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Want to know what really Obama thinks? Look at his hand

Linda Carroll writes: When it’s time to discuss his favorite things, President Barack Obama favors the left. Hand, that is.

Scientists have discovered that those who are left-handed, like Obama, tend to use that hand to gesture when they’re talking about things they feel positive about, and their right hand for things that are negative. For right-handed people, it’s the opposite.

In a study published this month in PloS ONE, researchers examined tapes from the final presidential debates from 2004 and 2008 to see if they could spot a right/left bias in the hand gestures of the candidates. As it turns out, both candidates in 2004 were righties, while in 2008 they were both lefties.

Sure enough, the politicians unwittingly communicated their feelings about a topic by the hand with which they gestured while speaking. So, when Obama launching into an enthusiastic discussion about the benefits of his health insurance plans he would use his left hand. If the topic was the war in Iraq, he’d gesture with his right hand.

The opposite was true of right-handed George Bush – positive words were emphasized with right handed gestures, negative ones with left handed movements.

Associating good things with the side of your dominant hand extends beyond just gestures. Researchers found that if you’re right-handed you’re more inclined to think that in general things on the right are good, while left oriented stuff – people, images, whatever – is bad. (The converse is true for you lefties out there.)

In one experiment, study volunteers were shown a drawing that depicted a group of space aliens sitting side by side. On average, righties concluded that the aliens on the right end of the picture were smarter, happier, more honest and more attractive than those on the left. Lefties liked the extraterrestrials on the left better.

“Overall, the data support the idea that people associate good things with the side of the body they can use most fluently – dominant is fluent, and fluent is good,” says the study’s lead author Daniel Casasanto of the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics in Nijmegen, Netherlands.

It’s a good example of how our bodies influence the way we think without our ever knowing anything about it, says Diane Halpern, a professor of psychology at Claremont McKenna College.

We’re thinking this right/left thing could be a quick and dirty lie detector. Let’s say your boss is about to evaluate your work -- you might want to pay close attention to which hand is moving as she talks.

What body language do you think reveals the most? Tell us in the comments.

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