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Why are some people left-handed? MRI brain scans are finally revealing an answer

Just in time for International Left-Handers Day 2022, we look at recent research about how brain symmetry differs between righties and lefties.

Why are some people left-handed? MRI brain scans are finally revealing an answer
[Source Images: KATERYNA KON/SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY; PNAS]

As one of many left-handed people on staff here at Fast Company, I was tempted to spend International Left-Handers Day scrolling through the #LeftHandedProblems hashtag on TikTok, which, I was not surprised to learn, includes more than 43 million videos of ink-smudged lefties banging into doors, playing their guitars upside-down, and failing miserably with the ice-cream scooper. Instead, I decided it might be more interesting to look into exactly why an estimated 10% of the global population is cursed—er, blessed with—the trait of left-handedness. 

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It turns out, there is some relatively new research on that front, thanks to the miracle of MRI technology and a massive repository of brain scans. Late last year, a study led by the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics identified precisely where left-handedness shows up in the human brain. Or, more specifically, the study revealed how the brains of left-handed people differ on average from those of their right-handed counterparts in terms of symmetry.

Handedness-associated cortical thickness asymmetries. (A) Group average differences of cortical thickness asymmetry between 28,802 righthanders and 3,062 left-handers shown for the whole cortex, without a threshold for significance. Red color indicates a lower asymmetry index in left-handers (weaker average leftward or stronger average rightward asymmetry in left-handers compared to right-handers). Blue indicates a higher asymmetry index in left-handers (stronger average leftward or weaker average rightward asymmetry in left-handers compared to right-handers). (B) Regional clusters with significant group average differences of cortical thickness asymmetry between 28,802 right-handers and 3,062 left-handers. [Source Images: PNAS]

Using data from the UK Biobank, an international team of researchers mapped out the cerebral cortexes of 28,802 righties and 3,062 lefties, meticulously measuring their surface areas and thickness for asymmetries, a process that took three months and required 12 clusters of computer servers working in tandem.

The results, published the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, uncovered 10 distinct areas of the brain where average asymmetries between righties and lefties differed. What’s more, these areas were not limited to a specific section of the brain, but spread out across its surface. “This is the first time that specific parts of the brain’s anatomy have been linked confidently to handedness,” researcher Clyde Francks said in a statement at the time.

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Handedness-associated cortical surface area asymmetries. (A) Group average differences of cortical surface area asymmetry between 28,802 righthanders and 3,062 left-handers shown for the whole cortex, without a threshold for significance. Red color indicates a lower asymmetry index in left-handers (weaker average leftward or stronger average rightward asymmetry in left-handers compared to right-handers). Blue indicates a higher asymmetry index in left-handers (stronger average leftward or weaker average rightward asymmetry in left-handers compared to right-handers). (B) Regional clusters with significant group average differences of surface area asymmetry between 28,802 right-handers and 3,062 left-handers. [Source Images: PNAS]
Fascinatingly, some of these areas were associated with language, leading the researchers to speculate that handedness has an evolutionary component tied to a point in our history when communication was more gesture-based.

Functional annotation of regions that show altered asymmetry in left-handedness. Functional annotation based on meta-analyzed fMRI data for clusters showing altered surface area asymmetry (A) and cortical thickness asymmetry (B) in left-handedness. (Left) Coactivation maps for the handedness-associated clusters derived from the “decoder” function of Neurosynth (higher z-scores indicate greater coactivation). (Right) Cognitive terms associated with the coactivation maps for handedness-associated clusters. [Source Images: PNAS]
Other research has indicated that being left-handed was a double-edged sword of sorts for early humans, offering an advantage in combat situations but a disadvantage when it comes to cooperation. The push and pull between those two forces may account for why left-handed people are consistently rare across populations, or so the theory goes.

In the Max Planck study, all 10 brain areas that differed tended to be larger in the right hemisphere for lefties. At the same time, the differences turned out to be very small—a matter of averages that could only be detected over large data sets—and the researchers say they absolutely did not stumble on a way to predict whether someone will be left-handed just by looking at their brain.

