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majorrich's avatar

Is there a universal law of ponytail rotation?

Asked by majorrich (12183 points ) April 19th, 2012

I was observing girls jogging on a visit to my sons campus and noticed an interesting phenomenon. Their ponytails all seem to rotate in the same direction. Nearly always in a figure 8 pattern, rising on the left side and descending on the right. This leads me to wonder about the physics of hair and perhaps a unified theory of hair rotational gravity. Or perhaps I have way too much time on my hands. At any rate, has anyone any ideas? Will their hair reverse direction after December 12th?

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25 Answers

thorninmud's avatar

Interesting question! I wonder if it has to do with the fact that most people’s hair swirls in the same direction (clockwise) at the back of the head. That might make it slightly easier for the ponytail to spin in one direction than another. If I understand you right, you’re seeing the ponytail spin clockwise as seen from the back?

linguaphile's avatar

Do they swirl counter-clockwise in Australia?

Pandora's avatar

It probably depends if they are right handed. I know I tend to grab my hand with my right and twirl it clockwise. It’s not as easy to twirl counter clock wise.
Funny question though.

Pandora's avatar

yep, just tried with my left and realized its easier for my left to go counter clock wise. Next time your there ask them if they are right handed.

thorninmud's avatar

@Pandora And it just happens that hair whorl direction correlates to handedness, so Righties have clockwise hair whorls and Lefties have counter-clockwise most of the time.

Pandora's avatar

@thorninmud Interesting. So what is wrong with my hair. It goes anywhere it pleases. And most of the time, its a war to get it going in the same direction.

majorrich's avatar

perhaps the twist in the rubbers in the scrunchie things that hold the hair together?

jca's avatar

It probably has to do with their gait.

thorninmud's avatar

Also, got to hand it to @majorrich for keeping his eyes on the ponytails.

CWOTUS's avatar

Dat gait.

augustlan's avatar

[mod says] This is our Question of the Day!

gailcalled's avatar

I am right-handed and have always twisted my hair clockwise into a bun, a pony tail or what the French call “macaroons” and what we know as Princess Leia’s blobs.

Try twisting counterclockwise. Impossible in my case.

cazzie's avatar

I am right handed and twist my hair counter clockwise to put it in a bun. I just tried twisting it clockwise and it was horribly awkward.

As for the bounce of the pony tail when running, I am guessing the way they run and bounce has something to do with it. There is probably a dominant foot and a very slight torso twist as they run, creating the special little figure-8 pattern.

jca's avatar

@thorninmud: He’s a tail watcher.

wilma's avatar

Like @gailcalled I am right-handed and always twist may hair clockwise into a bun.

I just did an experiment with this.
I have fairly long hair. I put it in a ponytail and asked my sons to observe it when I did various movements. In every instance, it would tend to go clockwise. Even when I would move my head to try and make it go counterclockwise, it would only go a little bit that way, then swing back clockwise.

Dutchess_III's avatar

Wow. What an observation!

Ponderer983's avatar

I don’t know. I’ll have to have someone video my ponytail next time I run at the gym. Now if only a guy would watch my ponytail instead of my ass. Kudos to you @majorrich for keeping those eyes up!

DaphneT's avatar

I always try to get my ponytail centered on the back of my head, especially if I set it high. I’ve noticed that I can’t do it with my left hand; I’m right hand dominant. So I must guess that I’ve gotten it straight, but it will be twisted to reflect that I’m right hand dominant.

majorrich's avatar

What drew my attention to this phenomena was a number of girls were running together and had synchronous rotation going on. I wished I had an instant camera because the synchronicity only lasted a short time.

KoleraHeliko's avatar

@linguaphile We say anti-clockwise, just so you know.

linguaphile's avatar

@KoleraHeliko That’s cool! Good to learn something new!

KoleraHeliko's avatar

@linguaphile With a name like linguaphile, I figured you’d be interested.

majorrich's avatar

More experimentation on this phenomena. I have a left handed friend that I was able to talk into jogging up and down the street a couple of times. Mysteriously her hair also rotated in a clockwise direction. My samples are pretty small so I am still a long ways away from an explanation. An engineer friend laughed at me, but was mystified at my experiments. So far we only have the Coriolis effect. (like water in the drain) which clearly is not the case. I’m taking it to the University next and see what the physics professors have to say.

linguaphile's avatar

Let us know- I’m curious!

Ponderer983's avatar

Mine just swings back and forth – like a pendulum.

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