• Aneta Wnek

Right vs left-brain?

Updated: May 24

Have you ever heard someone refer to themselves as a right or left brain person? – perhaps you’ve identified in this way yourself.


Right from early childhood, many of us started to label ourselves and each other in this way.


Is it possible these beliefs had an impact on how we set course for our futures?


Is it possible they are influencing how we see ourselves now, as we dismiss the potential of ‘what else’ we might be capable of as a result of these labels?


You may be surprised to hear how it was "Nobel-winning research into the human brain that has turned into this meme of misunderstanding that has lasted for decades.”




THE RESEARCH


Even though it was noted early in the 19th century that the two sides of the brain might not be identical, it was in 1961 when neuropsychologist Roger Wolcott Sperry and Michael Gazzaniga undertook some research into treating severe cases of epilepsy through commissurotomy, the procedure of completely severing the corpus collosum, that the seeds of this theory were sown.


The research itself made some fascinating observations, such as "language and calculation seemed to be done on the left and spatial reasoning on the right".

“Some people even turned out to show the reverse pattern – usually lefties – and their mental capabilities weren't any worse for wear”


The research understandably was seen as a big deal and even lead to Sperry winning the 1981 Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine for his work with split-brain research.




THE MYTH IS BORN


As it turns out ‘simplifying’ is not such a great idea when it comes to something as complicated as ‘the BRAIN! Sperry himself said the results were ‘highly statistical’ and reflecting just a general pattern and NOT an absolute rule.


In 1973, this research fell into the hands of the media, and through the process of simplifying the findings for the public, it morphed into something else.


Over time ‘language and calculation seemed to be done on the left and spatial reasoning on the right’ was ‘simplified’ to ‘logic on the left and creativity on the right’.

The New York Times Magazine was the first to write an article titled “We are left-brained or Right Brained”, and soon after, Times Magazine did the same thing …


before we knew it, this simplified version filtered its way into endless self-help books, personality tests and started to define how we saw ourselves – even today!



DEBUNKING THE MYTH


It wasn’t until 2013, a group of American researchers took to analysing over 1000 healthy brain scans using Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI).


The scans would allow the researchers to see “if certain areas showed up brighter on the scan, it would mean those parts of the brain were more active and interconnected.”


Contrary to popular believe, “the scans didn’t show that one hemisphere was consistently showing up any more or less brightly then the other in the subjects, concluding there’s no such thing as an inherently left- or right-brained person.”

Whilst there is no doubt certain tasks are handled by different parts of the brain through ‘Brain lateralisation’ which allows for multi-tasking, the whole point is, that the two hemispheres are constantly talking to make doing event the simplest tasks possible”


There can be no argument that people have special talents which may give them greater abilities in certain kinds of tasks, but could such labels be doing more damage than good when it comes to empowering individual to navigate this complex world we live in?


Are we so busy ‘simplifying’ everything and everyone down so much for ‘easy digestion’ in our world of ‘mass consumption’, that we start forgetting that we are in fact, like our brains, complex beings capable of being many different things in different settings and situations?


WANT MORE - check out the video below ARE PEOPLE REALLY LEFT-BRAINED OR RIGHT-BRAINED? by Sci Show who go into more detail on this fascinating history.



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