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Mirror, Mirror

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The mathematician Charles Lutwidge Dodgson posed a big question about mirrors in one of his best-known books: Through the Looking-Glass (yup, Dodgson's pen name was Lewis Carroll). Natasha Gostwick of Storynory reads an excerpt that gets at the heart of the trouble: is mirror milk any good to drink? Neil deGrasse Tyson explains why this is a serious question, and introduces us to chirality, or the handedness of molecules. In fact, as Neil and Marcelo Gleiser of Dartmouth point out, all living molecules are left-handed. Which brings us to Marcus du Sautoy, who tells us the story of thalidomide...a cautionary tale about right-handed mirror molecules.

Up next, we meet a man named John Walter who swapped places with his mirror self. Kind of. He explains how changing his hair part changed his life, and how the experience convinced him that mirrors (and the reversed images they reflect) lie to us. We run John's theory by Mike Nicholls of the University of Melbourne, who admits John might be on to something about the way we perceive faces.

Here's Abraham Lincoln true

And here's Abe Lincoln flipped


Marcelo Gleiser, Natasha Gostwick, Mike Nicholls, Neil deGrasse Tyson, John Walter and Marcus du Sautoy

Comments [369]


I am not bothered by or seeing any difference in the two images of Lincoln. Maybe because I have seen photos of myself before and know what I look like to others. Isn't this observation basic?

Jul. 30 2017 02:55 PM
John Walter from New York

The picture of Lincoln on a 5 dollar bill actually shows him with a true right part. Its the only one of him with such a part, you can tell its accurate because of the bump on his right cheek jowl.

Looking at the image of him with a right part is distinctly different. The hair part theory says that it matters in real time - the interactive continuity of that difference is what leads to much different outcomes.

Note that during the RadioLab live show, this image of Lincoln was flashed on a giant screen - the difference was much more striking when it filled your vision.

Jun. 12 2017 03:22 PM
Janet Willacker from New York

I don't really see any difference except maybe the top one makes his ears look bigger.

Jun. 12 2017 01:47 PM
Wm Perry from Cincinnati, OH

No meaningful Diff. wierd...but anymore were all so used to video feedback that the handedness of mirrors isnt so powerfully influential. The first time responding to video imaging of myself it was disorientingly different, but that was in th 80's...VHS camera bigger than a traffic light. We'veall accomodated--just look up at the monitor above the cash register-there you are looking no where near as goodn you'd hoped

Jun. 11 2017 11:03 PM
Craig G from Rapid City

I see the difference but I don't see any difference between the 2. I don't see any 'effect' between the 2.

Jun. 11 2017 10:27 PM
Steve from Austin

Looks like the mirror image of Lincoln

I think this might be a test to identify the number of people who react to the suggestion that they will see something profoundly different

Possibly show prep for next week ...?

Jun. 11 2017 10:17 PM
Lelo from New York City, New York

How can I get one of those mirrors that shows you how other people see you, made by John?

Jun. 11 2017 08:54 PM
Mark from Happy Valley Oregon

The whole picture is flipped not just the hair part. So your theory is wrong using this picture!!!

Jun. 11 2017 07:16 PM
AnnieD from TX

This segment was REALLY interesting! It also reminded me of the segment on 'RadioLab' several years ago about phantom limb pain and people who suffer the delusion that they have an 'imposter' limb (some to the point of wanting to have it amputated). One of the guests on that segment, a neuroscientist, has done some research on this disorder using mirror therapy.

When I occasionally see a 'flipped' image of myself (as in the 90 degree bathroom medicine cabinet mirror thing), I'm always struck by how crooked my mouth is (one side slightly higher than the other, kind of like Abe; my dad had the same thing), although it seems barely noticeable to me when seeing my normal image. Maybe our brains do an 'auto correct' thing to the image of ourselves that we usually see.

Jun. 11 2017 06:31 PM
Geoffrey Lawson from Arlington, VA

In a culture and language where everyone reads from left to right, might it be possible that most images are als consumed left to right? If so, the left side should visibly dominate the right. The first image shows not just Lincoln with a left hair part but also a left side of the face in full light. The second image shows the left side in dark shadow.

Jun. 11 2017 06:15 PM
Rowan from Oregon

So in a world in which humans like to tell themselves that they have 'so' much control over everything, just the sub-conscious perceptions people have of your head can throw everything into disarray? :-) And I'll second (4th?) the question as to why middle-parters weren't mentioned. My hair refuses to properly part on the left, and if combed through and allowed to settle in the middle, I barely have any distinct part. But maybe with my facial "context" that's not so bad. Overall, this segment was interesting, but not awfully 'scientific'.

Jun. 11 2017 03:31 PM
Ben from New York, NY

The work I do as a Psychology PhD student suggests another reason that parting one's hair to the left could have positive social consequences. According to a widely-replicated effect, people implicitly associate positive emotions with their dominant side of space. So right-handers, which compose 90% of the population, associate their right side of space with good stuff and their left side with bad stuff. You can elicit either negative or positive associations from people by drawing their attention to one side of space or the other. Since the left side for you is the right side for anyone you're talking to (assuming people face each other when they talk), then maybe parting your hair to your left/their right can activate their right-is-good associations and make them more likely to offer you a beer!

Our lab has a bunch of experiments on this stuff. Check out our lab website at and look for "space-valence mappings" for the full story on these (and many other) implicit spatial associations.

Jun. 11 2017 02:14 PM
Jonathan Stanwood

I don't see that much difference in the two Lincolns, I think if anything we maybe just used to seeing him a certain way so the flipped image gives us a little cognitive dissonance

Jun. 11 2017 01:40 PM

This entire segment is backwards. If you were going so see the self that's *described* as "mirror", you would have step outside of your self, turn around, and look at you. This is not a mirror image. Mirrors reverse things front to back - not right to left! Look it up.

Jun. 10 2017 08:54 PM
Stanley Patterson

I thought the point of artical was focused on parting ones hair on the left vs right side.
That example would be representative of left vs right side hair parting.

Each image of Lincoln should be the same & not mirrored with the only difference being witch side his hair is parted on.
Lincoln's face is asymmetrical.
Another problem with this example is how the light is more pronounced on one side than the other.
This an unbalanced distraction.
How ever I intend to change the part of my hair from the right to the left side. However the part in my Short hair is not very pronounced and combing my hair is usually no more than running my fingers through my hair.
I doubt if anyone will notice, but maybe the girls. I don't get away with anything.
This could be a first.

Jun. 10 2017 06:15 PM
Debra Waites

I don't get it. He looks exactly the same but flipped. Exactly the same no monster.

Jun. 10 2017 04:55 PM
Jennifer from Somerville, MA

In the bottom picture, he looks less put together/more disheveled to me. I realized it was because I was taking in the picture from left to right, and giving more attention or weight to what I see on the left. The little tuft of hair sticking up and wider part of the forehead that shows... When that is on the right (1st pic) it doesn't register with me. When it is on the left (bottom pic) it is the most notable thing.

Jun. 10 2017 04:39 PM
Gerda from Santa Cruz, CA

I see mirror images, but I don't get the big deal- they don't come across that differently.

Jun. 08 2017 11:47 PM
Jim McCullough from Buffalo, New York

Abraham Lincoln had a very assymetrical face, for example, the mole near his smile-line.

Oct. 16 2016 02:55 PM
Emma Jones from California

It's got to be said... Abe had some fantastic hair!
Best Curling Wand

Mar. 09 2016 09:48 AM
Brandon from Philly

Wait, so is the hair part supposed to go from my left to my right or from my right to my left? I switched my hair part a couple months ago from my-left-to-right to my-right-to-left after going left-to-right my whole life. Then I heard about this podcast on Tuesday. Now, I am trying to figure out which one is the "right" one. Please don't respond with it is however you feel good as it doesn't answer my question. Thank you please help! :)

Aug. 27 2015 11:20 AM
Elie S. totsky from Oviedo, FL

Perception is key to understanding what you're looking at. In terms of my perception, I saw the same pictures side by side. I thought there was a good appeal to logos due to the statistics shown throughout the podcast.

Apr. 14 2015 07:53 AM
alex Sims from earth

I personally didn't really understand this phenomenon. I thought the two pictures looked exactly the same so I guess it is just everyones perception. People are saying it has to do with the eyebrows and the hair line but it looks the same to me. The statistics in the show seemed accurate but I am not one to fully be able to judge this. Good broadcast though. I thought it was going to be about molecules but it really wasn't. Just certain aspects of these mirror pictures.

Apr. 14 2015 06:44 AM
Paul Hedberg from United States

OK, one more comment that will probably never be read. I was a little intrigued by the subject and decided to try my own experiment however non-scientific as it was. I shared this story and many of the ideas with my science classes at school. I asked them to evaluate the scientific authenticity of the various claims. This did lead to some insightful discussion. Within two weeks I came to school with my hair parted on the opposite side from normal. Of over 200 students and many colleagues not one of them made mention of anything different... and it is not because of inhibition trust me. Then I went to a party to remember our dearly departed son hosted by my former wife of 28 years. No one at the party mentioned a word either, including my ex-wife. I feel pretty much the same and like both images about equally. This leads me to my hypothesis that it is the confidence level imparted by the placebo effect on the individual that accounts for the increased level of self esteem. Cheers.

Mar. 15 2015 08:06 PM
enchantedisle from United States

I thought photos were of your true self and not mirror images. Photos show words to be readable while mirror images do not. I may be wrong but then why are the words in a photo readable and not backwards? So if true, then the Lincoln photo is his true image. Flipping gives us the mirror image. I must be missing something. I also looked up the thalidomide "myth" and apparently both versions (right and left) are teratogenic but that myth persists. Anyway, I found an interesting article about this incl. an excerpt from a photographer giving a TED Talk about why we may not like photos of ourselves. It includes a study done in 1977 also.

Mar. 07 2015 12:25 AM
Rachele from San Francisco, Ca

I think it would be very different if the photo were not so classically lit, it is more like a painting then a photo by todays standards. The photographer lit the photo to be read from left to right in a very strong chiaroscuro style. Strong light vs dark effects. When the photo is reversed the shadows are the first thing that the viewer observes. This dark wall of shadow blocks us from entering the picture quickly. This slowing down and struggle to enter makes us much more aware of the strange dark shadows and their very asymmetrical quality. So our first impression is closed, dark, strange. All people have symmetry and asymmetry. The photo exaggerates these qualities. In the lst photo we enter from the lit side of the face, quicky we find all the information we need to identify Abe. We do not even really notice the shadows.

Mar. 05 2015 01:19 AM
Jeddy from Camp Hill, Pa

It looks the same to me. Am I missing something? Do I have a personality disorder? Do I just don't care? I'm confused.

Mar. 03 2015 06:41 PM
AJP from Atlanta

Funny thing: after listening I went and looked at my own photos. Left side part AND I favor turning to/ smiling from the left. Those photos where I don't - don't look as good to me.

Mar. 03 2015 03:23 PM

I couldn't tell any differences between the two images. Makes you wonder
if some people are wired to perceive the difference.

The one difference i thought i saw was the eyebrows looked more leveled
off in the second image. Perhaps an optical illusion from the crooked
bow-tie? :)

Also looking at the images repeatedly back and forth tends to dull your
reaction to them, so your initial instincts will leave much more of an

Mar. 02 2015 10:27 AM

The second one should be shown saying, "What, Me Worry?"

Mar. 01 2015 10:26 PM
jane from Dayton, OH

I'm a 67 year old twin, and, as I'm recently retired, I've been filling photo albums with saved photos of the past 12 years...and some random ones which are much older. Numerous times I am unable to discern which one in the picture is me and which is my sister...when we were younger than teens. The "I" that I identify with (in the mirror) looks more like the her that I know and love. It dawned on me that I am not seeing the same "me" in the mirror and the "me" in photos. I called my sister to share this and she agreed. Then, I heard your piece ... Thanks.

Mar. 01 2015 05:01 PM
sue from raleigh

I don't see it.

Mar. 01 2015 02:37 PM
Lee from Bala Cynwyd, PA

How about photo effecting ONLY Lincoln's hair, leaving famous familiar facial features the same to perceive only the part changing...

Mar. 01 2015 01:48 PM
terry pickett from charleston, wv

Seems that people in the theatre and criminals have known about this stuff for a long time.

Mar. 01 2015 11:41 AM
Ann from Nyack

I do not think that there is such a strong difference between the pictures.

Feb. 28 2015 11:13 PM
Scott D

on the hair - I think its just people don't like odd, and more men part their hair on the left, so the right looks odd. More men part their hair on the left because most of their moms were right handed, so when mom stands in front of you and does your hair with a comb in her right hand, there's your part. and that's how you do it then when you start combing your hair yourself. Many of us figured out it looks different than most and change ourselves sometime in teens or adulthood.

Feb. 28 2015 04:01 PM
Blok Dak from Earth

What percentage of people have smiles which are higher on their right side? What is the significance of this if this is the case for a person? I only ask because my smile is higher on the right. I'm right-handed and also I've been told my dominant eye is wrong for a right-handed person. Any connection?


Feb. 28 2015 03:53 PM
Jan from Yreka, CA

Unfortunately, the entire image of Lincoln is mirrored...not really the same thing as moving the hair-part's position. I believe this not just a small insignificant perameter.

Feb. 28 2015 03:44 PM
Grant Mckenna from Anderson, California

Not trying to "nitpick", but this podcast only refers to left vs right parting, but what about the the myriad of famous people who part their hair in the middle? Are they equally weak and strong at the same time? just my thoughts... thank you!

Feb. 28 2015 02:50 PM

In a recent article Marilyn Vos Savant observed that the vast majority of people with RIGHT-Handedness, have hair whorls that make it easier to part hair on the left side and comb it to the right; whereas the reverse is true for people who are left-handed. I think this might be part of the puzzle as to why we often react more favorably to people with a left-hand part. On some level, we have internalized the idea that people who part there hair from left to right will have the personality traits associated with right-handedness. I believe that the ability to verbalize feelings is one of those. I'm not saying this would be a distinction made consciously but that below the level of consciousness we've accepted and now function from a bias based on years of associations through thousands of interactions.

Feb. 28 2015 01:49 PM

Is the difference just due to the fact that in America we read left to right? Do people from cultures that read differently have the same interperation?

Feb. 28 2015 12:35 AM

He looks the same.

Feb. 26 2015 01:42 PM
chad v from winters, ca

I just see the smug drunk alter-ego of one of the greatest

Feb. 25 2015 03:55 PM
John from United States

Turns out there is a version of Lincoln where his hair is flipped...its on the five dollar bill ( You can tell cause the bump in his cheek is on the right side as in every other picture. The story goes is that when he posed for the picture used on the portrait, the hairstylist just flipped it for some reason.

The question is, can you see how different he looks and feels this way?

Why did/does the treasury use this version on the common 5 dollar bill, when there literally is no other version (except for non-flipped daguerreotypes) that show him with a right part?

Feb. 10 2015 04:38 PM
Ray from Lancaster, MA

But I protest. Flipping the entire face of Lincoln is NOT the same as changing the hair part. If his hair was patten on the opposite side, the part would be above the bump below his cheek jowl, and the results would be different than flipping the entire photo horizontally. What would he look like then?

