Left Brain vs Right Brain
Understanding the Myth and Reality of Left Brain and Right Brain Dominance
By Kendra Cherry, About.com Guide
- Have you ever heard people say that they tend to be more of a right-brain or left-brain thinker? From books to television programs, you’ve probably heard the phrase mentioned numerous times or perhaps you’ve even taken an online test to determine which type best describes you.
What Is Left Brain – Right Brain Theory?
According to the theory of left-brain or right-brain dominance, each side of the brain controls different types of thinking. Additionally, people are said to prefer one type of thinking over the other. For example, a person who is “left-brained” is often said to be more logical, analytical and objective, while a person who is “right-brained” is said to be more intuitive, thoughtful and subjective.
In psychology, the theory is based on what is known as the lateralization of brain function. So does one side of the brain really control specific functions? Are people either left-brained or right-brained? Like many popular psychology myths, this one has a basis in fact that has been dramatically distorted and exaggerated.
The right brain-left brain theory grew out of the work of Roger W. Sperry, who was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1981. While studying the effects of epilepsy, Sperry discovered that cutting the corpus collosum (the structure that connects the two hemispheres of the brain) could reduce or eliminate seizures.
However, these patients also experienced other symptoms after the communication pathwaybetween the two sides of the brain was cut. 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 research has shown that the brain is not nearly as dichotomous as once thought. For example, recent research has shown that abilities in subjects such as math are actually strongest when both halves of the brain work together.
The Right Brain
According to the left-brain, right-brain dominance theory, the right side of the brain is best at expressive and creative tasks. Some of the abilities that are popularly associated with the right side of the brain include:
- Recognizing faces
- Expressing emotions
- Reading emotions
The Left Brain
The left-side of the brain is considered to be adept at tasks that involve logic, language and analytical thinking. The left-brain is often described as being better at:
- Critical thinking
The Uses of Right-Brain, Left-Brain Theory
While often over-generalized and overstated by popular psychology and self-help texts, understanding your strengths and weaknesses in certain areas can help you develop better ways to learn and study. For example, students who have a difficult time following verbal instructions (often cited as a right-brain characteristic) can benefit from writing down directions and developing better organizational skills.
By Judith A. Albright
Are you one of those people who are convinced you don’t have a creative bone in your body? If so, this will come as a pleasant surprise: we all came into this world hard wired to be creative! How creative we actually are has less to do with talent or ability than it does, interest, choice, opportunity and circumstance.
Creative self-expression is a vital part of our psychological makeup and it is a vital part of self-actualization, which if you remember Abraham Maslow’s famous pyramid, is right at the top. While much of the lower part of the pyramid is focused on physical needs and well being, as people progress up through the various levels their needs become increasingly psychological and social. Self-actualization is the final level of psychological development, and it cannot be fully achieved until all other basic and mental needs have been met. From Maslow’s perspective, self-actualization (and its intrinsic need for creativity) is the ultimate goal and motive for life itself.
Our need for self-expression, even our craving for it, begins at birth. The human urge is nearly as strong as the need to survive and procreate our species. Even our primitive early ancestors were aware of this. For example, once they mastered the basic skill of creating cooking pots they began to decorate them. A plain cooking pot works just as well as an ornately decorated one, so what was their motivation to enhance the surface of an every day functional item? They didn’t need one—they simply were honoring their need for decoration and creative expression.
How can we define creativity?
Is it drawing and painting? Making pottery? Quilt making? Knitting? Cooking? Building a building? Designing a landscape? Decorating a cake? Sewing? Crafts? Making furniture? Writing? Composing a poem or song? Planting a garden? Creativity is all of these and none of these. These activities are simply actions that are the result of creative thinking, but none of them are creativity itself.
Creativity is not any particular activity: it is a point of view and a different way of looking at the world.
Being creative means:
- Exercising our imagination
- Encouraging the flow of ideas
- Keeping a flexible and open mind
- Recognizing options
- Learning to look at old things in new ways
- Allowing ourselves to be playful
While creative expression may be one of our most basic human needs, that side of us is fragile and easily damaged. It does not take many unkind remarks or much ridicule to destroy our self-confidence and shut us down. Too many people have suffered scorn for their attempts at originality and self-expression. Throughout life we constantly encounter people who are dedicated to cutting us down and it starts early. Fear of judgment can be crippling, and is a real hurdle that many adults have to get over if they are to successfully rediscover and express their naturally creative nature.
Society as a whole doesn’t quite know what to do with anyone who doesn’t fit the norm, and does everything possible to blend everyone into vanilla pudding. Like a jack in the box, those who dare to go against the tried and true often risk being pounded back down every time they dare to raise their heads. Many of us experienced this as children. We were not encouraged at home to express our originality or think of ourselves as creative beings because the emphasis was on practicality and doing something “useful” with both our time and ourselves.
At school our creativity was also likely to have been stifled by a system that was often too narrow to tolerate or appreciate those children who thought outside the box. We were simply expected to fit into the education system, whether or not the education system fits us. Many of us were told we’d never amount to anything because we were dreamers or we had “too much imagination,” which helped engender the idea that being imaginative and creative is something bad. When our ideas did not fit into or went against the traditional way of thinking they were often pooh-poohed, resulting in our feeling diminished and even humiliated. Thus we learned to stay quiet and not voice our ideas or try to do things differently for fear of being put down or shamed.
It takes a brave soul to pursue creative activities that have historically had little value in our culture. For over a century Americans have been conditioned by society and even our educational systems to believe that activities such as art and music and doing things with our hands carry little value. This idea is still being perpetuated today by school districts and budget minded school boards who are quick to scrap visual and performing arts programs in favor of a core curriculum that heavily emphasizes science and math and little else.
It is ironic that at a time when Corporate America highly values and seeks creative thinkers, our children (and we) are being forced to live in a “half brained” world—one in which many if not all activities that encourage and promote creative thinking are being eliminated from our educational systems. The right brain is the big picture, creative part of the human mind, yet most everything we encounter in every day living is geared toward left brain, linear thinking. Thus if we are ever to live in a “whole brained state” and reach any level of self actualization, we are going to have to make an effort to do it on our own and we may need a little help. Find someone who can teach and/or mentor you—the destination will be well worth the journey.