29/05/2015 Medicine Psychology
DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0128322 SemanticScholar ID: 554048 MAG: 2261688763

The ‘Goldilocks Zone’: Getting the Measure of Manual Asymmetries

Publication Summary

Some studies have shown that manual asymmetries decrease in older age. These results have often been explained with reference to models of reduced hemispheric specialisation. An alternative explanation, however, is that hand differences are subtle, and capturing them requires tasks that yield optimal performance with both hands. Whereas the hemispheric specialisation account implies that reduced manual asymmetries should be reliably observed in older adults, the ‘measurement difficulty’ account suggests that manual asymmetries will be hard to detect unless a task has just the right level of difficulty—i.e. within the ‘Goldilocks Zone’, where it is not too easy or too hard, but just right. Experiment One tested this hypothesis and found that manual asymmetries were only detected when participants performed in this zone; specifically, performance on a tracing task was only superior in the preferred hand when task constraints were high (i.e. fast speed tracing). Experiment Two used three different tasks to examine age differences in manual asymmetries; one task produced no asymmetries, whilst two tasks revealed asymmetries in both younger and older groups (with poorer overall performance in the old group across all tasks). Experiment Three revealed task-dependent asymmetries in both age groups, but highlighted further detection difficulties linked with the metric of performance and compensatory strategies used by participants. Results are discussed with reference to structural learning theory, whereby we suggest that the processes of inter-manual transfer lead to relatively small performance differences between the hands (despite a strong phenomenological sense of performance disparities).

CAER Authors

Avatar Image for Mark Mon-Williams

Prof. Mark Mon-Williams

University of Leeds - Chair in Cognitive Psychology

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