Jan. 07 2015 06:21 AM

Why is this an entire topic? Don't all people who see pics of themselves realize the mirror isn't the same as others see them? Also, ya know that medicine cabinet mirror on the side of most bathroom walls? it and look at the reflection of your reflection... Not that epic. However, I also wonder if this is something that men found more revealing than women? As a gal with long hair, I've tried all kinds of styles and parts to see which works better for face shape, mood etc... so I've clocked a bit of mirror time.

Dec. 10 2014 12:35 AM

i dont get it

Nov. 20 2014 02:22 PM
frey from UA

Thanks for the article. college essays for sale Very interesting

Jul. 22 2014 10:53 AM

google it...

Feb. 28 2014 02:02 AM
Josh from Alexandria

Did some detective work looking at the source for this page, here are some working links for you late comers.

Here's a working link of Abe Lincoln flipped:

Here's a working link of Abe Lincoln true:

Feb. 13 2014 12:32 PM
Barbara Lurie

You can google photos of mirror image of lincoln and it appears.

Feb. 07 2014 12:12 PM
Nancy Packard from Lincoln Nebraska USA

Me too: I am disappointed that I can't see the photo of Abraham Lincoln.
I will try again.

Feb. 06 2014 10:21 PM
Debbie from Austin, TX

I sure would like to see the photos of Lincoln. Wish the link worked.

Feb. 05 2014 11:10 PM

Would love to see the pic of Abe Lincoln, but when I click on the image like it says to do, there is no Abe Lincoln.
Will check back later this week so see if it fixed.

Feb. 05 2014 12:05 AM
Janice from Tulsa, oklahoma

I want to see the picture of Lincoln, where?

Feb. 04 2014 09:18 PM
Sarah from 59802

I could not "click on the photot above and see a picture of Lincoln" - very annoyed.

Feb. 04 2014 07:31 PM
John Walter from New York

A cowlick is clearly one of the reasons that a part will appear naturally on one side vs. the other. While it may be easier to style with the cowlick, I have found that if I want to put my hair part on the opposite side, it’s just a matter of styling it that way when it’s wet, and with a little goop.

Also, the handedness of the person may favor one choice over the other; as in, it's easier to pull your hair to the side vs. pushing it.

But regardless, how your hair part got there has little effect on the external viewer's impression of you underneath the part. It’s still emphasizing right brain over left, or vice-versa. Viewers are going to respond as if you are more right brained, or left brained, because that is the side you are presenting all the time, and perhaps, ever since childhood.

Actually, my preference is no part, because that is stronger - both sides of my brain (as seen through my eyes and facial expressions) get represented equally to the viewer, and they will see me as more balanced. We are clearly a mix of right and left brains, I think our hair shouldn't be predetermining which side wins out all the time over the other in terms of attention.

Feb. 04 2014 06:08 PM
Carolyn Mone

You can find the mirror images by search for "Lincoln and his mirror image" on Google Images

Feb. 04 2014 03:46 PM
David Baumhardt from Michigan

You didnot mention that about 90 percent of people have hair that swirls clockwise at the crown. This swirl creates a grain direction that tends to make the hair part naturally on the left where the side grain separates from the crown swirl. Forcing a part on the right requires the top of the part to go against the grain. Unless there is another cowlick, which i hear is a completely different assymetry problem, the part will be un-natural and more difficult to maintain neatly. A forced part will be much more likely to looked unkempt. This might also help explain the preference for parting hair on the left.

Feb. 04 2014 03:09 PM
Rebecca from Cleveland, OH

There are true mirror apps. I just downloaded one. Bizarre. And not a way I want to view myself every again.

Feb. 03 2014 02:50 PM

Wuhr our teh LINCONNNNNZZZ!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!

Feb. 03 2014 12:26 PM
BenA from Baltimore, MD

The thing about chirality and thalidomide is apparently a myth which began when it was suggested in the forward of a book about X-ray crystallography. It was debunked in the October 2002 issue of Nature Reviews: Drug Discovery on p757. You have to pay to see the article but you can google for it like I did and find it. I found it discussed on the corante site by a PhD in organic chemistry called Derek Lowe.

Feb. 03 2014 07:48 AM
Fred from New York

Thank you Doc, I too had such uncontrollable angst that something wasn't perfect for me on a web page that i was compelled to add one more comment that said exactly the same thing that more than 50 people have already said, and certainly not believe any thing such as a hard link someone else may have posted. However, your kind and worthy story of how you escaped the trauma using such unbelievable skill navigating the vagaries of "The Google" gives me heart: I will venture forth into that oft completely charted world with just a little bit more confidence that i will succeed. 10 seconds seems a little long, but i will try to hold on for this much delayed gratification. If its much longer, i fear that you may find me committing myself at the local sanatorium for some serious stress reduction therapy.

Feb. 03 2014 12:28 AM
Doc from Gainesville, FL

I am going to try to share my experience with you. I still get a little upset when I think about it, but here goes: I was listening to a Radio Lab story about mirror images and the hosts said that mirror images of Lincoln could be seen on their website. I went and looked and they weren't there. It was a horrible disaster that ruined my life. Until 10 seconds later, when (while sobbing uncontrollably) I typed "mirror images of Lincoln" into Google and saw them on another site.

Feb. 02 2014 11:17 PM

Googling lincoln mirror image worked for me

Feb. 02 2014 11:09 PM
Dafco from philadelphia

very interesting segment . i love Radio lab. Thanks!!
For all those angry lazy people , it not hard to find the Lincoln picture. Just cut and paste in your browser !

Feb. 02 2014 10:43 PM
Kimberly Brown

This left side bias is so true with me. My left is my best side. I hope that I get a chance to see the photos, but, as always, great show.

Feb. 02 2014 09:43 PM

For those out there who don't know how to internet...

Go to google search for lincoln mirror image.

Feb. 02 2014 09:09 PM

Guys...bugs happen. Lets be patient I am sure they will fix it soon.

Feb. 02 2014 09:01 PM

Hours later and still no fix? I guess we've all been "scammed" by you. I see no real reason to visit your site again; possibly I don't need to support your program. Shame!

Feb. 02 2014 08:43 PM

The first time listening to your program today. Came right home to see the Lincoln photograph. As others were....I am disappointed. Not here.

Feb. 02 2014 05:43 PM
Stephanie from P

These are the links posted later in the comments by John. - regular - reversed

Feb. 02 2014 04:51 PM
Lizk from NC

Boooo! I drove home listening to this and told my family I wanted to show them the Lincoln picture! No picture!

Feb. 02 2014 04:33 PM

I want to see the picture of Lincoln!

Feb. 02 2014 04:29 PM
Peter Moller from Syracuse, NY

What happened to the Lincoln picture that's referred to in the radio broadcast and right here on this page???? Very disappointing.

Feb. 02 2014 04:05 PM
Eithne from syracue ny

No picture );

Feb. 02 2014 04:03 PM
patricia harralsonkrueger

I could not find the picture of Lincoln and the symmetry issue after clicking on the picture as the site instructed. So where do I have to go to I see it?

Feb. 02 2014 04:00 PM
Patty Pearson

I do not see any links in the long John Walter post. I went to his website and cannot find the Lincoln pictures there either. Sigh.

Feb. 02 2014 03:48 PM
John Walter from New York

The large difference in perceiving the two Lincoln images has a lot to do with his strong facial asymmetry, of which his hair part is just one element. It points to how we have strong first impressions of not only what others look like, but what we take away about a person’s character traits when we look at them. Flipping the image can change that first impression dramatically. Try this with a lot of famous people’s photos and be really surprised at what you see.

Now go one step further, and realize that your own "altered from reality" mirror image is what you interact with every day. All of us have this effect going on for our whole lives. It colors not just our current impressions of who we are and our state of being, but deeply held beliefs about ourselves and what we think others think of us. The point of the True Mirror is to correct that distortion and give us back our true nature to interact with.

One of my most favorite comments from a first time viewer of the True Mirror was when she looked for less than 5 seconds and swiftly turned to me and said "Wow - now I can see why people like me!", and then started crying. The thing was, you would almost immediately think that she was lovely person - not just a pretty face, but a really sweet and lovely person, someone that of course you would like. For her, she never saw that beautiful inner part of her in regular mirrors, and for her whole life had been puzzled by what she thought was unjustified appreciation from so many. Now she could see it too, and not just in a static photo, but in real time, with the amazing sparkle and life that we would see! Her tears of joy and release from that confusion were amazing to behold.

This was my experience too. When I first saw my true image, I saw the bright spark in my eye from my smile. When we smile, there is light in our eyes, and it is light with meaning. I recognized the feeling that I had, which was that I was actually quite happy. For the first time, I felt natural and joyous that my mirror reflection didn't devolve into a critical, rather sad being, whose overriding self-judgment was that there was something wrong with that person. In an instant, all that melted away, and I spent 5 minutes beaming at myself.

For some people, interacting with their true image is likewise wonderfully impactful and they love both what they see and the concept itself. Others not so much – most of us are so conditioned to their own reversed image that switching it is very strange. They have the same gasp as from seeing the Lincoln photo (which explains the comment Jad read at the end of the show).

At the end of the day, the concept is that the traditional mirror image does change things, and we should start asking about its consequences, not just for us as individuals, but for the society in general. If every single person in the modern world knows themselves differently than what is real, what has that created in our culture?

Feb. 02 2014 03:18 PM
nic daniel

Your web site sucks. If you have pics of Lincoln it would be nice to have them easy to find. It says click on above pic to see the pics but all there is is the alice pic. typical shit.

Feb. 02 2014 02:50 PM
Michael from North Potomac, MD

Scroll down to the long post by John Walter, there are links to the images there.

Feb. 02 2014 02:01 PM
Sean from Eugene Oregon

There's no Lincoln picture.

Feb. 02 2014 01:57 PM
Vicki from Austin, TX

I can't see it either....

Feb. 02 2014 01:53 PM

I can't see Lincoln picture

Feb. 02 2014 01:51 PM
Mary Cunningham from Austin

where is the Lincoln picture?

Feb. 02 2014 01:48 PM

I don't see the Lincoln pictures

Feb. 02 2014 01:45 PM
Michael from North Potomac, MD

Looking at the Lincoln pictures, I notice that the right side of his face (the left side of the photo) is better lit. In the reversed image, that brings the dark, more shadowy side to the left as we look at it. I do think that the normal image is more appealing than the reversed image, but how much of that is due to the part, how much is due to the asymmetry of other aspects of his face, and how much is due simply to the lighting?

My eye seems to be drawn to the right side of peoples faces (i.e. to my left as I look at them). That's the side that is darkened in the reversed Lincoln image.

Feb. 02 2014 01:41 PM
jim porter

WTF: Where is the Lincoln picture?!

Feb. 02 2014 01:31 PM
Suzanne from Maryland

Thanks for the links below-found the images. Very interesting! I part my hair on the right. Maybe I will try moving it to the left! Or is it a guy thing?

Feb. 02 2014 01:12 PM
Kel from DC

Really wanted to see the Lincoln pics!! Bummer.

Feb. 02 2014 01:02 PM
Julia from 20815

Loved the story. Frustrated by the lack of promised visuals of Lincoln

Feb. 02 2014 12:54 PM

No picture of Lincoln. Bummer

Feb. 02 2014 11:39 AM
John Walter from New York

The Lincoln picture will be fixed shortly, I would assume. Its been up for years, something must have happened just recently. As Frank posted below, here are the hard links: - regular - reversed

One of the reasons that the audience gasped during the show was that these photos were projected on a huge screen - the reversed view of Lincoln showing a right part was highly unusual and, being so huge, quite "in your face"!

Its interesting to note that during our research, it was hard to determine what hair part Lincoln actually had because daguerreotypes, the photo technology of the day, show a negative image, but modern publishing often corrects the image. We finally found out how to be sure - he has a slight bump on his right cheek near the jowl. For almost every image, he parts on the left side, the more typical side for men to part.

But whats really surprising, and helps support the theory that the right hair part on men is atypical, is that when Lincoln sat for the portrait that was used for the 5 dollar bill and the penny no less, for some reason, the hair stylist parted his hair on the right side (check the bill, and notice the cheek bump is still on the right). For pictures of the old 5 dollar bill, and penny, check We see that image all the time, but notice how much better it looks if you flip it (showing him again with a left part)

But perhaps the image is chosen because of some of the positive aspects of the right hair part - it shows more compassion, more sincerity, more being involved with the deeper elements of our nation's struggle - aspects which we readily believe about Lincoln today.

Here are the two 5 dollar bill images, first the actual one:

then reversed:

Feb. 02 2014 09:33 AM
Disappointed in NJ

I too can not find the flipped photo of Lincoln on your website.

Feb. 02 2014 07:59 AM
GT from My house

Don't know if you've heard, the Lincoln picture doesn't work.

Feb. 01 2014 11:25 PM

Ditto. Disappointed

Feb. 01 2014 10:37 PM

No Lincoln pictures probably because it's OOD.

Feb. 01 2014 09:05 PM

Pictures of lincoln hair part!

Feb. 01 2014 07:43 PM
Dave from Pittsburgh

Sigh. Can't find the Lincoln image, either. C'mon, how hard is it to post a short video or image? Too busy practicing how to sound smug on the show to follow through with a post that works on all browsers, apparently. Here's a video.

Feb. 01 2014 07:36 PM
Sarah Rahm from oregon

Yes, very annoying. There is a cartoon pic of a cat. Not Lincoln.

Feb. 01 2014 07:30 PM

What a waste of time trying to see the pic of Lincoln that is not there. Get it together creeps

Feb. 01 2014 07:17 PM
Wendy Crist

Where's the LIncoln image? Please let me know where to find it or mail a direct link please.

Feb. 01 2014 07:16 PM
MattG from Juneau AK

This video shows the Lincoln mirror image:

Feb. 01 2014 07:01 PM
william estrada from Mt Umunhum,ca,usa

Your link? to the Lincoln image does not work with the latest Firefox browser.
Please create web interfaces to support all browsers not just Winders.

Feb. 01 2014 06:58 PM
Traci from Portland, OR

Where is the picture of Abe Lincoln? My boyfriend and I came here to check it out and it is no longer posted.

Feb. 01 2014 06:53 PM
Michael Green

What Lincoln? Put the picture on the webpage if you invite people to look at it!!!

Feb. 01 2014 06:51 PM
Connie from Sacramento

I scanned all the comments to see how many listeners referred to the cowlick effect on hair parting. Only Kerry from NYC, 4/20/11, mentioned it. I have a cowlick on the right front forehead. With a left part, my hair lies flat across my head. With a right part, the hair has a nice lift that looks better on a sophistication scale. (Taken further, that lift is the "pompidour" effect--probably why Ronald Reagan had a right part). That difference would help greatly in differentiating Clark Kent (flat) from Superman (lift). I suspect that someone who was bullied had his hair lying flat, and when he switched sides his hair, and thus himself, looked cooler and more socially acceptable.

Feb. 01 2014 06:22 PM
Ron Elkins from Indianapolis

I was at the gym listening to this fascinating program, and couldn't wait to get home to check out the Lincoln photos. But all I can find is a tiny box with an "x" in it - no photos. I can't understand why the technicians for a program that is presumably recorded days before broadcast don't take the time to check their own website after they've uploaded documents, photos, etc., to be certain their listeners will indeed be able to access them, as the program's hosts assure us we will be able to do. This sort of thing happens often online, and it's extremely frustrating!

Feb. 01 2014 05:52 PM
Kill Joy from Reality

Um... go look at Reagan... he parts it on... THE RIGHT, THE WEAK SIDE but we all know Repubs bow and worship Reagan... so it's all BS BS BS!!!

