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 pathway between 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.
More Information and Resources
- Severed Corpus Collosum: Scientific American Frontiers
Watch this fascinating video that demonstrates the effects of severing the corpus collosum.
- The Big Similarities & Quirky Differences Between Our Left and Right Brains: Discover Magazine
A closer look at how the left brain and right brain differ and how they work together.
- The Left-Brain, Right-Brain Quiz: About.com-Homework Tips
About.com's Guide to Homework Help, Grace Fleming, has created a fun quiz to help you determine your "brain type" and improve your study habits and academic skills. Take the right brain-left brain quiz to learn more. She also offers some great study advice for left-brained students and right-brained students.
Want to learn more about the brain? Check out the following links: