The surprising benefits of having an asymmetrical face, body and brain


Portrait painted in watercolor in a picassian and naive style.

LOOKING in the mirror, you may notice a slight imbalance in your features – a leftward curve of the nose, a wrinkle that only appears under one eye or an ear that is slightly higher than the other.

For centuries, this lack of perfect balance was thought to detract from our beauty, and you can find many services, from photo filters to cosmetic surgery, that aim to “correct” it. Yet asymmetry is built into the human body and brain – and for good reason. What’s more, new research suggests that it has little influence over our appeal to others.

Let’s start with the lopsided arrangement of our internal organs. For most people, the heart, stomach and spleen all fall to the left of the spinal cord, while the liver and gall bladder fall to the right. This makes more efficient use of the space in our thorax and abdomen, compared with a structure aligning every organ with the spine.

Why are human brains asymmetrical?

How about the brain? Its two hemispheres may appear to be reflections of each other, but the corresponding regions on each side have different responsibilities. You will have noticed the effects of this on your movements. If you are right-handed, that is because the left hemisphere of your brain – which is wired up to the right side of the body – has become slightly more specialised in the fine muscle control of your fingers, giving you greater dexterity in that hand.

It may surprise you to discover that this “lateralisation” can be found in many…

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