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In other words, our brains are much more alike than they are different, although that’s cold comfort to the poor guy on TikTok who just spilled a scoop of rocky road all over his lap.

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About the author

Christopher Zara is a senior news editor for Fast Company and obsessed with media, technology, business, culture, and theater. Before coming to FastCo News, he was a deputy editor at International Business Times, a theater critic for Newsweek, and managing editor of Show Business magazine

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More layoffs at tech-adjacent brands: Peloton, Calm, Sweetgreen, and more

Tech companies and consumer brands alike are trimming staff to save money in a tough economic environment.

More layoffs at tech-adjacent brands: Peloton, Calm, Sweetgreen, and more

Another bad week is wrapping up for tech companies—and consumer brands that have donned the tech cape to boost valuations and share prices.

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Peloton just announced that it is slashing nearly 800 jobs. The Peloton news is part of a sweeping overhaul that includes shutting many of its stores and hiking prices for its high-end bikes and popular treadmill. In a statement, the company explained that “these moves enable Peloton to become more efficient, cost-effective, and agile.” CEO Barry McCarthy, who took over from former CEO John Foley in February, told employees in an email that the effort was part of a plan to “engineer the great comeback story of the post-Covid era.” Shares surged by 13% on the news.

Meditation app Calm, valued at $2 billion, is laying off 20% of its staff. The company, which became the first so-called unicorn in the meditation app industry in 2019, slashed about 90 out of 400 jobs in the name of stabilizing the business. As the Wall Street Journal reports, this includes a dozen roles in Calm’s consumer marketing department.

The layoffs that started in Silicon Valley have been radiating out in recent weeks, hitting consumer-facing companies that have taken pains to positions themselves as tech pioneers. Sweetgreen, the cult salad brand that reinvented itself as a tech company and went public last year, announced this week that it was laying off 5% of its support center workforce. The company said it will reduce its corporate office footprint to lower its operating costs.

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And trendy eyewear brand Warby Parker eliminated 63 jobs, or 15% of its corporate workforce. In an announcement, cofounders and co-CEOs Dave Gilboa and Neil Blumenthal said the cuts wouldn’t include customer-facing positions or retail and lab divisions. After the company went public in September 2021, its shares soared 30%, but its stock price is down 70% in 2022.

Meanwhile, back in techland, the bloodletting continues. Digital health unicorn Truepill has fired about a third of the company, or 175 people, in its third round of layoffs this year. Soundcloud is letting go of 20% of its workforce. And Hootsuite is laying off 30% of its employees, or roughly 300 people

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0% inflation is nice, but this number from today’s CPI report is even more encouraging

Core inflation, which excludes volatile items like energy and food, posted its lowest increase in almost a year.

0% inflation is nice, but this number from today’s CPI report is even more encouraging
[Source Images: Getty]

Wednesday finally brought Americans some good news on the inflation front. The Labor Department reported that consumer prices rose 0% for the month of July, perhaps the best indicator yet that inflation may have peaked.

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That means consumer prices were unchanged for the month of July. Overall, inflation remains high—up 8.5% over the past year. But that’s now down from a 40-year high of 9.1% in June. June’s record was in large part owing to soaring gas prices, so their rapid decline of late is what many analysts are pointing to in order to explain July’s Consumer Price Index goose egg. However, because gas prices have now been falling for 57 straight days, economists weren’t exactly taken by surprise.

What was surprising

Core inflation—a measure that excludes energy and food, to zero in on long-run price trends subject to less volatility—came in at an annualized 3%. This is a number that’s held at around 5% since October, making it a noteworthy drop and actually the lowest the United States has seen in nearly a year.

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What the other CPI numbers show for July

Per the government’s official data, gas prices fell 7.7%. Other items in the index whose prices fell include used cars and trucks (down by 0.4%) and apparel (down by a more paltry 0.1%). Rents kept rising, though, climbing another 0.7% over the past month.

What it all means

Despite ongoing demands to say the economy is in a recession, consumer prices didn’t increase in July, and the United States technically added 500,000 jobs in July, returning employment to its pre-pandemic level. Many experts say Wednesday’s results are encouraging and, if we’re lucky, could herald the start of a disinflationary trend. Others caution it doesn’t pay to draw too many conclusions from one month’s worth of CPI data. Still, as President Biden noted Wednesday, “It underscores the kind of economy we’ve been building.”

