The left shift in emotional situations
“In general, the population at large has a preference of tilting the head to the right when kissing, to initiate a hug with the right hand, and to cradle a baby in the left arm,” elaborates Julian Packheiser. With regard to kissing and hugging, the assumption is that people have a dominant hand which they use to initiate the motion. According to the theory, the dominant hand is kept unoccupied when cradling a child so that it can be used to perform other tasks.
“As social touches are often associated with a hand motion, it is an obvious assumption to make that the handedness affects lateral preferences,” says Sebastian Ocklenburg. In their review article, the researchers have listed numerous studies that substantiate the influence of handedness. However, that alone cannot explain the lateral preferences; the emotional context, too, is relevant.
“In emotional situations, the lateral preference shifts to the right,” describes Packheiser. “It doesn’t matter if the emotions are positive or negative.” As far as the preference is concerned, it is irrelevant if two people hug because they are happy to see each other, or because one is comforting the other.
Emotional asymmetry in the brain
Researchers believe that emotions are mainly processed in the right hemisphere of the brain, which is responsible for the movements of the left side of the body. “There is ample evidence of the interaction and interconnection of motor networks and emotional networks in the brain,” indicates Oaklenburg. The theory of the right hemispheres of emotion processing relies on the behavioral data of social contact research, as well as the results obtained in the field of visualization and neurophysiological research.
According to the authors of the study, the asymmetry that is present during social contact of people is explained by the combination of motor preferences and emotional dominance of the right hemisphere.