Feb. 01 2014 05:41 PM
rkelly0020 from Alabama

Where's Abe.............
You said it would be here????????????????????????

Feb. 01 2014 05:24 PM

damn you radio lab......where is Lincoln?

Feb. 01 2014 05:10 PM

You can put the key words into google images and see the two pics of Lincoln, it isn't that impressive IMO.

Feb. 01 2014 04:58 PM
Linda L. Hoyt from St. Louis, MO

Where is honest Abe? This is disconcerting!

Feb. 01 2014 04:45 PM
Wisco from Wisconsin

Click what "photo above"? What are you talking about?

Feb. 01 2014 04:44 PM

No pic of Abe!!!!!

Feb. 01 2014 04:43 PM
Craig Ainsworth from Wichita, KS

Great show but where is the Lincoln pictures? I can only find the one of Alice.

Feb. 01 2014 04:36 PM

Where did the photo of Abe go?

Feb. 01 2014 04:31 PM
Bob Hanson from New Hampshire

Listened to the show and was interested in seeing the Lincoln photo, not there???

Feb. 01 2014 04:28 PM
Bob Patrick from Los Angeles

Please return the Lincoln Picture. You have my curiosity --- now let me have the photo!

Feb. 01 2014 03:57 PM
Jeffrey Kastin

no Lincoln pic

Feb. 01 2014 03:50 PM
April from Vermont

Where is the photos of Lincoln? I've checked 2 times this week still nothing, Please fix it!!!!!!

Feb. 01 2014 03:06 PM
Debbonnaire Kovacs from Kentucky

I just put "mirror image Lincoln" into Google and it came up. But they look the same to me. I mean, neither looks better or worse. I personally make a point of changing my hair part all the time, from far right to far left and everywhere in between. I think the change of hair part was "Dumbo's feather."

Feb. 01 2014 02:03 PM
Cinnamon from NYC area

If you compose and email, transferring into it independently each Lincoln picture link, then send it to yourself,you bill be able to look a each picture separately in the finished email.

Feb. 01 2014 01:41 PM

Here it is, on John Walker's "Hair Part Theory" web site:

Feb. 01 2014 01:31 PM

Great show but picture of Lincoln is not showing up

Feb. 01 2014 01:09 PM
Khb from NJ

Where is the pic of Lincoln??

Feb. 01 2014 01:06 PM
bf from EST

My ten-year-old and I came looking for the Lincoln picture, but it does not seem to be here.

Feb. 01 2014 01:06 PM
fdj from nyc

where is the pic of Lincoln? don't waste my time.

Feb. 01 2014 01:00 PM
Carol from Seattle

When I look in the mirror, the part is on the right side. But when people look at me, to them, it is parted on the left. When I part my hair on the (my) left, it looks to others as if it is parted on the right. So, is the allegedly better way to part on my left or other people's left when looking at me?

Feb. 01 2014 12:56 PM
rdiiorio from nyc

Your perception of reality may change but reality just is, just let your mind be and you will see 99% of all things you think matter really don't matter at all. It's the noise in your head that needs to be stilled.

Feb. 01 2014 12:47 PM

i don't see a problem with either lincoln image. left part or right. both look ok.

Feb. 01 2014 12:41 PM

The Lincoln pic is broken, but here are the two images that used to display.

Jan. 31 2014 09:32 PM

Where is the Lincoln pic?

Jan. 31 2014 12:56 PM
Cindy from Springfield OR

I have only one eye, I wore a prothesis as a young person. Everyone had a hard time looking at me and kids shunned me. They would always focus on that right eye and was uncomfortable to look at. Once I quit wearing it folks don't focus on the right and go straight to the left, no confusion....I also cannot see 3D or Magic Eye pictures...I will always notice peoples smiles now, I also noticed a frown or straight face the mouth is lower on the left. I part my hair in the middle as I part it on the left I actually feel lopsided, if I part on the right it falls to close to the left eye that's uncomfortable. Parting it in the middle gives my face symmetry, go figure.

Jan. 31 2014 02:33 AM
Junisse from Mexico

Abraham Lincoln photo not working ...wanna see it please!

Jan. 30 2014 10:10 PM
Cindy NS from Stamford CT

Just listened to the Symmetry episode again -- since I first heard it I have not only told many people about John Walter's experience and his (possible) influence on Jimmy Carter, but I also changed my part to the other side - and unexpectedly landed a new job shortly after.

One question: How do "selfies" change the way we see ourselves? When I look in the camera on my phone, I appear the same as I do in the mirror - raise my right hand and it looks like my left is doing it. But after I take the pic and look at it, it is now reversed and it looks like my right hand is doing it. Freaky, indeed, and it might possibly make John Walter's mirror obsolete!

Thanks, as always, for your amazing show. I love learning from you!

Jan. 30 2014 10:09 PM

link to Lincoln is not working........

Jan. 30 2014 08:50 PM
Dave K from NYC

Brain Games, the TV show, recently had a similar segment. They mirrored the left half of a face to form a whole face, and did the same with the right half. In every case, the left-side pics were more attractive than the right-side pics.

Jan. 30 2014 08:49 PM
Deb from New York

The Lincoln image isn't working for me either!

Jan. 30 2014 08:49 PM
Eric Clough from New York

Our entire project is about accessing Chiral Chambers INTO MYSTERY. Please take a look at our Tamref Mathematics on Clue 08:

Jan. 30 2014 08:40 PM
robert smith from Nevada city, ca

Link to Lincoln mirror images is not working for me from your page. Can you send me a link to it?

Jan. 30 2014 05:20 PM
Martin Danger from Perth, Western Australia

Hey there guys, re the slight bias to smile from the left side - recent research about dog tail wagging found a right bias means happy dog and a left bias means concerned dog. The bias is doesn't appear to researchers as a willed behaviour by the dog, instead it is influenced by which side of the dogs brain is more active. Here's a link to the article:

Nov. 25 2013 09:28 AM
Randall from NYC

People have noted that Lincoln's face itself was famously asymmetrical. So it's also a factor here. The US $5 bill shows Lincoln's hair atypically parted on his right, but the angle is different. For a less facially-influenced comparison, here's a third view:

Aug. 23 2013 11:45 PM
Lauren from Austin, TX

Wow, the Abe Lincoln picture flipping is neat. He looks so much kinder in the way that we see him normally, but when you flip it, he looks angrier and more sinister IMO. How interesting!

Aug. 16 2013 02:12 PM
WyalusingTim from Charlotte, North Carolina

Many healthy diets are began after a three day fasting of only drinking water flavored with freshly squeezed lemon juice. Unlike most fruits and vegetables, which have left handed molecules, the lemon molecule is right handed.

Aug. 12 2013 03:44 AM
Tom from Latia

Isn't the image reversed in this type of photography anyhow?

Aug. 07 2013 10:02 AM

I'm bothered by the flipping of the photo, and claiming that's what Abe saw in the mirror. As I stand in the mirror, my right side is still on the right, I don't get flipped. So, the original photo IS what Abe saw in the mirror. That said, good show.

Jul. 31 2013 06:17 PM
elise from s.f. ca

How would this mirror image example explain people's reactions to someone with Bell's Palsy?
Personal experiences with many people, who either see the face as "very attractive" or "unattractive"...sounds more like how they think of what they see or associations connected with their own personal experiences. It's good to hear about this "true mirror" because it would be refreshing if people were more objective about their own faces and how they 'see' others'.

Mar. 03 2013 09:15 PM
Sid from Austin TX

I have a very good friend, Robert (Bob) Rynearson, MD. Bob Lives in Temple Texas, is the Mayo Clinic trained Psychiatrist that established and directed, for decades, the psychiatric program at Scott & White Hospital in Temple, TX.

Like John Walter, Bob discovered the asymmetrical facial phenomena at an early age in his life while trying on a suit jacket in a department store dressing room. The mirror was made in three parts and was adjustable. One side of the mirror had been moved to make a 90 degree angle giving Bob the ability to simultaneously view, nose to nose, both the left and right side of his face. This discovery led him to later create a tool he has used extensively and to great success in his medical practice. He calls this tool, this method "Profile Self-Confrontation". The use of this treatment methodology has helped many of his patients and more recently it helps those suffering the symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress. After retiring a little over fifteen years ago from Scott & White, Bob eventually authored a book titled "Time to Listen", which explains the right/left profile phenomenon.

“What explains the difference between parting your hair on the left hand or the right hand side?" Keeping to what I have taken away from my conversations over the years with Bob, the left profile, the left side of one's face is the window to the subconscious, it expresses our true selves, whereas the right profile is the side of our face we present to the world.

My personal take on parting the hair on the left side is that the part generates a lack of symmetry; the part creates unequal tufts of hair thus brings the eye of the person looking at us to see and focus on the left profile and then they see us for what we really are. It gives the viewer an instant impression of honesty. Most people find that to be attractive.

On the other hand, the right profile is the face we present to the public. This right profile may not be a reflection of our true being but is often a compilation of what we would rather the world see us as being. Perhaps the right profile is a bit more off-putting.

In his retirement, Bob has created the Center for Profile Self-Confrontation as a means to reach out to veterans and others suffering from PTSD. Thus far, Bob and his colleagues have attained astonishing results using Profile Self-Confrontation, the non-invasive, non-medication technique in the effective treatment of PTSD. In Bob's words, "an effective brain changing technique that relieves the symptoms of traumatic stress."

I will ask Bob to log on to this site and give us an opinion as to why a left parting of the hair is more friendly, powerful and honest than parting the hair on the right.

Is John Walter’s hair parting rule strictly a male trait or does it hold true for females?

Feb. 18 2013 06:36 PM

OK, experiment. On a photo of someone looking straight on, cover half the face, and think about what she is expressing. Then cover the other half: it is amazing how different the messages are. I swear you can uncover liars, hypocrites, mixes of sadness & anger, smirk vs. sympathy, etc. One side shows your "true" emotion, the other is more calculating and cerebral. I think it depends if you are right handed or left.
So my hypothesis is we focus on one side of the face more and perhaps the hair part "points" at one side or the other.

Feb. 17 2013 07:19 PM
neil spanier from Florida, USA

There is an app for that. It's called Check Me Out (Posture Analyzer).

It's a non-reversing mirror and has other features on it, such as drawing on the screen and locating specialists in your local area. Here is the link.

or you can read about it on


Feb. 11 2013 02:40 PM
Charles from Aloha, OR

I will pose another hypothesis - I think flipping the image has more to do with the other persons perception. If you look at a photo or person I think we tend to focus on one half of the symmetry and interpret the rest - with everything we do not take in the wholeness of it. I think some people may see your mirror image and other people may see your reverse mirror image, it all depends on what part of you they are focusing on.

In the case of abe lincoln portrait flip, if you think about it most of us are focusing on just one side of his face to assess his demeanor and person - the other half is out of context for us. When we flip the image we are now focusing on the same area but it is now the other side of his face.

The changing of your hair part might function to change your outwardly appearance because it changes that side of you that people tend to focus on. It would be interesting to know what people who originally liked the young man in the story before the hair part change thought of him now with his hair parted differently - is he now rejected by those people?

Just some food for thought - life is perception and relative.

Feb. 07 2013 02:10 PM
Sally from Milwaukee

Randy Alberts mentioned seeing his reverse image in "Photo Booth"; however, I was startled to learn that Photo Booth actually gives you a mirror image. Exactly what you're used to seeing in the mirror. I learned this when I had an eyepatch after surgery and posted it on Facebook. A few days later, knowing the surgery was on my Left eye, I noticed the person in the "photograph" wore a patch over the Right eye! Odd that the computer program would be set up to show you your false self.

Feb. 05 2013 02:26 PM
jeff from New York, NY

You forgot the most striking character transformation by changing his part. Check out the original Nutty Professor movie with Jerry Lewis. When the professor changes into Buddy Love, he simply changes his part.

Boing. Amazing. You guys keep making stone soup out of thin air. Terrific show. You prove there is no symmetry in radio. You are one of a kind.

Feb. 04 2013 08:10 PM
Dan from Schaumburg, IL

Now I know why Lincoln loved photography. It allowed him to embrace his uglier, mirror self.

Feb. 04 2013 04:18 PM
gusman from Penn's Pocket

The effect of flipping horizontally the photo of Abraham Lincoln was very interesting. Where there's a look of compassion as we see him, I read a sort of domineering ambition in the flipped version.
Now, since doing this, the idea of flipping a photo portrait of Adolph Hitler just came to mind. So I used one from
When flipped, the hair part does have an effect. His eyes are just as skewed and stone cold. But somehow not as bad... Weird. It looks like he could cry.

Feb. 04 2013 03:18 PM

This was just great. I noticed a few folks looking for the mirrors that John made. Here is the link!
I will be changing my part. My hair guy always want me to do it and I could'nt get used to the visual..NOW I understand it a bit more.

Feb. 04 2013 12:48 PM
sheryl from toledo

there was a book written years ago that stated that people tend to look at the right side of other people's faces when they meet them, and that people tend to use the right side of their faces as their public faces and the left side as the watchful, true reflection of themselves. i can't think of the name of the book, unfortunately, but it was popular and might not be too scientifically accurate.

Feb. 04 2013 04:38 AM
Margaret from Chicago

Thalidomide safety testing did not actually find it completely safe. Certain rat individuals in the testing showed birth defects, but others did not. Because the majority did not, it was deemed safe. But apparently the regular genetic makeup of some families make them more vulnerable than other families, even in rats. If attention had been paid to these individual family differences in the rats, instead of being ignored as oddballs in the data, a lot of pain and suffering in affected humans might have been avoided. Look up Dr. Ted Litovitz's presentation at a legislative briefing in 2001.

Feb. 03 2013 11:01 PM
Margaret Glaser from Chicago

My guess would be that we read from left to right in our culture, so we get our first impression from what our eyes scan from the left, which would be the other person's right. I'd wonder if other cultures with different reading directions would focus on different parts of the face first.

Feb. 03 2013 10:47 PM
symertry maker 69 from

Feb. 03 2013 10:31 PM
Daniel from Seattle, WA

I felt that the photo of Abraham Lincoln has more to do with the angle and lighting of the photo. There was nothing profoundly different from what I could tell.

Feb. 03 2013 09:32 PM
Dr. David Stephen from Denver

I've often heard that perceived beauty and facial symmetry are correlated. Could it be that hair style simply highlights the facial features that are symmetrical? Or, conversely, such as in the case of a "beautiful" woman and a facial beauty mark, perhaps it compliments the symmetry or calls attention AWAY from some asymmetry. Does the part in my hair do the same?

Feb. 03 2013 09:29 PM
Stephanie from Decatur, GA

About 2o years ago, my college roommate and I had a very memorable conversation extremely late one night about this very same thing. It's great that someone else sees it too!

Feb. 03 2013 08:46 PM
Randy Alberts from Austin TX

I noticed this 'true mirror' perception phenom. only recently, when I for the first time used the Photo Booth app on my Mac to snap a new gmail account photo. Soooo weird trying to settle on the 'right' expression, combing hair etc to PBooth's realtime "reverse" feedback onscreen, weird!

Feb. 03 2013 01:53 PM
Selma from Florida

I've heard somewhere before that we all tend to focus on a person's right side (their right, our left) as we look at them, including our images in the mirror, so I don't think that it's so strange when we're suddenly exposed to the mirror image because it proves that theory to be correct when we feel that they don't look the same. They don't! What's really weird is that we've been ignoring the other half of everyone's faces, including our own.

