Have you ever heard people categorizing thinkers into two broad types? - The left braines and the right brainies.
You’ve probably spotted a few info graphics in Pintrest or Facebook helping you to identify your dominant thinking hemisphere.
From books to television series to movies, you can find this stereotyping all around you.
But is it for real?
Given the popularity of the idea, come let’s try to explore WTF in it.
The left brain vs right brain theory
According to the theory of left-brain vs right-brain dominance, each side of the brain controls different traits of thinking.
Additionally, people are said to prefer one type of thinking over the other.
A person who is said to be “left-brained” is often more logical, analytical, and objective, whereas
A person who is said to be “right-brained” is more intuitive, thoughtful, and subjective.
This is often represented as below,
With the left brain projected as a greyish, mundane, lifeless processing part, while
the right brain is presented as a more colorful, creative, vibrant counterpart.
The left brain vs right brain theory
The subject behind the claim
As pompous a claim that it seems to be, the theory is based out of a real-life experiment.
In psychology, its called “the lateralization of brain function”.
The brain contains two hemispheres that each performs a number of roles. The two sides of the brain communicate with one another via corpus callosum.
But WTF in it? What’s in this symmetry?
The human body that has evolved over a million years, has always adopted a striking left-right symmetry.
From early in our development as embryos, humans take on a left-right symmetry that eventually gives rise to our two eyes, our two big toes, and every paired structure in between.
All vertebrates are symmetrical in the same way, as are butterflies, scorpions, and a vast number of other invertebrates. This left-right structure is probably inherited from the common ancestor of all bilaterally symmetric animals, a creature that apparently emerged over 600 million years ago.
In fact, scientists have always spent a lot of time pondering WTF in it?
There are some obvious survival benefits from left-right symmetry.
With muscles and limbs on both sides of their bodies, animals could move forward quickly and efficiently on either side. This is spatial advantage, do you see?
But, WTF in this advantage? Either to hunt a prey or escape from a predator.
Once established, symmetry had a powerful effect on how new organs evolved.
Eyes and antennae tended to develop in left-right pairs, for example. When early fish began to evolve complex brains, those too developed according to left-right rules. This gave a species, a holistic picture of the surroundings, that helped it make some critical decisions.
In short, evolution is survival… and with the symmetry,
Survival was facilitated by this peer-to-peer architecture, where each side was as powerful as the other.
In fact, the symmetry also doubles up for redundancy as seen below, as each side can swap for one another in case of emergency.
In fact the more you look at the brain, the more it seems like a super computer,
A computer, employing algorithms, much complex than our own.
All right, we understand the redundancy model, but what makes us think that the two hemispheres of the brain have different character traits?
Does one side of the brain control specific functions? Are people either left-brained or right-brained?
Shouldn’t two similar hemispheres be exactly alike, in a peer to peer architecture redundancy model?
Slicing the Brain
The right brain-left brain theory originated in the work of Roger Wolcott Sperry, who was awarded the Nobel Prize for the same. While studying the effects of epilepsy, Sperry discovered that cutting the corpus callosum could reduce or eliminate seizures.
In fact even today, surgeons make the extreme kind of slice in the brain of a patient. A child may suffer from epilepsy so severe, that the only relief doctors can offer, is to open up the skull and cut out the entire hemisphere in which the seizures start.
It may take a child, a year of physical therapy, to recover from losing a hemisphere—but the fact that patients recover at all, is stunning, when you consider that they have only half a brain.
Redundancy my friend! High Availability through redundancy.
However, these patients also experienced other symptoms after the communication pathway between the two sides or when a hemisphere itself was cut off.
For example, many split-brain patients found themselves unable to name objects that were processed by the right side of the brain but were able to name objects that were processed by the left-side of the brain.
Based on this information, Sperry suggested that language was controlled by the left-side of the brain.
Later, it was discovered that the left side of the brain tends to control many aspects of language and logic, while the right side tends to handle spatial information and visual comprehension.
The left-right traits
The Right Brain
Thus, as per the theory, apart from controlling the organs on the left side, the right brain controls expressiveness & creativity. Some of the abilities associated with the right side of the brain include:
- Recognizing patterns
- Expressing emotions
- Art - Music, Painting, etc
- Recognizing Color
- Analysing Images
The Left Brain
The left-side of the brain on the other hand, is adept at tasks that involve logic, language, and analytical thinking. Basically, it owns anything that involves conscious processing. The left-brain is better at:
- Critical thinking
So, now coming to the important question, are people either left-brained or right-brained?
Does one hemisphere dominate over the other?
The simple answer is NO.
Like many popular psychology myths, the observations of the human brain were dramatically distorted and exaggerated out of proportion, leading to this myth.
Later research has shown that the brain is not nearly as dichotomous as once thought.
For example, research has shown that abilities in subjects such as math, are strongest when both halves of the brain work together. Today, neuroscientists know, that the two sides of the brain collaborate to perform a broad variety of tasks and that the two hemispheres communicate very well through the corpus callosum.
“No matter how lateralized the brain can get, the two sides still have to work together,”, explained science writer Carl Zimmer, in an article for Discover magazine.
“The pop psychology notion of a left brain and a right brain, doesn’t capture their intimate working relationship. The left hemisphere specializes in picking out the sounds that form words and working out the syntax of the phrase, for example, but it does not have a monopoly on language processing. The right hemisphere is more sensitive to the emotional features of language, tuning-in to the slow rhythms of speech that carry intonation and stress.”
“It’s absolutely true that some brain functions occur in one or the other side of the brain. Language tends to be on the left, attention more on the right.
But people don’t tend to have a stronger left- or right-sided brain network.
It seems to be determined more connection by connection,” explained the study’s lead author Dr. Jeff Anderson.
While the idea of right brain / left brain thinkers has been debunked, its popularity still persists.
But why are the two hemispheres performing different tasks, you may ask?
The answer to that is quite simple. Brain is an optimised engine, it is employing a typical Work Stealing strategy to optimally divide load between the two lobes.
But WTF in it? What can we learn out of it?
While the myth over-generalized and overstated a popular psychological aspect, understanding the brain’s approach, can help you develop better ways to learn, study & perform various tasks.
Though the brain is made up of two closely collaborating divisions, rather than two competing divisions of dominance, the fact that the brain approaches a scenario or problem statement via distinctive paradigms, can never be denied.
Enter Pristine Brain vs Logical Brain