Thursday, August 12, 2010

Mirror Writing and Neurobics

This entry was a tough one to write.  A friend of mine asked me to investigate mirror writing, the ability to write backwards or inverted from what is the cultural standard.  I was excited to do so, as I am a lefty who used to write backwards and/or upside down as a kid (hey, it looked "right" to me). So before I started  investigating the science behind this, I had preconceived notions that research would have only positive things to say about this topic.  I was wrong.

I'll get the bad news out of the way first.  If you suddenly start mirror-writing out of the blue and unintentionally, you may want to talk to your doctor rather than show off the ability to your friends.  Spontaneous acquired mirror-writing may be a sign of a serious neurological problem. On top of that, even if you are an adult and naturally a mirror-writer, some researchers have concerns. It's not regarded as a real issue if small children mirror-write, as their brains are more flexible or neuroplastic than are adult ones. For them it's perfectly natural if they do it (or if they don't).

At four years of age, the presence of mirror writing is generally nothing to be concerned about. To understand why, it's important to know how the ability to write from left to right emerges in a young child. A young child first develops what's called laterality. This is an awareness of "leftness" and "rightness," or at least that the body has two sides. This internal awareness then matures into what's called directionality, which is the recognition and appreciation of right-left, up-down, forward-backward, etc.

By now you're probably wondering why on Earth would I think mirror-writing is something I suggest you try.  Didn't I just mention it being a feat connected to cognitive processing errors and dissociative disorders.  Well, yes.  But only if it is unintentional.  If you're doing this intentionally, then we're talking about a totally different matter, and it happens to be a good one.  

It turns out that mirror-writing is a very useful (and fun) neurological exercise. As we become adults, our brains make less and less neural connections, instead relying on the old tried-and-true ones it already has established. While this makes you crystallized in what you already know (do you really want to re-learn how to drive a car every time you get behind the wheel?), it can become challenging to learn new things.  
Much like a muscle, the brain needs to be exercised and exposed to new exercises. And mirror-writing is a great one.

You see, mirror-writing tends to correlate with having a thicker corpus callosum, and that is the part of the brain that enables the right and left hemisphere to communicate with each other.  Furthermore, there is some evidence that mirror-writers have bilateral language centers.  With the brain, two isn't always better than one, but in the case of language centers it is. Second-language acquisition comes easier to those with two active language centers, and word play probably does as well.

So give this exercise a try!  Start making new neural pathways and cognitive connections. Maybe you'll find learning a new language easier later on.

I should note to parents who want to give their tyke a cognitive boost that I wouldn't force mirror-writing on a small child.  Forcing a child to mirror-write is tantamount to forcing a lefthanded child to write with her or his right hand, which science now says is not so great.

For everyone else, here are a few videos to see what mirror-writing looks like. The first video is the only way I can mirror-write now.





Some other interesting facts about mirror-writing

  • Mirror writing is likely genetic. So if you are a natural mirror-writer, you can thank your mom or someone from your uterine family line!
  • Roughly 1 person in 6,500 is estimated to be a natural mirror-writer. 

"As with all entries in Mentathlete, this entry is not to be taken as medical advice.  Always consult your physician before pursuing any activity involving your health." 

17 comments:

  1. Hi! I randomly came across your site when googling mirror writing. I am a natural born, left-handed mirror writer. Because of this I was forced to learn to write with my right hand...which took a very long time lol. I still write with my left hand but I can only mirror write with it and when I do it comes out perfectly. Thanks for all the information!

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  2. Excellent article!
    Mirror Reading is as fascinating as Mirror Writing. Reading in reverse is associated with bilateral brain activation, and grey-matter growth in regions of the right hemisphere. Practice makes cortex.
    Check out www.mirrorread.com for books, games, iTunes apps, and the latest research on reflective reading.

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  3. Hey Mentathlete

    Thankyou from India :)

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  4. I have always been curious about my ability to mirror write,my notes in school used to drive the teachers crazy..does anyone out there also have precognitive skills as well..just wondering if the two go together..do not want to be the only odd one!!

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    1. Yes. I'm a righty and can write backwards fluidly with that hand. I can lefty, as well, but as shaky as I do frontwards. I discovered this at ten, and I also have some precognitive abilities.

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  5. Hi Rozzy,

    As it turns out, I was an ESP test subject both at MIT and UC Berkeley. Both were precognition studies. I'm also a volunteer for the Find Me Group, which has a psychic detective who is also a mirror-writer.

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  6. I was sat in class at the age of 12 and my friends were messing around trying to write backwards,so i gave it a try - only to find out i could do it naturally - like a second nature, joined-up writing and every thing! I am now 45, and still do it - especially when i`m stressed! I am also right-handed.

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  7. A very good explanation. I am an ambidextrous and mirror writer also with both hands....it feaks people out and baffle the minds of others...kids love to see their names written in mirror...I write perfectly mirror with both hands..in single letters and in script..

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  8. i too can do mirror writing perfectly, in all the 3 languages i know. i read da vinci code where i came upon mirror writing. i was fascinated! gave it a try and surprise!! i am a natural in mirror writing.i am right handed though.

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  9. When I read the article I had one question - how does your signature look like when you mirror write - my handwriting is the same and so is the signature. I am a leftie who started writing mirror image with the left hand as a young child, then was taught with the right.. Made perfect sense to me - left hand writes this way, right hand writes that way... But the signature ... try it :-) it is the same, although the hand does not often write and certainly has never practised the signature. Any comments much appreciated. Thanks for the article.

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  10. I am also ambidextrous, a mirror writer and can write with two pens simultaneously - my right hand writes from left to right as usual and my left hand writes from right to left in a perfect mirror image. However, no matter how hard I try, I cannot write simultaneously in a straight line both sentences curve upwards in a gentle arc. I would love to know statistically how many people have the ability to do this.

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  11. I used to think I wasn't normal because I could easily read and write letters in reverse. I just checked Google to know if there are other people like me and was quite happy to know I'm not alone. After I saw the first video, I attempted to write with both hand and was amazed to see myself doing it with ease. I am right-handed by the way but I remember writing with my left hand when I was about 12 years old but did not continue for long. I probably am ambidextrous and don't even know it. I should do this more, y'know!

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  12. I started when I saw it in a Carry Grant movie ,
    Found I could do it easy
    since then can do it lefty also can form words right to left ,left to right ,forwards or backwards

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  13. I was born a lefty but my parents stopped me. I grew up writing with my right hand instead, and doing most chores with my left because it seems to have more precision than my right. I discovered I could mirror-write with ease as a teenager. Just tried writing at once with both hands and I was amazed. So happy to read this!

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  14. I am mostly right handed but do certain things left. Discovered I could read reverse writing easily so I tried writing. I actually write reverse neater and faster right handed. I do calligraphy and can reverse write that also.

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  15. I'm right handed and have always been able to mirror-write and read. I do a few things left handed and can write decently with my left hand also. Just curious because it seems to be a left-handed trait more so than right handed.

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