Feb. 03 2013 12:41 PM
Ivy from Jupiter, FL

Loved the show. Am desperately seeking to John Walter's mirrors to purchase. My curiosity is piqued! Except isn't the same image as when we Skype or face time that we see ourselves as others see us?

Feb. 03 2013 11:25 AM
Wade from Harrisburg

I seem to recall from this portion of the show someone talking about how the changes in the proportions in the face when displaying affect are a little more extreme on one side of the face than on the other. Anyone have some more literature on this? In the mean time I'd like to propose an experiment. Get a baseline for people predicting emotions based on photographs showing the entire face. Then have half and half look at different photos with the left and right portions cut out respectively and see if people are more or less effective at predicting affect if they are forced to look at one side of the face over the other.

Feb. 03 2013 09:03 AM
Dan from Seattle

Funny, I had heard the thing about hair parts in 1986 from a stage costumer, and always thought I was doing it on the correct side. Your show made me go, "duh, I'm looking in a mirror and parting on the weak side." The Lincoln mirror image didn't do much for me. I always thought he was an odd-looking bug, and in reflection, just more of the same.

Feb. 03 2013 05:02 AM
Barrick Wilson from Wichita, Kansas

While listening to the "hair part" theory, I looked in my car's review mirror. The reflection of my bald head caused me to realize I am unable to change my destiny.

Feb. 02 2013 10:50 PM
Judy Robinson from New York City

Dear Jad and Robert,
I LOVE your show but I think you're on the wrong track about Lincoln. Like your live audience, I gasped at how different Lincoln's face looks when I saw the flipped photograph, However, when I covered his hairline, the difference was just as striking. I don't think it's about the part in his hair.
I believe the real story here is about our reactions as observers to the asymmetical qualities of most people's faces (particularly eyes) and the different emotions conveyed by the two sides. Flipping the Lincoln photo seems like a striking illustration of how we humans interpret the emotional meaning of a face differently depending on whether a particular set of emotions is expressed on the left or right side.
It would be terrific if you could explore this issue in a future show. When the two sides of a face appear to display different emotional content, how do we decide which side to "believe"? Is there an innate bias toward "believing" the left over the right side of the face, or vice versa? Is this the same or different in other cultures? What do we do with the apparently conflicting information from the other side? (Just intuitively, it would seem that a large left/right difference might lead us to perceive the person as "shifty" or dishonest.)
Many thanks for your terrific shows, always entertaining and thought-provoking.

Feb. 02 2013 08:51 PM
Liz Johnson from Duluth, MN

Was thinking about DOG reserach after watching Nova's "Dogs Decoded." Dogs look at a human face and their eyes shift left or seem to read the right side of the human face. What do you think? Is there a connect?

Feb. 02 2013 08:08 PM
Alex from Los Angeles

This is Crazy!!!!

I used to think there was something wrong with me, like I had had a mini stroke or something somewhere along my still young, less-than-30 year old life because I always noticed an ever so slight difference in the way the left side of my face seemed to have more "energy" or in other words, that when I smiled and otherwise expressed emotion that side seemed to carry more weight. Well, I was right!!!

...though bordering on hypochondria.

Thanks Radiolab!!!!

Feb. 02 2013 07:06 PM
KS2 Problema

This show resonated with me. Not to mix metaphors. Like John Walters, I went through a personal style/social position realignment toward the end of high school -- and I became fascinated by 3 way mirrors, since they afforded me an opportunity to see myself as others saw me. (It didn't hurt that I lost a bunch of weight and stopped dressing from the local department store. But let's not water down the story.)

Feb. 02 2013 06:51 PM
Marian Miller from Vermont

I'm gonna go back to parting my hair in the middle! Vive la 70's!

Feb. 02 2013 05:41 PM
Anne Carroll from St Paul, MN USA

Superb show, as always! In the early 90s my spouse and I were living in SE Germany. On one of our visits to the gorgeous city of Prague, we saw an amazing photography exhibit by Czech visual artist Jiří David. He'd pieced together poster-size photos of people's faces, putting the two left halves together as mirror images, and the same with the two right halves. Setting aside the silly hairdos, it was astounding to realize how asymmetrical most people's faces are (perhaps even more so as we age?). Doing some searching for this artist today I ran across other photographers with new twists. One neat take is a "genetic" series by Quebecois photographer Ulric Collette ( who paired split images from siblings and parents/children. Very cool. Thanks again to RadioLab for great perspectives and inspiring stories!

Feb. 02 2013 05:36 PM
Scott Paterson from Branford,CT

Shouldn't the real question be: Who'd wanna hang with the crowd that used to beat you up?
(Alright,I was a right parter, until, at 35, I started to comb it straight back.)

Feb. 02 2013 05:16 PM
James from PDX

Feb. 02 2013 04:50 PM
Sam Peters

What about a photo of yourself? Isn't that a non reversible image of oneself which allows you to see yourself as others do.

Feb. 02 2013 04:07 PM
destinktive from Lititz

Really like the show.
I heard an interview with Sam Waterson, the defense attornery on "Law and Order" choose to part his hair on the right when playing the "part".

Feb. 02 2013 04:03 PM
pjmb from Excelsior, Mn.

I heard that those who part their hairs on the left are more intelligent. None Hairs I was told by a lady I know in Paris, France that we have more then one hair on on our head so Hairs!!

Feb. 02 2013 04:01 PM

Moving my part to the left now.

Feb. 02 2013 03:59 PM

Oh man.... listening to this show prompted me to start playing with the part in my hair,and thinking about why I dislike photos of myself.... which prompted me to take a self portrait with my phone...which revealed something that seems so obvious,what was pleasing to me in the mirror,was NOT pleasing to me in a photo! Wow...going to change the side I part it on now

Feb. 02 2013 03:48 PM
noelle from lancaster

I LOVEEEEE your show!!!

Feb. 02 2013 02:20 PM
andrea valeria from Cuernavaca, Mexico

I heard about John and his double mirrors about 10 years ago, and after searching for him for a while, was able to buy two. One for my home in New York City and one for my home in Cuernavaca, Mexico.
I could swear that at leat a couple of thousand people have stared at themselves, in awe and wonder, as both mirrors hang on a wall...
congrats to the station and to John...(and to my double self).

Feb. 02 2013 12:51 PM
Bob Olsen from Tacoma, WA

I once showed a mirror to an audience of kids with the question, "What's wrong with your image in this mirror?" expecting the answer, "It's backwards," after which I'd show the right-angle mirror. The answer I received was, "It has fingerprints all over it."

Trivium on Abe's hair: His final prtrait, unlike most of them, has his chin whiskers disconnected from his sideburns (named for his general Burnside?).

Feb. 02 2013 11:39 AM
john from New York.

Here is a good test - look at Lincoln with a right part on the five dollar bill:

This is not a reversed image, it is Lincoln with a right hair part - you can see the bump on his right cheek is correctly placed. The story goes that for some reason, the stylist combed his hair that way for the photo used in the engraving, but it was the only time he ever parted on the right.

Now compare it to how he normally parted:

Now check out your initial read of Lincoln based on these two photos. Notice how different you might judge him, not just by the expression, but on his overall look, which is strongly affected by the hair part. To really test it, now hold the two images up to a mirror and see if your judgement flips as well!

Feb. 01 2013 05:21 PM
Kathleen from Milwaukee

But, you not only changed the side of the part, you flipped the whole image. We all know that a person's face is NOT symmetric. You really need to do a photo shop, not just reverse the whole image!

Feb. 01 2013 02:53 PM

Sometime in the past year I read that dogs wag their tails to the left when they are really happy - as when you come home, speak positively to them, etc.
I did observe my two dogs for a while to see if this was true for them -it was indeed.

Jan. 31 2013 08:55 PM
Bob Lord

Mirroring the image of a portrait not only swaps the subject, but it also swaps the direction of the apparent light source illuminating it. In Lincoln's case, the light's coming from the left in the normal image and from the right when mirrored. I'm wondering, because we read left-to-right in the Western World, if maybe Lincoln's image looks a little disturbing when lit from the right. The change in lighting is much more jarring to me than the location of the part. I actually don't see any effect from that.

Sep. 15 2012 08:25 PM
Jacob Fauber

I just thought it would be worth expressing a personal theory I came up with in answer to 'hair part' dilemma. I obviously have no proof for it other than the circumstantial evidence I present, but I think it's interesting nonetheless.

I believe it has to with local systems of writing, or, if you'll follow my leap of logic, ways of seeing, as influenced by writing.

This answer came to me while I was reading Japanese manga, which is notoriously read right-to-left. Whenever I see an image, I notice I read it like writing. It's faster and more subtle, but I think brains read images the same way (they certainly do in the context of comics): in my case, and most people's cases, left-to-right. I can't figure out how to validate this belief, though.

People like continuity. The hair part is read as a stop in the image, and people prefer stops to be toward the end of the image: for English speakers, the right side, with the hair parted to the left.

So I immediately googled images of Japanese and Chinese men. I wasn't quite right. Generally, it looks like all the parts are still to the left.

But I wasn't quite right on a separate account as well. In actuality, Chinese writing is read vertically. Right-to-left reading is a special case in which there are multiple columns of one. And after WWII, most Chinese and Japanese horizontal text actually is read left to right. Manga is apparently an exception.

But get this. I look up the names of popular manga artists, whose life work revolves around reading right-to-left. Many don't have a visible hair part, either by choice or because the only picture I could are with a hat. Osamu Tezuka particularly always wears a beret, but the lilt he gives it seems contrary to most of the ways images of European beret-wearers wear it.

But Keiji Nakazawa, Akira Toriyama, Riichiro Inagaki... all have right hair parts.

Lastly, I looked up pictures of a Israeli men. Hebrew is probably one of the last remaining languages that are read, always, right-to-left.

It looks as though most right hair parts.

Aug. 23 2012 08:45 AM
Mary B from Austin, TX

If you take a photo of your face, print it correctly then in reverse, you can splice the two lefts together and the two rights together and get two completely differently looking people. Neither of which will look like you!

Aug. 22 2012 08:59 PM
Chris from Newport News, VA

There are also apps for smartphones that use the camera and software to create the same effect and they are free. :)

Jul. 26 2012 08:37 AM
christian from Nevada City CA

where's the other pic of Abe? Great show, Love it lots.

Jul. 14 2012 05:40 PM
John Wagner from Oklahoma

Jimmy carter's hair is parted on the left in his malaise I confused?

Jul. 01 2012 07:12 PM
Karen from Bergen County, NJ

Please see the viral video for the Ridley Scott's film Prometheus called "David 8". In the ad the actor has his hair parted on the right side, but in posters and the film, his hair is parted on the left. When you see these, you'll feel differently about him depending on which way the hair is parted.

Jun. 09 2012 06:10 PM
Georgia from Richmond, VA

My husband likes the mirror image of Abraham Lincoln (with the right hand part) better than the original image of Abraham Lincoln. My husband is left-handed. I wonder if our preference for hair part has anything to do with which side of our brain is dominant.

May. 28 2012 05:04 PM
CJ from Seattle

It's no wonder that Lincoln, in response to being accused of being two-faced, famously replied, "If I had two faces do you really think I would choose to wear this one?"

May. 24 2012 03:00 PM
Ashley from Seattle

Listening to the show now and had to get online to see Lincoln. I have heard that the reason some people don't like pictures of themselves (myself included) is that it is a picture of something they never see in real life, as it is what other people see and not what is in the mirror.

May. 19 2012 04:51 PM
shboom from texas

A Trick many artists use is to hold their work up to a mirror. This allows the artist a "fresh" view of the artwork as sometimes continually working on the same piece for a long time can dull the senses to minor errors in perspective or details. The mirror image allows the brain to view the work as a first time critic.

May. 11 2012 05:28 PM
trvl from Los Angeles

To see the mirrror image cklick on the photo

May. 09 2012 01:09 PM
Alyssa from Bend,Or

Click on the picture!

Apr. 12 2012 02:16 AM
page marshall


I only see one image of Abraham Lincoln. Where is the mirror image?


Apr. 11 2012 11:29 PM
FloridaLark from Plant City, FL

My local NPR has just started carrying RADIOLAB & I suspect we are playing 'catch-up' as the MIRROR MIRROR program was aired today, 4/1/12.

Lincoln's photos are wonder-making & thought-provoking.

Who he saw in his mirror was a little creepy--making more clear some of the comments he made about himself during his life.

Who the world saw projected warmth & intelligence--what a difference!

RADIOLAB is a weekly program for which I will make time each week!

Apr. 01 2012 03:53 PM
Diana from St. Louis

I am completely hooked on Radio Lab and I can't stop listening! Absolutely fascinating.
THANKS Jad, Robert and all involved in its production.

P.S. How does one find the title of music played on this program? The music that follows the hair-parting segment is very intriguing.

Mar. 16 2012 07:04 PM

I only see the "true" image. Where is the reverse image?

Mar. 12 2012 06:53 PM
the tinfloy

well im not the smartest man in the world, but i think everyone no matter how ugly they are must see themselves attractive in the mirror otherwise why would ugly people (like me) keep combing ther hair.

Feb. 17 2012 10:16 PM
Sylvia from Oregon

What happens when you part straight down the middle?!

Feb. 02 2012 01:19 AM
Ronica from Boulder, CO

I've seen the True Mirror (it was at Burning Man). It was nearly life-changing. I watched a woman with an eating disorder cry at the beauty she could suddenly see in the mirror. I myself could not believe the extent to which the self-criticism went away and, even more powerfully, I felt like I could see my own life force in that mirror. I know that people are drawn to my energy, but I've never been able to *see* that energy. In the True Mirror I could see it. I plan to buy a True Mirror for my home. For the joy it brings.

Jan. 26 2012 11:13 PM
maureen from Boston

There's an interesting iPhone app called Echoism that takes your photo and outputs a symmetrical face:

Jan. 13 2012 12:43 PM

But Hitler parted his hair on the right (to the left). I know he wasn't a spectacular person, but he had millions of followers.

Dec. 09 2011 08:43 AM
Ricardo Bods from New Mexico

Dogs have known the left side of the human face shows more nuanced expression for thousands of years. Observations show that's where their gaze checks--but not with each other, only with humans.

In the case of the mirror-self, or the Lincoln reversal, it's possible some observers more or less unconsciously or automatcally "compensate," i.e., focus on the same more expressive side, even if that's technically reversed. Brains fed an upside down image of the world by special glasses may also compensate, reversing the retinal reversal to see rightside up.

Lke the old hag/young beauty double image, the brain may go back and forth, even intentionally as an exercise in the modulation of consciousness. In response to the Lincoln portrait, responders may be more or less aware/unaware of the side bias in reference to either the image or the dominant side of viewing.

Dec. 04 2011 02:07 PM


Actually Skype shows a mirror image of yourself. Hold up a sheet of paper the words will be backwards on your screen, but your skype buddy will read it no problem.

Oct. 25 2011 01:27 AM

catching a glimpse of your 'true' (perceived) self is more common these days with the popularity of skype and other web-chatting services..

Sep. 19 2011 03:05 AM
Shelly from Portland, OR

Ha Ha! Alicia Silverstone was right!!!! Remember Cher from the 90s film Clueless? She never used mirrors; she always used Polaroids to get dressed!!!!

