Why do people confuse left and right but not up and down?


Why do people confuse left and right but not up and down?


Usually because we try to look at it from another person’s perspective, like while giving someone directions if the other person is facing is then their left is our right and vice versa.


Left and right are choices we make hundreds of times a day for all sorts of things, many of them arbitrarily one or the other as they’re often quite equal.

Up and down isn’t a choice – but gravity enforced upon us. It’s never mentally mapped as equal

Left and right are just names we give to directions that are mirrored but in every other way indistinguishable. So when you learn left and right you’ll have to remember which way is which without any clues from your surroundings that tell you which way is right and which way left. When it comes to up and down there are clues that help you distinguish the two. For example you learn throughout your life that you can accidentally fall down but you’ll never ever fall up by accident.

Basically physics behaves the same regardless of the direction you face if that direction is right or left. If you face up or down things behave very differently though.

Facing someone your left and their left are different, however your up and their up are identical, one changes with the frame of reference the other doesn’t.


Up is the direction of the sky, down is towards the earth, and the constant presence of gravity makes it pretty obvious pretty much all of the time what is up and what is down. It also doesn’t really change much throughout the day as we are usually facing roughly the same way up.

Front is whatever direction you’re facing (and back the opposite) – also no confusion there.

But left and right is pretty arbitrary. It’s hard even to come up with a formal definition. Merriam Webster says:

>of, relating to, situated on, or being the side of the body in which the heart is mostly located

The Cambridge English Dictionary has:

> **on or towards the** [**side**](https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/side) **of** [**your**](https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/your) [**body**](https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/body) **that is to the** [**west**](https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/west) **when you are** [**facing**](https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/facing) [**north**](https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/north)**:**

So that first definition means you need to know where your heart is (or at least, where most people’s heart is). The second one relies on the definition of “west”, which is itself arbitrary. In short, really the only way to know left from right is just to remember. Some people are better at this than others. For some it is a totally internalized thing. For others, it’s like their credit card PIN. Even if you know it by heart, you do need to think about it, even if only for a fraction of a second. So while you usually get it right, when you’re under stress or time pressure with a lot of other things on your mind, you can make mistakes.