What it’s doing to the markets

The Dow was up 500 points Wednesday morning, the S&P 500 rose to its highest level since May, and the Nasdaq composite index climbed 2%.

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The even-more-surprising twist

The government (somewhat controversially) rounds the CPI to the tenths place before publicly releasing it. Economist Justin Wolfers notes that if you were to base Wednesday’s CPI figured on the raw unrounded data, the month of July actually saw deflation.

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Serena Williams is retiring from tennis to focus on other businesses. Here’s a look at her empire

Off the court, Serena Williams has become a major force in the business world with her VC firm, Serena Ventures.

Serena Williams is retiring from tennis to focus on other businesses. Here’s a look at her empire
[Source Images: Robert Prange/Getty]

As dominating as Serena Williams has been in the tennis world, she’s also become a major force in terms of business. So while Tuesday’s announcement, in a Vogue cover story, that she would be “evolving away” from the sport after the U.S. Open was a surprise, her plans to stay focused on venture capital and other ventures made perfect sense.

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The 23-time Grand Slam champion (and one of Fast Company’s Most Productive People) heads Serena Ventures, which raised $111 million in an inaugural funding round earlier this year. The venture capital firm focuses on startups with underrepresented founders (which make up 76% of its portfolio), including women, Latinos and African Americans, a wildy underrepresented group among other VC firms.

Since she began getting involved with startups in 2014, Williams has been an angel investor in 45 companies, including Clubhouse, Impossible Foods, and Masterclass. And the first funding round at Serena Ventures covered 22 startups, including Chatdesk, recipe marketplace Foody, and virtual premarital counseling service Ours.

“I’ve always been fascinated with technology, and I’ve always loved how it really shapes our lives,” Williams told the New York Times. “When I met my husband [Reddit cofounder Alexis Ohanian], that was our first conversation. That’s how we met. I was talking about investments.”

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Forbes estimates Williams’ net worth at $260 million—and while she has earned $94 million from winnings on the court, the majority has come from business holdings and endorsements. While some deals could change as she steps away from the court, here’s a look at some of Williams’ other ventures:

Endorsements

As one of the greatest to ever play the game, Williams has built up an extensive collection of endorsement deals. Among the companies who have brought her on board to help sell their product are Gatorade, Nike, Delta Air Lines, Aston Martin, Pepsi, Puma, Beats by Dre, IBM, Intel, and Chase Bank.

Fashion

In 2018, Williams founded S by Serena, a clothing line with most items running between $50 and $150. That was her second venture into the designer field, having launched Aneres in 2004, and eventually shutting that one down.

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In 2019, in collaboration with KP Sanghvi, a global diamond manufacturer, she launched Serena Williams Jewelry, which initially was carried by Fred Meyers Jewelers online before expanding to other stores.

“One thing that’s really big right now is a delicate look; we wanted to incorporate that in a strong way,” she told Fast Company at the company’s launch.

“A lot of our stuff looks very soft and very delicate, but I wear this to train,” she said, tugging on her necklace, “and I’m probably training harder than the average person.”

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Media

While she’s certain to be in demand as a commentator, Williams might not have the time to do so. Last year, she scored a first-look deal with Amazon Studios for scripted and unscripted projects, including a documentary about her life. She’ll serve as executive producer on the series.

“I have a lot of stories I’m eager to tell, including a continuation of my own, and I look forward to sharing those with the world,” she said at the time.

Meanwhile, her first children’s book, The Adventures of Qai Qai, is due to be released on September 27. The story revolved around her daughter’s favorite doll, which has become a social media star itself, including an Instagram feed with 334,000 followers.

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And, beyond tennis, she also owns a small stake of the Miami Dolphins along with her sister Venus. (They were the first African American women to hold an ownership in an NFL team.)