Sep. 11 2011 05:23 PM
Audrey from Brooklyn, New York

I once received a wedding invitation which included a composite photo, half bride, half groom...very odd result, and amazing how similar they were.. I tried the same with photos of my two sons, two years was as if I had two new sons, and again their new faces were amazingly similar although in real life they are actually quite distintive.

Sep. 04 2011 11:53 AM
Tom from San Diego, CA

I think you guys were a little over-broad when you state that EVERY molecule in a living system is left-handed. Its true that almost all aminos used to construct our proteins is left-handed (or in biochemistry, L), all our SUGARS are right-handed (or D, for dextro). In fact, even among animals the D versions of aminos are used in some cellular chemistry.

Aug. 24 2011 01:20 PM
Casey Harrell from Denver

Does the 1,000,000,000 anti-particles vs 1,000,000,001 normal particles ratio imply that there was 2 billion times more mass(energy) created in the big bang than is left over today?

Aug. 19 2011 05:23 PM
John Walter from New York

Hi, John Walter here. On the subject of having success with my peers caused by more confidence, there is no question that was part of it. but there clearly was an immediate difference in how I was initially and subsequently perceived. I got constant reinforcement, vs. the opposite, constant dislike, from my peers. It really was quite exhilarating! The only thing that changed physically was my hair part.

But it would have stayed just my own story had it not been that every time I saw another "right parter" man I saw symptoms of that same unease - both in them and in the way people related to them. Hence my letter to Carter. The only time it appeared to work out is if they were exceptionally handsome and/or tall - then it worked incredibly well. Some of the biggest movie heartthrobs are men with right hair parts, but then some of the most quirky characters are right parting as well - the difference is usually whether they are considered highly attractive or not. Either it works great or very strangly - its never a neutral hair part.

My final opinion about hair parts is that I don’t think either side part is very good for you - you are emphasizing one side at the expense of the other. Sure it’s an attraction thing -most hairstylists will suggest the side part to add "flair", but then your hair is speaking for you, not yourself. I settled on a center part, then no part at all, and have been much happier being whatever the situation called for - left brained, right brained, either one or both, and found that i could do both with ease. Turns out that more than half of the population is now “no-parting”, even though they represented by less than 20% in the media, politics and business leader communities.

Here’s another trick that you can try during conversations that helps prove the theory - if you tilt your head to the right or left, you will affect the conversation. Whichever eye is higher becomes more dominant. So if you are talking to your boss about a problem, tilt so your right side is higher to talk about the overall issue, then tilt left side higher and talk about how to solve it. In other words - right brain higher=big picture, left brain higher= details. Works like a charm!

Aug. 09 2011 10:42 AM
Jessi from Augusta, GA

I am pleased to blow your mind a little bit more and tell you that our visual system scans faces differently than we scan most things (I'm a PhD Neuroscience student and get to take classes about this stuff). Faces are specifically scanned from left to right, meaning that if we're looking at someone straight on, we take on the physical right side of their face first. Alternatively, as we look in the mirror, we are looking at our physical left side of our own face. This is why you always look a little funny in pictures - it's the only time we look at ourselves and scan the physical right side of our own face first. An inability to recognize faces, prosopagnosia, usually includes hippocampal disturbances, but also notes a disturbance in eye movements.

Aug. 05 2011 05:02 PM
DS from Idaho

Are photographs mirror images of ourselves or what we look like to everyone else? If they are mirror images why don't others see them (photos of others) as looking different? If they are the same why don't people see a difference when they see their own photos?

Aug. 05 2011 04:15 PM
Karl from Copenhagen

@DWK: Click the Lincoln image to switch to the mirror version. :-)

Aug. 04 2011 02:07 AM
DWK from Beaverton OR

Hey, why the tease? You tell us to visit the website for positive/mirror images of Lincoln, repeat the invitation on the webpage, then post only the one image we've always seen. Where's the mirror version? Or are we supposed to hold it up to our own mirror?

Aug. 04 2011 01:21 AM
Nancy from Portland

Mirror self worked for George Costanza who started to do the opposite of everything he normally did and every decision he normally made. He ended up with a job on the New York Yankees.
Seinfeld episode.

Aug. 04 2011 12:08 AM
regina from NYC

I'm late to the party on this one. Somehow I missed this episode in my subscription. The whole facial symmetry thing was fascinating. I had seen an episode on NOVA regarding dogs and how they visually map our faces. They showed an experiment where they took a face and matched up left to left and then right to right side. Kind of freaky how different each side of our faces are. Almost one ugly and one attractive side. Anyhow, you can see what mine looked like at the link below. I swear it isn't a shameless plug, I don't write anything of much interest except to myself. Oh! I am very happy to know I am parting my hair on the correct side: left ;)

Aug. 03 2011 03:28 PM
Steve B. from Chicago

Normally you guys are really good about exploring alternative causes, but here you really failed on that account. For example, you failed to discuss the possibility that the ostracized teen-turned-programmer might have simply felt more confident after changing his hair part (and concluding that the problem does not lie within him at all).

In fact, it's almost a cliche to say that confidence, more than almost anything else, is what attracts people to one another.

Likewise, if you expect to be shot down when you ask somebody out, then you probably will be shot down. If you even end up asking somebody for a date in such a state of mind. And with such a state of mind, you can be pretty darn sure the other person won't be asking you out. So confidence can unlock everything, or completely lock you up.

And the whole mirror thing just doesn't make much sense to me. My hair is parted on the left. And I always know it's parted on the left -- even when I'm looking in the mirror. Perhaps especially when I'm looking in the mirror. If what you (or your true-mirror maker) says is accurate, then we'd have a heck of hard time shaving, or combing our hair, or applying makeup, in front of a mirror because we'd be reaching to the wrong side of our faces.

And it is very difficult to, say, draw while looking through a mirror. But that's probably because we're not practiced at drawing while relying on a mirror. [*see postscript]

Whereas we very practiced at tending to ourselves in a mirror. Thus, we know instantly what side of our face our hair parts, etc.

Maybe, due to experience, we subconsciously 'correct' for the mirror image in our heads. We do such 'corrections' all the time anyways, as our eyes dart about taking in different images at different angles, etc. If we weren't capable of such corrections, the world might look something like a very fragmented and disjointed Picasso painting.


* PS: In grad school, I participated in a study for $25 or so, which involved a series of interview questions, then a series of challenging puzzles or tests while sitting in a room alone w/ the researcher. The most memorable challenge was to copy (w/ pen & paper) a series of shapes while our arm was in a mirror box. So I could not see my forearm or hand holding the pen -- I could only see the mirror image of the paper, and the mirror image of my pen & hand. In this situation, I couldn't draw even a single line. I was almost paralyzed. Anyway, it turns out the whole thing was designed to get us stressed out -- they wanted to know if smokers and nonsmokers react differently to stress! (Among the many "routine" questions asked in beginning was whether I was a smoker.)

Jul. 30 2011 10:11 PM
IDR from Miami, Florida

Although I find Lincoln as an extreme example of facial asymmetry due to possibly having had a disease that caused his face (and body) to be malformed (look at the height of his ears), as a photographer, I long ago figured out that people aren't symmetrical because nobody likes the way they look in pictures. It took me a while but after accidently flipping a customers negative in printing, I was surprised to hear they thought it was the best picture ever taken of them. Give it a try. Even the simplest photo editing programs have a feature that will allow you to flip an image horizontally or vertically. Do it without telling the subject and they'll think you're the best photographer ever.

Jul. 30 2011 11:46 AM
Paula from Kentucky

I watched a show on TV many years ago called "The Body Human". The host took pictures of both sides of a gal's face. He then took the shot of the left side of her face and placed it against another shot of the left side of her face - making her face complete with both of the left sides. She looked almost angry with that "new" expression. So I could see that it was apparent that both sides of our faces are made the way they are to actually give more character as well as a "normal" look. I haven't actually tried this experiment myself but it was quite a revelation as to how the comparison was something I never ever thought of. One of my eyes is a little deeper than the other - just a tad, not really outstanding - and my jawlines are just a shade different from each other. We do take it for granted that one side of our faces is a little better than the other. I have even heard of actors and actresses asking a photographer to take their photo from their "best side". Makes sense.

Jul. 18 2011 03:27 PM
Michael F from Fort Worth Texas

Guess who just made a true mirror!! Amazing show as always but I really enjoyed explaining the mirror vs the actual way we are perceived, to my family. After explaining it, my dad and I went to the store bought the needed materials and built one in about a hour. "The result really is startling" to quote my mother.

Jul. 16 2011 05:49 PM
Rowena from Australia

When I was doing my myotherapy studies we took a full body picture of ourselves at the start of 10 weeks of bodywork. Our teacher then printed the positive and negative side of the photo. He cut the photos in half and put the 2 left sides together and the 2 right sides. He did this again at the end of the 10 weeks. The difference was amazing! The the beginning my 2 left sides were skinny and my 2 right sides were curvy and after 10 weeks both sides were more balanced.

Jul. 10 2011 08:54 PM

Faces don't have perfect symmetry. Looking at the flipped Lincoln photo, I find the facial details more strange than having his part change sides. Just experiment with true facial symmetry. Make two faces that are mirror images of each side of your face. You'll see two very different people. Mask out the hair if that's a distraction. The asymmetry of faces is amazing, some being physical asymmetry, the rest being asymmetry of expressions.

Jul. 09 2011 09:57 PM
Zeke from Chicago, IL

I'd love to hear more about chirality and "left-handed" molecules in biological systems.

Jul. 08 2011 02:29 PM
Lucky from Kentucky

I switched my hair part to the left. I hope it helps!!

Jul. 05 2011 02:14 PM

This is another case where the science provided by Radiolab blows my mind. In both parts of this segment. The seemingly random affects of molecule flipping, and the psychology of faces. The latter, I think, is a real puzzle, and there are as many explanations for it as there are people trying to explain it. One explanation that I thought of is that a person may read someone's face like a book (left to right) and we therefore pay attention more to the left side if we just glance at someone's face like we would every day. A careless glance at a face could be subconsciously biased towards the left side, since we never really have enough time to observe the face in detail. Or, even if we do concentrate on a face, we may still be biased towards the left. And it may be that a hair part trumps hair all the way across in subconscious appeal. Granted, there were a lot of maybes in my explanation, but the theory is backed up, if nothing else, by Scott Higgins's observation about Abe's face being deformed on the right. If you look at his face, you can see that the right side is more lumpy and ugly-looking, but it really doesn't matter until we see Abe flipped. Again, just a theory.

Jul. 04 2011 11:23 PM
Scott Higgins from Middletown CT

I've never looked at Lincoln with an aesthetic eye before. Now, I must admit that one half of his face is truly monstrous -- the facial modeling, the sunken cheeks, the skin condition etc. Maybe we have been habituated to accept that when it appears on one side of his face, but swapping sides defamiliarizes the poor guy -- and that isn't a good thing. Ostrananie -- thanks for making Lincoln Strange.
Also -- if you flicker back and forth between the two images the effect is pretty terrifying. Recommended.

Jul. 01 2011 01:28 PM
Thor from Northern California

!ɘboƨiqɘ looɔ yllɒɘЯ

Jun. 30 2011 12:32 PM
Rod Burke from Sydney, Australia

Alfred E Newman has a right-side hair part! Need I say more?

But what effect does a bald head have?

Jun. 27 2011 08:01 AM
Alicia Lewis from Bothell WA

Due to dental issues, I have been chewing solely on the right side of my mouth for over a year. I recently noticed that my smile was "muscle bound" on the right side of my face. Since most people are right-handed, might they naturally chew more on their right side, causing the resultant mandibular bulk to inhibit their "lift" on the right? I'm now trying to even things out by using the left side more!

Jun. 25 2011 05:14 PM
Ivan Dominguez from Monterrey,Nuevo Leon

Argahh!! Im going crazy rounding up mirrors in my house!!

Jun. 25 2011 03:56 PM
kat from Austin, Texas, USA

I wonder, though, if a person who is a member of a culture who read from right to left might experience the opposite preference for the right side of the face/left part of the hair. Maybe we read faces the way we read a book. Do babies exhibit this same preference?

Jun. 18 2011 09:35 AM

I don't think you needed to spend so long explaining anti-electrons (too many positive's and negative's). Doesn't everybody know about antimatter from Star Trek?

Also would have been cool to hear about more general "symmetries" that derive from group theory.

Jun. 14 2011 08:39 PM
John from New York

While daguerreotypes are physically reversed images, what we usually see of Lincoln's pictures are flipped again...research will show the two versions that are out there and the ones we see are how he actually would have appeared in real life, not backwards.

Lincoln parted his hair on the left for almost every portrait taken, except for the one used for the 5 dollar bill...check it - its him with a right the location of a little bump on his right cheek will prove. This Wikipedia article shows both the 5 dollar bill (right part) and the original daguerreotype (left part) made on the same day:

Jun. 01 2011 09:08 PM
Alphakid42 from California

@ theliberating1 raises a very important point that the well-known image of Lincoln might actually be his reflection, owing to the nature of cameras of the day. Please, Radiolab guys, I for one would like to know if that is the case and if so, how that affects the conclusions about this story.

Jun. 01 2011 02:09 AM
Alphakid42 from California

Talk about your reversal, would the people who manage this website please swap the comments, so those of us who read the comments might view oldest to newest from top-down (as as newspaper)?

Comments that are too tall to fit on a screen mean having to scroll up and down too much!

Jun. 01 2011 02:04 AM
Johnny from Atlanta

Like John Walter, when I was young I was bullied and picked on. But I was already parting my hair on the left. Apparently, parting my hair on the right would have only made things worse; good thing I never thought to try it. Later in life I learned to be more aggressive and sociable, so I didn't get bullied any more. Now, what hair I have left is very short, so there's no part and this whole thing is moot for me. Like some other commenters, I wonder how much of Mr. Walter's found social acceptance was from some kind of placebo effect.

On the other hand, I always disliked the way I looked in the mirror, and preferred the way I looked in photographs. It's nice of Radiolab to remind me that photos represent the way I really appear to others, and the mirror does not.

May. 31 2011 02:58 PM
Spthanos from San Francisco

It appears that the notion that thalidomide is safe as one hand and not as the other hand is false--an urban legend:

May. 31 2011 01:18 PM
Ronald V. Clayton from Cape Girardeau, MO

I am left handed and presumably right brained. As an artist, (painter), I am intensely interested in perception, and also, happy to have the creative advantages that are said to come with left handedness. As such, I wonder how mirror image perception and even the manifestations in physics bear on handedness. I see the differences in Lincoln's face, left to right, as negligible but think that what accounts for that is that we lefty's are accustomed to reversing everything in order to get along in a right handed world.

May. 30 2011 02:34 PM

i wear bangs and my hair are not parted .What about symmetry ? And how did Hitler parted his hair ?

May. 29 2011 03:08 PM

Dear Brief N Civilson,
How ungenerous of you.
The profession of ignorance that irritates you could be considered posturing or just good storytelling, no? Drama, no? Just as you include the story of your life told in a whining keen by opening with "more than a little irritating" rather than "irritating"? What is "more than a little?" (The minimum amount of anything that is required to inspire an eyeroll?)

