me to go left or right or to move my left or right foot I have to think about it. If my mind is occupied with other things and I try to make a quick instinctive decision I will often get it wrong.

I find that other people generally exhibit lack of understanding about this condition and have even subjected me to minor ridicule. One person (my brother) is convinced that it is curable and reckons that I should use NLP to fix it. I haven't found it to be so.

I don't have problems with any form of spelling or calculation, (although my writing tends to be untidy and sometimes I find myself writing the wrong next letter in a word and have to scrub it out and rewrite it - it's as though my hand isn't keeping up with my brain - or vice versa).

I don't have any problem recognising which shoe goes on which foot (except in the dark);-). I don't have any problem reading a map or finding my way.

It just seems to be a labeling problem.

Miranda Spiers

If someone tells me to turn left or right, I have to consciously consider which direction they are indicating, even so, I often turn in the wrong direction. I cannot keep the concept of left or right in my mind for more than a second or two. I look at my hands and determine that THIS is the Right hand - and immediately forget the information. I have misdirected so many trusting souls who have pulled up in their cars to ask directions - and have actually ran after the cars to correct my errors!
I have an IQ of 137 and am blessed with many talents, but at school was thought of as a dim-wit. I also find numbers and maths extremely difficult - and mental arithmetic way beyond by capabilities. Over the years I've found ways of bluffing and acting out absent mindedness, or mis-hearing. I'm 70 now so no longer hope for improvement - and I can begin to blame it on senility!


After talking to an English speaking chat friend a few days ago, I returned to this topic and searched for English online ressources about it. That is how I stumbled upon this Blog. I am 31 years and I have been confusing left and right all my life. I figured out the reason for that is something called the Ranschburg phenomenon only about two years ago. The online ressources on that are few, in English even fewer than in German. And still many people think, confusing left and right is some birth defect in the brain or a sign of low intelligence or paired with other weaknesses like for example dyslexia. If the reason for the confusion of left and right is the Ranschburg phenomenon (which is true for the vast vast majority), it is not. Although of course people who confuse left and right are not safe from having dyslexia or some other problems too and the Ranschburg phenomenon also explains most cases of other confusions like "there" and "their" or in German "das" and "dass" or east and west, gross and net and so on, it usually is stand-alone and usually only the names are confused, not the underlying concept. It is caused by the learning method teachers or parents use to teach left and right. Trying to teach children both at the same time or with too little time difference will very likely cause it. And although there is no brain damage and the explanation is so simple, it is almost impossible to overcome after the years pass. Unsurprisingly, most people who overcome it, had (still in childhood) some person or event set it right by teaching one direction only. It is common that people tell you stories like "I used to confuse it until I broke my left arm". The best way to avoid this is to teach only one direction until it has really sunk in.

This is what I could find in English: http://www.brighthub.com/education/special/articles/12523.aspx

If you can read German: http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ranschburg-Ph%C3%A4nomen

So, please read about it and help avoid it. Best wishes.


I definitely DO have problems with left and right. I have to consciously think about which one is which--it's not instinctive at all. I don't think one problem is the cause of the other. Rather that it's all in a spacial recognition area of the brain that isn't correctly developed.


Completely lost on the cardinal directions as well...I always thought that one (my directional difficulty with left and right) had to do with the other. Odd thing is...when I'm sailing I don't have this problem. The sun sets in the west...perhaps because there is nothing blocking my view of the horizon?


I've thought about this some more and realised why left/right and north/south/east/west feel so different to me.

Cardinal directions are absolute. North is always North wherever you are. But left and right change all the time. If I hear 'head north', I almost always get it right instinctively. But if someone says 'turn left', I will go into a flap of indecision and get it wrong as often as not.


I'd be interested in hearing how that turns out, Lisa. I've never heard of that disorder but plan to look into it. I do know that when driving in 4-lane traffic I an a nervous wreck if there is a large vehicle on my right. I know there is plenty of space between us, but it looks / feels like they are mere inches away and I am afraid we will collide at any minute. I don't have the same problem with vehicles on my left, perhaps because I can see that there is indeed plenty of space between us.


I have some trouble with right and left and couldn't remember which was which until my mother put ring on my right hand. I use righty tighty---lefty loosey all the time for faucets, etc. Also have trouble with spatial relationships. I am a Phi Beta Kappa and top 1% Mensa so it certainly has nothing to do with intelligence. But thank you all for naming and describing and accepting my "affliction ."


I have some trouble with left and right. I always assumed it was because I broke my arm at 4 years old and for six weeks I knew "Right" as "the arm with the cast on it". Confusion set in after it came off. But my amount of trouble varies. I have to think before I tell someone left or right verbally, but I almost never have to think before pointing the direction that I mean. I sometimes have to think when someone tells me left or right, but not as often as if I'm the one trying to put it into words. I have no problems with north and south but considerable problems with east and west - so much so that I have to be very careful when getting back on the interstate after stopping for gas!


If the underlying cause of both (left/right, getting lost easily) is a visual spatial processing disorder, then that would explain the overlap between the 2. I'm in my early 40s & in the process of being assessed for visual spatial processing disorder.


I don't have trouble with left or right too, though it is not quite so instinctive. I just know when I lift my left hand, it has a different (lighter?) feel that when I raise my right, as though the first is less slightly used than the second. (I am right handed).

Not one of my children took after my DD impairment -- thank goodness for that. And I don't remember any of my siblings or forebears quite so directionally confused. In fact, I do not know any person half as spartially challenged as I am.

Still, I am fine. Very few of my casual acquaintances even notice.


I agree too. I have an excellent sense of direction but have always had difficulty with left and right.


Agreed. Left right is no problem for me and never has been. It's the cardinal directions that give me fits. I do wonder, though, if this isn't like other "cluster" conditions, such as fibromyalgia (another condition I have). With fibro, there are a number of symptoms associated with it but not everyone has every symptom. There are so many similarities among dysgeograpics that perhaps it is also a cluster condition.

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