Corporate boards

Williams also sits on the board of directors of SurveyMonkey (since 2017) and, until four months ago, was a board member with Poshmark. She’s a board advisor to blockchain-based fantasy soccer game Sorare, which coincides with her interest in cryptocurrencies. (Williams also has invested in Bitcoin rewards company Lolli, was part of a $19 million investment in NFT platform Bitski, and signed a partnership with Block Inc’s Cash App.) 

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About the author

Chris Morris is a veteran journalist with more than 30 years of experience. Learn more at chrismorrisjournalist.com.

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Toys ‘R’ Us locations: Full list of Macy stores where the iconic toy retailer has reopened

The iconic toy retailer has reopened in nine states, with dozens more locations set to open before the holiday shopping season.

Toys ‘R’ Us locations: Full list of Macy stores where the iconic toy retailer has reopened
[Source Images: Paul Hennessy/NurPhoto/Getty]

Brick-and-mortar Toys “R” Us stores are back! Well, kind of. Macy’s has announced the opening of Toys “R” Us stores at its retail locations in nine states, and stores in another 19 states are set to open before the holiday 2022 shopping season.

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Some background: The iconic toy retailer filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy back in 2017 and the last of the chain’s brick-and-mortar shops closed in January 2021 due to the pandemic. But then in August 2021, Toys “R” Us announced its comeback: It would partner with Macy’s to open stores-within-stores inside the department chain’s locations.

As Fox Business reports, the Toys “R” Us stores inside Macy’s range from between 1,000 square feet to 10,000 square feet in size, with larger flagship stores set to exist in Atlanta, Chicago, Honolulu, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, and San Francisco.

Current Toys “R” Us locations that are now open inside Macy’s stores include 21 stores in California, three in Georgia, one in Illinois, two in Louisiana, two in Maryland, four in Missouri, two in New Jersey, two in Nevada, and four in New York. Dozens of other stores will open across California, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Kansas, Massachusetts, Maryland, Michigan, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, Nevada, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, and Texas by October 15, 2022.

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This is the list of open Toys “R” Us stores in local Macy’s as of August 2022:

California

  • Shoppes At Carlsbad – Carlsbad
  • Los Cerritos Center – Cerritos
  • Chula Vista Center – Chula Vista
  • Serramonte – Daly City
  • Downey Stonewood Center – Downey
  • North County Fair (Ca) – Escondido
  • Fresno Fashion Fair – Fresno
  • Shops At River Park – Fresno
  • Montclair Plaza – Montclair
  • Plaza Bonita – National City
  • Antelope Valley – Palmdale
  • Stanford (Ca) – Palo Alto
  • San Bernardino Inland Center – San Bernardino
  • Fashion Valley (Ca) – San Diego
  • Oakridge (Ca) – San Jose
  • Hillsdale (Ca) – San Mateo
  • Santa Ana Mainplace – Santa Ana
  • Stockton Sherwood – Stockton
  • Visalia – Visalia
  • Walnut Creek Broadway Plaza – Walnut Creek
  • Westminster (Ca) – Westminster

Georgia

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  • Cumberland – Atlanta
  • Peachtree – Columbus
  • Northlake (Ga) – Atlanta

Illinois

  • Louis Joliet – Joliet

Louisiana

  • Acadiana – Lafayette
  • Mall Of Louisiana – Baton Rouge

Maryland

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  • Annapolis – Annapolis
  • Lakeforest (Md) – Gaithersburg

Missouri

  • Mid Rivers – Saint Peters
  • South County (Mo) – Saint Louis
  • Battlefield (Mo) – Springfield
  • Chesterfield (Mo) – Chesterfield

New Jersey

  • Newport Centre (Nj) – Jersey City
  • Brunswick Square – East Brunswick

Nevada

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  • Henderson Galleria At Sunset – Henderson
  • Summerlin – Las Vegas

New York

  • Parkchester – Bronx
  • Hampton Bays – Hampton Bays
  • Sunrise (Ny) – Massapequa

You can also see the full list of upcoming stores on Macy’s website here.

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About the author

Michael Grothaus is a novelist, journalist, and former screenwriter. His debut novel EPIPHANY JONES is out now from Orenda Books. You can read more about him at MichaelGrothaus.com

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