May. 29 2011 01:07 PM
Daniel Russell from Mountain View, CA

WRT the thalidomide story. It's unclear that only one handedness form of thalidomide is mutagenic. In this (somewhat dense) article in Nature Reviews: Drug Discovery (2002, ) it pretty clearly says ".. earlier work in the rabbit, the species that is most sensitive to thalidomide, showed clearly the equal teratogenic potency of its enantiomers.." (That is, both left and right forms.) AND, "...individual enantiomers of thalidomide are both inverted rapidly to the racemic mixture and also degraded rapidly by opening of the glutarimide ring — processes that occur faster in vivo than in vitro..." That is, even if you give someone a dose of pure-lefthanded thalidomide, it rapidly is converted to a mixture of both left and right-sided forms.

This makes the thalidomide story more complex than the way it was explained by Marcus du Sautoy.

May. 24 2011 01:53 PM
Eleanor from Philadelphia

Dear Jad and Robert,

Wonderful show, as usual! I think I can explain the hair-parting bias: most people are born with hair whorls that go clockwise, so the part naturally falls on the left.

Counter-clockwise hair whorls are associated with schizophrenia and other mental disorders.

May. 24 2011 08:48 AM
Peter from Chelmsford

I haven't read all the comments, so maybe someone wrote this already. I was surprised that they didn't mention in the 'hair part' segment that traditionally, men parted their hair on their left, and women on the right. I remember my grandfather telling me this when I was young.

May. 22 2011 10:24 PM
Richard Mavers from Belgium

I see the Lincoln pictures- he looks just as attractive in the mirror image as the regular one, to me. I cant tell which one is supposed to be better looking. I still await evidence that a mirror flap of an image can turn an ugly man into Brad Pitt.

May. 20 2011 01:40 PM
Richard Mavers from Belgium

I see the Lincoln pictures- he looks just as attractive in the mirror image as the regular one, to me. I cant tell which one is supposed to be better looking. I still await evidence that a mirror flap of an image can turn an ugly man into Brad Pitt.

May. 20 2011 01:39 PM
John Walter from New York

The concept of the mirror image being different is not just because its unfamiliarity, but because there is a fundamental distortion of information when we see the right side on the left and left on the right.

When you flip a face, all of that extra expressiveness of the left side as talked about in the podcast appears on the opposite side. Especially the eyes, which carry a whole passel of information, are swapped, so the way we interpret backwards faces ends up being different than usual. A great example is watching George W. Bush speak backwards (hold a mirror up to the TV and watch him in the mirror). That slight smirk that is ever present when he talks just doesn’t register when you see him backwards, and you tend to take him more seriously. The big gasp in the audience when Lincoln’s face appeared 20 feet tall was because that different interpretation felt really strong, plus a sense that it was very unusual too. Sure it gets more familiar with exposure, but it’s still fundamentally different than what is real.

Our brains are clearly sided according to all the research, but when you look at yourself in a mirror, you are seeing a being that has a logical right side and a feeling left side - it just doesn’t match what is actually true. Add to that, we are in a dynamic feedback loop with our mirror image, so unlike the static design that you check for a different take backwards, we immediately respond to ourselves in a mirror – within microseconds no less. Thus natural expressions, such as a real smile, don’t have that same naturalness anymore, so a typical response is to stop smiling and just stare at ourselves (or worse – I think a lot of self negation comes from the mirror experience). In contrast, when people see their real smile in a true mirror they tend to keep smiling (and usually get pretty astonished along the way!). By the way, using two mirrors at right angles will create the true mirror image, so please try this at home! Just try to smile at yourself to see your face with an actual expression, then compare to the backwards image that you usually see.

Another test is to take a particularly expressive photo and cover each half of the face with a paper and ask yourself if you see “feeling” in the right and “logic” in the left (quotes are to indicate how these are very broad generalizations, but they should match in the general sense.) Now flip the image and try it again – almost always you will detect feeling in the right side and logic in the left, even though technically it’s not that way at all! Then when you pull the paper away and look at the whole face, you see how your interpretation is different backwards than forwards.

May. 18 2011 10:42 PM
Joyce from New Jersey

Wouldn't we see our true image in photographs? Or would that be shown in reverse as well? I would think that we would be familiar with ourselves as the camera would take us and I think that would be true to the true mirror image as we usually hate the way we look in pictures.

May. 18 2011 11:50 AM

The mirror flip trick can be explained easily. As it has been discussed in this thread already, its all about familiarity. Using a mirror to flip an asymmetrical image destroys any familiarity and allows us to look at the image fresh again. Visual artists use it all time to spot mistakes or overlooked oddities in their work. As a designer I find it easier to correctly space typography when it is in reverse because that way I'm able to look at the form more purely without the distraction of what the letters or words actually mean.

May. 18 2011 01:03 AM

The mirror flip trick can be explained easily. As it has been discussed in this thread already, its all about familiarity. Using a mirror to flip an asymmetrical image destroys any familiarity and allows us to look at the image fresh again. Visual artists use it all time to spot mistakes or overlooked oddities in their work. As a designer I find it easier to correctly space typography when it is in reverse because that way I'm able to look at the form more purely without the distraction of what the letters or words actually mean.

May. 17 2011 11:07 PM
Anonymous from The Internet

I believe the shock of seeing mirrored images is more about familiarity than anything else.

Lincoln is a cultural icon in the US. His image appears on currency, and countless other places. He's probably as familiar to most people as their own image. People can look at the reversed image and see that it is "wrong" more easily than a random person.

Similarly, most people are used very familiar with seeing themselves in a mirror and are similarly be unfamiliar with their own "true" image. I wonder if people used to seeing photos of themselves would have the same reaction.

The change in the Lincoln photo is also dramatized because the lighting direction in the photo changes. With "flat" lighting, the natural asymmetries would still be visible, but not as prominent.

May. 17 2011 04:33 PM
Jake Hanley from Abington, MA

I found the "Mirror, mirror" story intriguing, but I brush my hair back without a part. My wife was totally indifferent, and I noted that she parts her hair straight down the middle. Most people find John Malkevich quite appealing in an intensely cerebral kind of way, and his dome is bare of locks.
Am I on to something?

May. 14 2011 05:45 PM
confused from Cambridge MA

So now I am confused.
If I were part my hair on my right side, then it is thought I would project a stronger-self to the world?
But, if I look in a mirror of my face with a right-side part, then I see myself as if I have a part on the left-side --- is this a way to perceive my self to be weaker than I am?

Any reply to lessen the confusion will assist. Thank you.

May. 14 2011 03:58 PM
Benji Fisher from Wellesley, MA

John Walter's mirrors remind me of the last stanza of the poen "To A Louse" by Robert Burns. The Wikipedia page gives the original as

O wad some Pow'r the giftie gie us
To see oursels as others see us!
It wad frae mony a blunder free us,
An' foolish notion:
What airs in dress an' gait wad lea'e us,
An' ev'n devotion!

and the "Standard English Translation"

And would some Power the small gift give us
To see ourselves as others see us!
It would from many a blunder free us,
And foolish notion:
What airs in dress and gait would leave us,
And even devotion!

May. 12 2011 10:44 PM
John Walter from New York

Thanks Chris for the research - I was mistaken on the timeline - Carter switched his hair part in April 1979, whereas the "malaise" speech was in July. I do remember watching it on TV and thought I wrote the letter after that speech, but clearly that wasn’t the case. However, I did write to him about his hair part, mainly because I kept hearing about how weak he was, and about 6 weeks later he did. If that letter can someday be found in the his archives it would be great, confirming my assertion. Regardless, if you look at pictures of Carter, the images confirm that the left part "look" is much better for him as a leader.
The huge momentum with which our country moves would suggest that Carter’s hair part switch couldn’t possibly change that much in the scheme of things, so it's not surprising that he continued to have great difficulty and eventually lost the election (to right parting Reagan actually). However, if you look at how Carter has operated in his Past Presidency, it's been with much more respect than he ever got as President. Reagan was successful with his right part, partially because he was tall and good looking – two elements that work well with right parts on men.
The Hair Part Theory is a new tool for evaluating someone, especially on first impression, and similar to body language. Just like body language interpretation, it might be inaccurate or irrelevant, even when for another person it can be completely accurate and quite relevant. A person crossing their arms is often thought to be closed minded, but we all know that’s only a possibility, and could in fact not be true – maybe they are just resting their arms. But the immediate take is that they are not buying what we are talking about.
Same with the hair part – a right hair part is drawing attention to right brain activity – holistic, intuitive, feeling - and in viewing them, you will tend to evaluate them in that light. A left part is emphasizing the left brain activity – logic, detail and literalism. No part, middle or bald doesn’t send any bias towards one or the other side and can be perceived as more balanced.
What comes into play is that often people keep their hair parted the same way every day of their life, which is where personality can be affected. The term that applies is “interactional continuity” – where a certain factor appears continuously in every interaction, thus increasing the effect. Thus most would agree that Carter has always had a holistic, intuitive and feeling nature –not always assets in being a President.
If every time you ever saw a person their arms were crossed, a tough sell is probably what you would expect from them and would likely be true. With hair parts, there are clear personality traits can be seen that match the theory directly – just because you don’t see the trait in a particular person doesn’t invalidate that you do see the trait in many, many others.

May. 12 2011 03:03 PM
Brief N. Civilson

It's more than a little irritating how one of these two clearly very intelligent men will profess total ignorance of well-known facts to stand in for what has to be the most lowly regarded listener of all time.

May. 12 2011 11:51 AM
Chris from Evergreen, CO

Jimmy Carter's hair was parted on the left for the "Mailaise Speech." In the RadioLab story, John Walter was inspired by watching this speech on television to write a letter to the president suggesting he switch his hair part to the left. This obviously is not true.

Video below:

May. 12 2011 12:59 AM

Tried your mirror trick with a picture of Hitler but I can't say I saw much improvement....

May. 11 2011 08:49 AM
Chris from California

As a fan and a chemist, I am heart-broken that you didn't talk to a chemist for the section on chirality!! Those bumbling physicists couldn't tell you that we have several theories on why nature is left-handed and there are several really cool experiments on the subject.

Also, the symmetry of an atom's environment determines how and where its electrons pair together. Sounds like one of your favorite themes to me.

To think that all this time I've been dreaming of a radiolab segment talking to chemists only to have it snatched away like this.... What a world! What a world!

May. 10 2011 04:03 AM
mwiny from nyc

he looks ridiculous either way. whats up with that lip?

May. 09 2011 08:49 PM

you have to click on the photo. and the site was not designed to be used from your phone. so try it on a a computer.

May. 09 2011 09:15 AM

Why can't I see two Lincoln photos? Am I missing it in the margin or something? This site is almost impossible to use from my phone. :(

May. 09 2011 07:12 AM
Lawrence from Quadeville Ontario

For the past few years my hair has been de-parting to the point that there's not enough left to part on either side :-)

May. 08 2011 07:32 PM
DLSperry from Virginia

Notice what side Kate Middleton parts her hair:

May. 07 2011 07:20 AM
Leila from Florida

Well now I'm just concerned about my hair part!

May. 06 2011 06:12 PM
Tiffany from Sacramento

My digital photography teacher told me that most people don't like themselves in a picture because what they see in the picture is not what they see in the mirror.

He told us to flip the picture and not tell the subject that it was done and that the subject would be lauding your photography skills after that.

It works. :)

May. 05 2011 07:50 PM
john from New York

Ok, try the following image and reversed image out...which one strikes you as quite unusual (political leanings aside)?

George HW Bush - forwards

Now George HW Bush backwards:

BTW, this flipping of images to me says more about the oddness of mirror images, not necessarily hair parts. Furthermore, the striking difference in how you perceive the mirror image vs. the actual image leads me to question how the mirror image we see of ourselves affects our sense of who we actually are. One of the most interesting experiments to do is to watch TV in a mirror – watch politicians for instance backwards, so you see how they see themselves. Its very subjective, but you will get a different sense of the person and their convictions…for instance, while watching George W. Bush backwards, his “smirk” that punctuates his sentences is barely perceivable backwards and you tend to believe what he is saying more than usual. I know, political leanings aside…but mirror images can perhaps indicate where someone is coming from more than you would think. Bill Clinton looks much darker backwards than forwards. Very odd.

May. 05 2011 07:27 PM
Brian Crocco from New Orleans

Alice in Acidland-- Abe's freaking me out! Great show, men! Now ... all I need is a new barber!

May. 05 2011 04:23 PM
dan from Portland, OR

Chiral enantiomers have different physiological activities because they follow different enzymatic pathways, but it's not always the case that a benign compund has a harmful mirror image. Also, mirror images of organic compounds do occur naturally; only amino acids are dominated by the L- enantiomers.

May. 05 2011 03:58 PM
Ron from Brush Prairie, WA

For Rita,
Spearmint in nature makes those molecules that are mirror images of caraway oil molecules so they aren't fake. I doubt that they will do any harm. It is my favorite flavor in chewing gum.

May. 05 2011 07:15 AM

@Dina click on the Lincoln picture to see the reverse image.

May. 05 2011 01:14 AM

Almost every picture available of Lincoln Are Daguerreotypes...

Daguerreotypes are mirror images, so what we are seeing is actually what Abe saw in the mirror as well... The reversed picture is what he actually looked like. Double thumbs down to the researchers of the show.

May. 05 2011 12:53 AM
Dina from CA

the second picture of Abe Lincoln is missing...where do I go to see it?

May. 05 2011 12:44 AM
sean from San Francisco

Yes. It's the change that is striking, not the "mirrored" image of an original.

The human brain settles on an image it has seen for a long time and remembers, makes it look "familiar". When you flip it, it is still familiar but looks different. Doesn't look right.

I being an artist use this technique to see if there is something wrong with my work. When looking at something for so long, I need to flip it to see it anew, thus seeing the asymmetry or other mistakes.

May. 04 2011 11:43 PM
chrismo from Denton, TX

I don't think either orientation of Abe's face is particularly striking - just the change.

I tried it and noticed the change was weird. Then surfed and came back to the page to show my wife - clicked it - and again it looked weird after clicking ... but then realized I'd never reset the image.

Try it - whichever face you see first - is it the 'familiar one'?

May. 04 2011 11:17 PM
Dee from NYC

I've always wondered why Apple's Photo Booth, Gmail video chat and Skype video chat all show the video of yourself as a mirror image -- not as you are being seen by the person you're chatting with. I guess it's because it freaks everyone out. But it's odd that Photo Booth doesn't even have an "effect" of showing you as you actually are.

May. 04 2011 06:08 PM

Like the show, but it should be noted that the Lincoln pictures show not just a change in the hair part but also a swapping of the two sides of his entire face--check out the lines around his mouth and his lips. This could make a big difference. Of course, the entire swap would be what he saw in the mirror, but that's not what the show says the difference is.

May. 04 2011 04:34 PM
EK from San Diego, CA

My mom always said that parting hair on the left was the "boys' side" and on the right was the "girls' side." Sometimes she would comment that one of our friends had a part on the wrong side. She was from England - I never thought until hearing your show that this wasn't universal. Thanks for your superb show.

May. 04 2011 01:57 PM
Chris from Omaha

Love the show. The house I grew up in had 2 large mirrors at right angles in one of the bathrooms, so I became intrigue very young about the change in perspective from the mirror image and the actual image as reflected in the right angle mirrors, as well as, the cutting photographs in and piecing together mirror images of the same sides.
BTY, Monster in the Mirror is a Sesame Street song.

May. 04 2011 01:53 PM
Janel from Omaha NE

I really love the show! I have thought about reflections of the face/body quite a bit. I have wondered, if you take several photographs of a group of people, where they would not remain in the same location (i.e. they would trade places), would it take longer to identify, yourself, in the actual image or the mirrored image.

