Are you more of a left-brain or right-brain thinker? It’s a question that is often asked to help you understand what types of skills and thinking you might be better at.
There are numerous online quizzes, self-help materials, gurus, and infographics that claim to help you determine what kind of thinker you are.
In doing so, you are then free to focus on strengthening the weaker part of your brain to unlock your full potential.
There are even app developers that use these claims to develop and sell products specifically designed to help left or right brain thinkers bolster their mental acuity.
There is one problem though. The whole idea of a left or right dominant thinking brain is a myth born out of a sliver of truth.
That truth was spun out and added to by people who latched onto the idea, pushing it out into the world as an easy way to explain the complexity of personality and thought.
A complexity that is still being studied by neuroscientists and psychologists in an attempt to understand what it is to be conscious and human.
Maybe you are having a hard time learning complex problems, so if you just focus on developing your left brain thinking, you can easily solve that problem!
Or if you want to embrace your creativity and intuition, you should strengthen your right brain!
Unfortunately, that’s not how the brain works.
What Is Left Brain-Right Brain Thinking?
The theory of left brain-right brain thinking suggests that each half of the brain governs specific aspects of a person’s thinking and perception of the world.
The theory originated in the work of Nobel Prize winner Dr. Roger Sperry, who was studying the effects of epilepsy.
Dr. Sperry discovered that severing the structure of the brain that connects the left and right hemispheres together (the corpus callosum) could potentially eliminate or reduce seizures in patients with epilepsy.
Patients who had the corpus callosum cut would experience other difficulties as a result. Dr. Sperry discovered that the conventional view of the brain at the time was incorrect.
It was believed that the left side dominated thinking as the primary source of analysis, language, and higher learned motor skills while the right side was barely conscious, as it only appeared to deal with spatial relationships.
The right hemisphere was considered to be less evolved since it couldn’t understand speech or reading.
Sperry and other scientists would then discover that many of their split-brain patients could carry on most of their general activities and actions even after the halves of the brain were disconnected.
The right side of the brain was found to not be entirely deaf and dumb. It wasn’t nearly as advanced as the left hemisphere, but it could recognize certain phrases and spell certain words.
Sperry discovered that both halves of the brain were aware and conscious, even if they weren’t aware of what the other half was experiencing.
The two halves of the brain worked in tandem when connected, but they could also work independently of one another when separated.
What is a left brained thinker?
A person who is thought to be left brained is said to be more analytical, objective, logical, and methodical. They are a person who responds better to logical arguments, hard facts, and processes.
They might excel in fields like computer programming, mathematics, engineering, and other disciplines where there are concrete Point A to Point B paths in their workflow or problem solving.
Left brained thinkers are believed to be better at critical thinking, reasoning, troubleshooting, and languages.
They also tend to think in words instead of pictures.
What is a right brained thinker?
The right brained thinker is believed to be someone who is more in tune with emotions, intuitive, thoughtful, and creative.
They are thought to be more imaginative, empathetic, artistically inclined, and better at creative tasks.
Careers typically associated with right-brained thinkers include artists, musicians, crafters, counselors, and graphic designers.
They tend to be big picture thinkers who thrive on creativity, emotion, and intuition.
Their thoughts tend to occur more like pictures than words.
Is there merit to left brain-right brain thinking?
The most recent research on the subject suggests that the theory as presented is not correct.
A 2013 study that measured the activity of both halves of the brains of 1,000 people with an MRI scanner over the course of two years found that participants used both hemispheres of their brain with no dominant side.
It did find that activity in both hemispheres was different depending on the task of the participant.
The most commonly cited example is that regarding language interpretation. Though the language centers of the brain are located in the left hemisphere in most people, the right specializes in emotion and nonverbal communication.
Yet there is other evidence to suggest that certain personality traits have a basis in the difference between left and right brain activity.
Optimism and pessimism, for example, are thought to coincide with greater activity in the left and right frontal cortex respectively.
But this doesn’t mean that optimists don’t have activity in the right frontal cortex or that pessimists don’t have activity in the left frontal cortex.
Or that someone who is generally optimistic can’t be pessimistic about certain aspects of their lives and vice versa.
How does the brain actually process, learn, and evolve?
Brain plasticity – also known as neuroplasticity – is an odd term for the layman. The word plastic evokes thoughts and imagery of things like containers, toys, or cling wrap.
Yet, in the world of neuroscience, brain plasticity is the phrase used to describe how the brain will change with age for better or worse, serving to shape one’s personality and brain development.
Gray matter will physically change with time. It can get thicker or shrink, which can cause neural connections to weaken, disconnect, strengthen, or be created.
A change in a person’s brain can cause them to gain or lose new abilities. Learning new things actively exercises the mind and causes more connections to be created. More parts of the brain are communicating with one another to develop and remember that skill.
That process works in reverse as a person forgets things. Connections weaken and disconnect, making it hard to recall information or skills that one previously might have had.
The Myth Of Age-Related Cognitive Growth And Decline
There is a common belief that the brain is better at learning and absorbing more information the younger it is.
This belief was reflected in the perception that kids are curious, information sponges that have a much easier time absorbing and holding on to information.
As a person ages, their mind becomes less able to learn and hold on to new information, therefore it is important to do a lot of one’s learning early in their life.
Science believed and society accepted that as we get older, we should expect a cognitive decline in our abilities to learn and retain information.
It’s not that a person who ages is doomed to cognitive decline and an inability to learn, it’s more that the person’s brain plasticity changes in such a way that makes learning and retaining information different than what one would expect in their youth.
The cited study points to a belief that the actual problem is not a cognitive decline and an inability to learn, but that age changes the way the brain retrieves and processes information stored from memory.
In other words – the older a person gets, the more experience they gain, the more difficult it is for the brain to sort through all of that accumulated knowledge to find the information it is looking for, which slows the person down.
It’s really no different than your personal computer or smartphone. The more information and apps you have installed, the slower it’s going to run because it needs to sort through more information to get to the data it needs.
Growing older doesn’t necessarily mean that a person cannot strengthen their mind by learning skills and gaining new experiences.
In fact, there are many people out there who continue to build on their knowledge throughout their lives – and that is an important part of nurturing and improving your own mental abilities.
The idea that certain individuals have a dominant right hemisphere of the brain while others have a dominant left hemisphere of the brain is far from accurate.
Yes, particular tasks are more associated with one side of the brain, but, in general, people use both sides to roughly the same degree.
Some aspects of one’s personality – such as optimism and pessimism – might be based on greater activity in one hemisphere of the brain, but this does not equate to a constant dominance of one side.
Skills such as creativity or rational thinking are just that: skills. They can be learned and honed over time just like any other skill, thanks to the plasticity of the brain. They are not innate or based upon whether someone is more left- or right-brained.
Will the left brain-right brain dichotomy persist? Probably. The idea is so pervasive that whether or not it has any basis in fact, it has taken on a social definition for the differences in people.