If you have never heard of the right brain left brain myth, all you have to do is a quick Google search to figure out what type of thinker you are. An online quiz will tell you whether you are more logical and analytic (left-brained) or abstract and creative (right-brained). But is there really any basis to this? Unfortunately people, both producers and consumers alike, have latched onto the metaphor without fully understanding the scientific discrepancies behind it. We will try to separate the truths from the myths, the science from the marketing madness.
The human brain is divided into 2 hemispheres, right and left. These halves are connected by a bundle of fibres called the corpus callosum. Now this connection is something to take note of. Just because our brains are split down the middle doesn’t mean that each half functions independently from the other. Information is constantly transmitted back and forth so that we can make sense of the world around us, and the stimuli that we encounter in it.
This interaction became apparent when Roger Sperry started studying split-brain patients back in the 1960’s. Before we continue, another key point to mention is that sensory and motor information on one side of the body is always connected to the opposite side of the brain. For example, if you pick something up with your right hand, this is processed in your left brain hemisphere.
In these split-brain patients, the corpus callosum was severed (in many cases this was done on purpose in order to lessen the severity of epilepsy). Therefore any information from the right side of the body went to the left side of the brain, without any communication between the left and right hemispheres (and vice versa).
It is now well known that the left hemisphere is specialized for language. It contains 2 key structures. The Wernicke’s area is responsible for language comprehension whereas Broca’s area deals with language production. When split-brain patients held an object in their right hand, they could name the item they were holding (because the information transmitted to the left hemisphere). However when holding it in their left hand, they were unable to verbalize the information.
So although different brain areas are specialized for different purposes, without a connection between the left and right hemispheres it is impossible to integrate information into a coherent whole.
We have solidified the fact that the human brain is indeed divided into a “right brain” and a “left brain”. Each has unique functions and abilities, such as language in the left hemisphere. But this does not mean that the two halves work independently of each other. Instead they are constantly communicating back and forth, with the corpus callosum acting as the connection mechanism.
The problem with the whole right brain left brain concept is that it sets up a dichotomy in which you can only be one or the other. Yet at any given time we are using both halves of our brains in order to live our daily lives. If you were to eliminate either side altogether – well you can see that things would go downhill pretty quickly.
Where does this leave us? Well there is definitely one positive point that has come out of the whole right brain left brain discussion; it has brought to light the importance of individual differences. Everyone has a different personality and preferred learning style. Some of us are more mathematical while others like to think more abstractly. This doesn’t necessarily mean that you only use the corresponding side of your brain but it does help us to recognize and embrace diversity. Knowing how you function allows you to focus on your strengths while working to improve your weaknesses. What is most important to remember is that no one is solely “right-brained” or “left-brained”. At any given time we need to use all of our brain to integrate and process the plethora of information we receive in our daily lives!