May. 04 2011 01:44 PM

wouldn't this be like looking at a picture of yourself?

May. 03 2011 11:52 PM
Gail Hollinger from Wayland, MI

Hi Friends at Radio Lab
Two comments:

I, like some others who commented here, didn't see a gasping difference between the two Lincoln pictures, but I attribute my lack of reaction to moderate facial blindness. (Great show on that topic too!)

I was surprised you didn't mention the seventeen symmetries of a plane, the seventeen distinct ways that things can be symmetrical. Quilters use these symmetries (consciously or unconsciously) to create variety and pattern in their quilt designs. But that's pretty visual stuff for a radio show. I was amazed at how much of this essentially visual topic you managed to convey through the medium of radio.

Loved the show, love all the shows,
Thank you!

May. 03 2011 09:32 PM
Iff from Reno

I've known about right-angle mirrors for decades, as has anyone who's taken a basic physics class. I like them but there is just a bit too much unsubstantiated in John Waters' story.

1) His childhood [un]popularity story is unverifiable.
2) Yes, Carter changed his part, but Waters' part in Carter's part is unverifiable.

Combine that with the fact that he can benefit financially from the free advertising and my eyebrow is reluctant to lower.

Want some real mirror facts? Three mirrors at right angles to each other, like 3 sides of a box, will reflect light back in the direction it came from, no matter what angle the light hits it from. Several of these assemblies were placed on the moon so we can bounce lasers off the moon and measure its distance down to inches.

May. 03 2011 08:08 PM
miles levinkind from Oakland, CA

i don't get the deal about mirror images, because when i look in the mirror, my right side is on the right side of the mirror and my left side is on the left side of the mirror -- sure, print reverses, but my head doesn't - so what's the deal?

Miles L.

May. 03 2011 05:07 PM

Sorry to say but I don't find a striking difference between the two Lincoln images. As others have noted, Lincoln was known for having an unusually asymmetric face, so yes if you stare at one long enough, then suddenly switch, they look different. But neither looks particularly "better" than the other.
As to John Waters story of changing the part in his hair, I agree with an earlier commenter who suggested that was probably more Placebo effect than anything else. He felt more confident, and therefore he was more socially successful.
Sorry, Radiolab, you dropped the ball on this segment.
I did love the segments about chirality and matter/antimatter though.

May. 03 2011 01:43 PM
Jennifer from Mobile, AL

What a beautiful story to begin the show! My fiance and I heard it and decided to incorporate it into our wedding ceremony.

May. 03 2011 01:01 PM
Nick. from Cincinnait, OH

I heard this show on Sunday evening, and I rarely do much in the way of styling my hair each morning, but if it was ever parted, I always parted right. Yesterday morning, I switched...I really didn't think anyone would notice, but six or seven people, even folks that don't know my name, commented on my "new look".

I'll keep this going and let everyone know when I'm a VP...

May. 03 2011 07:32 AM
Rita from Oregon

That dogs, and apparently people, gaze to the left means that they're looking at the right side of a person's face. As for the sides of the face representing or being affected by the sides of the brain, I don't think there's a crossover, as in vision. Wouldn't the right brain have more connections to the right side of the face, and left to left? If the right side of the brain/face is more expressive of emotion (not necessarily masculine or feminine) then by looking there, the viewer could get a better read on the person, whether they are safe - i.e. a kind or a mean person or emotion, and whether to approach them or avoid them.

As for flipping of molecules and thalidomide, that's scary. Who's to say that flipping carraway molecules to make fake mint flavor is safe? What if the right handed molecules are dangerous? I know my body has an aversion to synthetic fragrances and flavors. No wonder! How much of this "opposite of life" stuff is in our food already??

May. 02 2011 11:23 PM
Nathan D. Davis from Hillsboro

I really think there might be something to that. I learned in a documentary about dogs that people and dogs spend more time looking at the left side of the face. If the side with the part is on the left then it may be the more unattractive side. it might be the part the is unattractive side.

May. 02 2011 04:57 PM
Ted Pavlic from Columbus, OH

Other research studies have shown that humans find symmetric people more attractive. There have been explanations behind this involving indicators of good genes, but maybe it's something simpler than that. Symmetric people are identical to their mirror image. Consequently, when they groom themselves, they are actually grooming a true version of what the rest of the world sees.

So maybe the preference for symmetry has nothing to do with genetic signaling. Instead, maybe symmetry gives certain people an advantage when putting themselves together in the morning.

May. 02 2011 11:29 AM

Toadlee and nur's comment is adorable. Our impression; you must be very new to RadioLab. (;

Keep on rocking the excellent sound design, RadioLab! Yours is the only radio show that can hold my attention. I have pretty severe ADHD and need complex stimulus to stay engaged.

May. 02 2011 02:12 AM
Toadlee and nur from San francisco

We enjoy your program. Regarding Symmetry, it was very fascinating. We would like suggest that the way you appear to your viewers may not be how you imagine yourselves. The material is fascinating enough and needs no extra jazz. We're already impressed. The echos, repetitions and stacatto quality detract from the impact of your observations. Our impression; you must be very young.

May. 01 2011 10:37 PM
Tad from WV

The second picture of Lincoln is not darker. Paste each one in mspaint and flip one of them. They are exact.

May. 01 2011 09:15 PM

For those not finding Lincoln's picture just click on the one you see, the other one is under it. The face is slightly darker, that is too bad but it does show that emotionally I react different to the second and get an aversion to it.

May. 01 2011 07:17 PM
Archie from vancouver, wa

I actually saw a news piece several years ago about a parabolic mirror that was made to show you as you appear to others; it was a reversed mirror image. People in the story did not like the image they saw. But, I wonder, if someone, before mirrors were invented, saw their image in one of these mirrors, would it bother them?

May. 01 2011 07:03 PM

fascinating radio program. The pics of Lincoln are amazing, parting it on the other side makes him look like a criminal. Have to check my parting hair which look good in the mirror but need to ask my son what he likes better, or take my own pics. Thanks!

May. 01 2011 06:55 PM
libertyanne from DC

I part my hair in the middle. I've never made friends easily. I could try a left part for a change the next time I get my hair done just out of curiousity. But I think I'd get a reaction from familiar people just because they notice a difference. The true test would be weather I get an especially positive reaction from strangers.

May. 01 2011 06:55 PM
Kent Smith from WAMU Wash. DC

Researchers at the University of Lincoln have now shown that pet dogs also exhibit "left gaze bias", but only when looking at human faces. No other animal has been known to display this behaviour before.

A team led by Dr Kun Guo showed 17 dogs images of human, dog and monkey faces as well as inanimate objects.

When humans look at a new face their eyes tend to wander left, falling on the right hand side of the person's face first.

This "left gaze bias" only occurs when we encounter faces and does not apply any other time, such as when inspecting animals or inanimate objects.

May. 01 2011 06:50 PM
john from New York

The photo shown here is just reversed so you sort of see how his hair would look on the right - but it also represents how different mirror images can be. BTW, at the live show, this image was about 30 feet tall, so the difference was really quite striking.

To see what Lincoln actually looked like with a right part, the engraver for the 5 dollar bill used the only photo that was taken when someone parted his hair on the's the pic:

You can tell for sure its not flipped becausee the little bump he has in his right cheek is still on the right
Now take a look at this picture and see if you can see the unusal aspects of a right hair part. Now take the image (or a real 5 dollar bill) and hold it to a mirror - now its filpped so his hair appears on the left - notice how it looks more typical?

May. 01 2011 09:07 AM

You had me going with the mythological lead-in and "life spins to the left" theme of the show. As a person of asymmetry - one cancerous breast removed, the remainder affectionately called Lefty - I was taking the bait, hook, line, sinker. Even though, yeah yeah, dimers and chirality and all that O-chem stuff was pretty basic. But was the punch line really supposed to be that a lot of people don't understand how mirrors work? I'm underwhelmed. You took an interesting idea and drove it straight to reality-TV-land. Try harder next time.

Apr. 30 2011 09:44 PM

People who seem confused by the switch: the photo was reversed in Photoshop. It's literally a mirror image of the photo- no one went in and just switched the hair. The shadows, nose, wrinkles, etc. are preserved.

Apr. 30 2011 09:05 PM
Bonnie from Oregon

I parted my hair on the right for 66 years. Two years ago I stopped parting my hair and for the first time I feel attractive. it's amazing.

Apr. 30 2011 09:05 PM
Maureen from Minnesota

There is more than "switching the part in Lincolin's hair" going on in these pictures. They switched his ears too, and the little crease at the bridge of his nose. So it isn't just switching his hair part.

Apr. 30 2011 07:35 PM
callmejohnson from San Francisco

Click on the photo to see the change!

Apr. 30 2011 05:04 PM

I came to to see the Lincoln photos - as he appeared to the world and as he appeared to himself, but was only able to find the former. Gave up and went home.

Apr. 30 2011 04:56 PM
Vic Burolla

Contrary to what's being claimed, the hair part is not the only difference in the photos. The lighting in the photo is coming from one side, so the opposite entire side of the face is in something of a shadow, and that has a dramatic effect on the image. To be completely neutral, the lighting should have been completely uniform and symmetric.

Apr. 30 2011 04:42 PM
Jon from New Haven, CT

Clark Kent vs Superman for those looking for it

Apr. 30 2011 10:57 AM

I honestly don't find either version of Lincoln to be weird at all. Without the labelling, I probably couldn't tell you which version I'm looking at, and if I saw each with a significant enough span of time between them, I don't think I'd see either version as unusual.
I think John Walter, the 'hair-part changing guy' in the story just got a confidence boost from the good old placebo effect. Hopefully he doesn't read these

As to molecular chirality, check out this story of using it to find an artificial sweetener which your tongue sees as sweet but your small intestine can't do much with.

Apr. 29 2011 10:25 PM
Hafthor from Phoenix, AZ

If you have a Mac and have iMovie, run that, hit Cmd+I to see yourself unmirrored. Most other video apps turn on mirror mode.

Apr. 29 2011 05:20 PM
Dave Winters

I just realized that the photo booth app. on my macbook produces mirror images, unlike a regular camera, how lame is that?

Apr. 29 2011 01:44 PM
Ralph from Vermont

Abe Lincoln had a famously asymmetrical face. I suspect that the dramatic change in his appearance when reversed is largely because we're so accustomed to seeing his facial features in one orientation rather than the other. I doubt the hair part has nearly as much to do with it.

Apr. 29 2011 12:48 PM

Fantastic episode. But what of the George Reeves Superman?

Apr. 28 2011 12:56 PM

I find it frustrating when these people on here slow down the pace of the discussion with these "cutesy" remarks, trying to be cute/funny/entertaining. It is distracting from the information being presented, anyone else agree?

Apr. 28 2011 10:17 AM

Talula ...
The "mint" that is made by flipping the caraway molecule is artificial mint flavor. SO really what you get is something that "smells like spearmint." It's actually the stuff the use in wrigley's spearmint gum.

Apr. 28 2011 09:30 AM

Don't know if anyone's mentioned this yet, but cameras work using mirrors, so pictures of people are actually going to show what they see in the mirror... Right? So Lincoln would have seen what we see in pictures, but those people who knew him would have seen that doppelganger. Right?

Apr. 28 2011 06:19 AM
Talula from NY

If all organic matter is left oriented, how is it possible to reverse the orientation of caraway to produce mint? Is the mint synthetic?

Apr. 27 2011 10:25 PM
Charity from Dallas

Something I thought of last night as I was trying to replicate my own True Mirror (yes, I'm a dork)... should the "right or left" hair part be what you see REFLECTED in the miorror as your right/left or should it be your ACTUAL right/left? They never specified....

Apr. 27 2011 10:26 AM

I would think hair stylists would be logical people to talk to in regards to this hair parting thing. They look at you straight on, and in the mirror. And, good hair stylists know what looks good for one's face, shape of head, body and body type etc. So... some of this seems a little bogus to me.

Apr. 27 2011 10:02 AM

Does this parting business have anything to do with left gaze bias?

Apr. 26 2011 10:23 PM
Jeb from NY

Like a few others, I also don't see any gaspworthy difference between the original and reversed Abes. Both look perfectly normal to me.

Apr. 26 2011 12:19 PM
James E. Coates, PhD from Phoenix, AZ

As a professional actor and a teacher of the Alexander Technique, I have owned and made use of John Walter's unique and Self-revealing True Mirrors since 1999. By looking at my Self (NOT my "reflection," as in a regular flat mirror) in a TM, I see exactly what you in the audience will see when I perform. Plus, I know which is my strong "side" and why. As I've taught my acting students for four decades, "Never rehearse in a mirror--nobody sees THAT but you!" Yet I continue to hear self-help gurus--such as Depak Choprah, John Gray, Oprah Winfrey, Dr. Oz, and Dr. Phil--recommend that you "take a good honest look at yourself in the mirror." That is IMPOSSIBLE: a mirror can only display your "reflection," NOT your Self. Once you "see" your Self in a TM, however, you'll always know the difference. It's how we see you all the time. Unless you stare at your photographs or watch yourself a lot on videos, you NEVER see your Self, ever! You're so used to the mirror image (reflection) that you think it's "you." So, you don't, can't (and won't) know what you look like until you see your Self for yourself in a True Mirror. John Walter is a genius and his TM will revolutionize the human self-identity syndrome. For instance, I believe that someone who believes that they "need" facial plastic surgery would benefit from looking at themselves in a TM for a month beforehand to help them re-right their Self image. Know Your Self. John Walter's TM is a unique precision optical instrument that shows you your Self.

Apr. 26 2011 01:39 AM
Athena from Italy

Great show, first time listening to Radio Lab and certainly not the last. I own one of John Walter's amazing 'True Mirrors' and it has absolutely changed the way I think about myself, the way I look as well as how I present myself to the world. I was curious about his hair part theories and wanted to explore for myself. At first i was very uncomfortable with my "true image" reflected in his magic mirror and it took some time to get to know this person that I recognized only from photos but when i did, I had a much deeper understanding of who I am and was able to see myself in a new light, not the sum of all my shortcomings as I often view myself, very liberating! I also chose consciously where I part my hair and found I connect with people on a business level easier with my hair parted on the left. Thanks John!

Apr. 25 2011 05:58 PM
PulSamsara from Chicago

That' it !

I'm going old school - center part. Circa 1977 !

Apr. 25 2011 10:26 AM

Click on the Lincoln pic to reverse it. Then spend some time scrolling down the page, or in another window for a few minutes. Then go back to the reversed pic. I thought it looked normal with the "fresh eyes". Then click to re-reverse it back to normal and see whether the normal one now looks weird. It did a bit to me. This makes me wonder whether the reversed picture really was weird in itself, or only because we expect a symmetry that faces don't actually have. The reversed face initially looks "wrong" because it contrasts with what we've been used to seeing. But once we're used to the reversed image, it's the normal one that seems weird now.

Apr. 24 2011 01:19 AM

Does this article have anything to do with it?
Apparently Lincoln had an exceptionally unsymmetrical face and his left side is smaller than the right.

Apr. 24 2011 12:36 AM
Chris Schofield

I don't understand the shock people get at seeing a non-reversed image of themselves. Have they never seen a photo of themselves? Maybe its the live action version that is shocking though? Getting to see yourself making continuous movements and from all the different angles.

Apr. 23 2011 01:00 PM
john from New York

The part is where the scalp shows, the same as in "parting of the seas"...when Jad says said "parting to the right", he meant a right part, even though the *hair* is going to the left.

The reason for the effect is that the parted side is more open and the viewers eye is drawn to that side, whereas the other side is more hidden with the hair. Left part, left brain, right part, right brain.

Christopher Reeve in real life parted his hair on the right, and was a truly beloved man - very high on the humanity and empathy scales. This is where the right part on men excels.

A right part on men not necessarily a bad thing, its just very atypical of men in general. In the "playground of life", if you aren't particularly handsome or tall it can be a handicap. But if you are striving for atypical qualities, and/or are in a position that values them, the right part can be quite a bonus.

Another thing to note - why someone parts on one side or another (i.e. handedness, or their stylist's handedness, or even a cowlick) has no effect on what the viewer is sees and interprets. It only might explain the dominance of left over right. i.e. many are right handed and you could say its easier to pull the hair over from the left. But why it is there is irrelevant to the effect of the hair part itself on daily communication and over time, the effects on personality.

Apr. 23 2011 10:26 AM
Cristy from Atlanta ga

But....what about self symmetry? As in chaos theory, how does that fit into this conversation?

Apr. 23 2011 09:04 AM
Yousef Bushehri from Washington, DC

i'm an architect. I absolutely LOVE what you guys do. its so inspirational and jaw dropping. I wish i had known about radiolab sooner. SUCH a good job, JUST what the human race needs! So wonderful!

Apr. 23 2011 04:51 AM
Jamie from Portland, OR

HELP! THIS INFORMATION IS SKEWED. Christopher Reeves' Superman appears with his hair on the SAME side that President Carter has in his Malaise speech. Paul Newman and the others mentioned by "John From New York" Have it on the other side. Nancy Pelosi shows up with both. . UNANSWERED Q: Does a "Left Side Part" mean a part that the actual part (where you can see the scalp) is on the left side of the person who's hair we're talking about, or does a "Left Side Part" mean the bulk of hair is brushed to the left? from the references i hear BOTH from radiolab, AND the readers here in the comments... no one seems to know or agree.

Hilary Clinton's part is constant... so which side is hers? right or left?

Apr. 23 2011 02:29 AM

OKAY I'M A LITTLE FRUSTRATED HERE!!!! which is which?!?!? what is a left hair part. is the part on the left side or does the hair go to the left!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!

Apr. 23 2011 02:01 AM
John from New York

When a guy is tall and/or very attractive, the right part can be great bonus...makes them more softer, more approachable, but with their masculine side still well represented. Paul Newman, Gregory Peck, Charlie Rose, Paul McCartney (early), Frank Sinatra, Tom Cruise and Cary Grant all fall in this category.

The right part is rarely neutral, and is often a challenge for guys to pull off well. We expect men to be more assertive, logical, visible.

Women look ok with the right part, but sometimes can be seen as less serious (like Sarah Palin perhaps?)

The theory posits that the right part generates atypical behaviors and personalities - sometimes exceptional, sometimes bizarre. Its the right brain that is being emphasized in every interaction - the intuitive, mysterious, non-logical side...nothing wrong with that at all, but over emphasis can lead to some real unusual characters. Cary Grant was very attractive, but also very unique - no one had his style. In fact, its the degree of uniqueness that is the only common thread between the various right-parters that have become one was like Hitler, no one is like Andy Rooney, nor Dan Ackeroyd, or Jim Jones, or Al Gore, Ted Koppel, etc. Left parters are much more similar between themselves - for instance, Brian Williams and Tom Brokaw are two newscasters that I get mixed up frequently

Apr. 22 2011 11:49 PM
Amber from Oklahoma City, OK

I'm changing my hair part tomorrow! I now realize that's why I've always disliked how I look in pictures!

Apr. 22 2011 09:49 PM
robert from Los Angeles

Cary Grant parted his hair on the right and he was rather attractive.

Apr. 22 2011 07:47 PM
Tom from Milwaukee, WI

Maybe that's why Superman Returns was such a failure. He stopped switching the part in his hair!

Apr. 22 2011 12:40 PM
Elinor from Cleveland

I remember doing a "right angle" mirror image project / activity in girl scouts in the late 70's showing us what we "really" look like. Every once in a while I'll grab a hand mirror and check out how I look to others - always throws me for a loop.

Loved this show.

Apr. 22 2011 09:22 AM

I just searched pictures of Superman. In Superman Returns (which flopped) he had his hair parted the other (wrong) way.

Apr. 21 2011 03:18 PM
T Smith from Montreal

Weird. The Abe Lincoln picture just looks totally the same to me, just flipped. I'm not registering any sort of difference other than the backwards-ness.

Apr. 21 2011 08:52 AM
Hessam from Tehran, Iran

Thank you for the wonderful episode! I ran into a picture of two mirrored faces, first introduced by Julian Jaynes, that illustrates the asymmetry in face perception. You should check it out:
(scroll down to the end of the page)

Apr. 20 2011 07:16 PM
Kerry from NYC

People generally part their hair where it naturally splays out around a cowlick...right? Maybe the question should be, are more people born with cowlicks on the right or left sides of their hairlines? I'm wondering too if the mirror image of ourselves surprise or bother us simply because we are not used to seeing ourselves in reverse. This would explain why we don't like photos of ourselves while everyone else says we look fine. I noticed that when my husband and I stand in front of the mirror I am surprised by his reflection, it seems off (but then again I'm not used to seeing him that way).

Apr. 20 2011 12:13 PM
Ryan Brown

You also reversed an asymmetrical human face therefore reversing all bone flesh and muscle structure. Just photoshop the hair mirrored and see if it's shocking. "Worst Radiolab ever!' - my favorite show, it's really changed my life but I had to say it :)

Apr. 20 2011 02:49 AM
John from New York

From John Walter – the Hair Part Theory originator

One of the most intriguing concepts about hair parts is majority of movers and shakers are those with side parts. The 110th Congress was about 55% left, 18% right, and about another 9% bald. Only 20% have no part, which according to the theory is more neutral - the hair is not biasing every interaction, so the person tends to project from both the right and left sides during most communications. Similar percentages hold for entertainment and business leaders.

However, in the general public it’s nearly the opposite - if you look at broad demographics, the percentages are that the majority have no parts or have center parts, and even much higher in certain groups - consider African American men are probably 95% or more non-parting. In the overall public, left parters are probably only 30% and right parters are surprisingly less than 3%. Its hard to get an exact count because there are so many possible ways to sample the population. Also, these are the percentages for men - women tend to switch more frequently.

So what the effects of this over representation of side parts? I think that the side part accentuates a person’s communication, which lets them stand out and is good for getting ahead in business and politics, but there’s a penalty that comes from emphasizing one side at the expense of the other. Could the imbalance from side hair parts everywhere be contributing to the high polarization we are now experiencing in our society?

In contrast, there is an underlying strength of communication and relationships amongst non parters that was a real blessing to first discover (thats where my hair lies now). People criticize President Obama for his conciliatory tone, but its par for the course with someone with no part. Or if you look at the founding fathers – almost all the portraits have them with no part (wigs or not). When it came time to put together our amazing constitution, there were very few side parters (

The main caveat to remember is that the theory is not a necessary nor sufficient condition for any personality types – there are many exceptions you can point to. However, it still is a very strong bias contributing to a person’s public persona, and matches many, many times.

Here is a link to some pdfs on my site for the 110th Congress and a set of CEO pictures I found - great graphic images to see how the hair part percentages stack up.

Thanks to RadioLab for the conversation!

Apr. 20 2011 12:38 AM
Navarro from Torreón, México

Professor Fred Ziegler reads that part or "Through the looking-glass" when teaching chirality in the Organic Chemistry course at Yale. When I became a teacher I incorporated that into my lecture, I gave it last week and it is one of my favorite ones!

Apr. 19 2011 09:30 PM

@ soo lee

that makes sense since a left side part highlights the left brained "masculine" right side of the face

Apr. 19 2011 09:08 PM
Soo Lee Davis from Arlington, VA

Incidentally, I have heard the left-side part only makes MEN appear more attractive and more likable -- it's just the opposite for women (or at least less of an issue). This however assumes those who care subscribe to traditional gender views that women should be the kinder/gentler of the human species. Very intriguing and interesting show -- thank you for your creativity -- it served as really great thought-provoking entertainment while I was deployed to Afghanistan for a year.

Apr. 19 2011 08:15 PM

Here is a fascinating link to an experiment in facial hemisphere duplication. It shows three faces for each subject: one with the right side symmetrically repeated, one regular asymmetric face, and one face with two left sides.

I found it fascinating to think about the attributes of the brain reflected in each hemisphere's respective side of the face. Right face is controlled by left brain so a mash up of two right side faces essentially shows the person's purely logical, masculine face and the pure left face shows the persons purely intuitive, emotional face (oversimplified but cool :).

*Interestingly Dick Cheney's purely right brained emotional face looks lost and confused :)

Abe Lincoln is done on page 3.

Apr. 19 2011 08:15 PM

Would you like to hear an hour + worth of real wisdom said in 3 time less time? Micahel Savage broadcasts every night.

Apr. 19 2011 06:10 PM
Nettie from Birmingham

@Heather from Knoxville, TN

Celebrity hair parts (and Superman hair parts) might tend toward left-sidedness because public figures are more likely to have right-handed hair stylists than left-handed hair stylists. "Professionally styled" people who have hair parted on the left might have stylists who created the part by reaching straight forward with their dominant hand. Since professional stylists tend to get better results than the DIY version, maybe we've all been trained that left-sided parts "just look better."

Get well soon,


Apr. 19 2011 04:05 PM
Heather from Knoxville, TN

I went online to see whether celebrities part their hair on the left (yes, almost all) and found something interesting. In a slideshow of celebrities who have undyed gray hair, most parted their hair on the right. So that makes me wonder if parting hair on the right is a signal (possibly unintended) that says "noncomformist". I part my hair on the right and never consciously realized that was different, but I do have gray hair and I am indeed a nonconformist. I wonder whether other people perceive "nonconformist" when they see a right-hair part.

The plot thickens. When I looked up famous woimen to see what um, orientation, they chose I found that almost all part on the left.. But when I started looking up politicians it got weirder. It turns out that a lot of Democratic female politicians have right parts (but not all); but *every* single female Republican politician I looked up had a right part!

Celeibrities who parted their hair on the right: Jodie Foster, Leah Michele (Glee), Halle Berry (sometimes), Tina Fey.

Politicians R's with right parts: Sarah Palin (mostly, although you sometimes can't tell), Michele Bachmann, Nikki Haley, Jan Brewer. Couldn't think of anymore R's.

D's with right parts: Gabrielle Giffords, Nancy Pelosi.
D's with left parts: Hilary Clinton, Kristin Gillibrand, Barbara Boxer.

Too much time on my hands, you say? I am recovering from surgery and was bored, so this was a good way to while away an hour. This was my first time listenting to Radiolab. Loved it!

Apr. 19 2011 03:13 PM
Heather from Knoxville, TN

I went online to see whether celebrities part their hair on the left (yes, almost all) and found something interesting. In a slideshow of celebrities who have undyed gray hair, most parted their hair on the right. So that makes me wonder if parting hair on the right is a signal (possibly unintended) that says "noncomformist". I part my hair on the right and never consciously realized that was different, but I do have gray hair and I am indeed a nonconformist. I wonder whether other people perceive "nonconformist" when they see a right-hair part.

The plot thickens. When I looked up famous woimen to see what um, orientation, they chose I found that almost all part on the left.. But when I started looking up politicians it got weirder. It turns out that a lot of Democratic female politicians have right parts (but not all); but *every* single female Republican politician I looked up had a right part!

Celeibrities who parted their hair on the right: Jodie Foster, Leah Michele (Glee), Halle Berry (sometimes), Tina Fey.

Politicians R's with right parts: Sarah Palin (mostly, although you sometimes can't tell), Michele Bachmann, Nikki Haley, Jan Brewer. Couldn't think of anymore R's.

D's with right parts: Gabrielle Giffords, Nancy Pelosi.
D's with left parts: Hilary Clinton, Kristin Gillibrand, Barbara Boxer.

Too much time on my hands, you say? I am recovering from surgery and was bored, so this was a good way to while away an hour. This was my first time listenting to Radiolab. Loved it!

Apr. 19 2011 03:11 PM
Steve from Phila, PA

Hitler parted his hair on the right.

Apr. 19 2011 10:43 AM
Harry de Jong from Rotterdam, Netherlands

I wonder if the lawyer joke at the end of the program was selected for its symmetry/asymmetry aspect apart from the fact that is was a great joke. Humor often relies on unexpected 'mirror images'. That was a very good and very funny example. And a great show as usual. Thank you very much.

Apr. 19 2011 05:20 AM
brian from Wilmington DE

I think the reversal of this picture might have more than a little to do with the lighting. I'm not sure if a well-lit modern photo would show the same amount of difference.

Apr. 19 2011 12:41 AM
woodson spring from Madison, WI

I wasn't impressed at all with the lincoln picture. I listened to the show and heard them gasp with disbelief?! He was portrayed with his part on both sides of his head in paintings and printed works. He was a wonderful president but looked like a mad man whichever side his part was on.
Love your show though!

Apr. 18 2011 11:07 PM

Aimee ... just click on the picture and it flips!

Apr. 18 2011 09:01 AM
brad hodnett from Tucker, GA

I am amazed...I have actually thought about this many times! I've talked myself out of it, though.

Oh, well, I pretty much just go straight back now. LOL

Apr. 17 2011 08:40 PM

where is the mirror image of Lincoln....I see ( and know) the photo of how we saw him, what I am most interested in is, the MIRROR...and I don't see it here. hmmmm

Apr. 17 2011 08:39 PM

I loved your show this week. This segment reminded me of an amazing book I wanted to suggest to those out there who might want further deeper reading on this subject .
Mirror Mirror : A History of the Human Love of Reflection. There are fascinating photos like the ones here of Lincoln.
Here is the link

Apr. 16 2011 05:29 PM
Gail Govan

As a dentist, and a person who has always been abel to read and write backwards and has no difficulty with the "anatomical" illustrations with right and left placement, I do not have a visual issue with this because I think my brain must just manage how these things appear. But I know that most people do have a difficulty managing the left to right switching of mirror images. I have so many times in my working life realized, when I was finished with a restoration of an upper posterior tooth, that I had never once looked directly at that tooth but rather had done the entire proceedure by wathcing it in my mirror. It MUST be a front surface mirror though! Very interesting about the parting of the hair. the one single time a mirror shocked me was when I looked down at the mirror my patient was propping in her lap and there were my hands! Very weird, looking at my hands in the mirror several feet away.

Apr. 16 2011 05:13 PM
CE from Wisconsin

RE the Lincoln photos: does it have anything to do with the eyebrows? Like Lincoln, I part my hair on the side that shows my slightly more arched eyebrow, thinking that it opens my face. Looking at Lincoln, however, that arched brow looks a bit sinister to me. Hmmm ...

Apr. 16 2011 04:52 PM
JSB from Long Island, New York

I really enjoy your show. I hear it from time to time by chance and heard part of the "Mirror, Mirror" broadcast and was intrigued enough to want to look at the Lincoln photos. There is definitely something that feels different about the reverse photos. I am going to listen again to the entire broadcast. Thank you

Apr. 10 2011 06:42 PM

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