At the start of every school year from my high school years all the way through college, and even sometimes now that I’m a teacher, I was subjected to the dreaded “icebreakers” — those games that supposedly help you learn about the personalities of the groups you are with, whether they are roommates, students in your class or fellow teachers. Sometimes, these icebreakers are meant to help you find out about yourself. I can remember taking personality tests to tell me whether I’m an introvert or an extrovert, what kind of learner I am and whether I’m right-brained or left-brained. That last one was always inconclusive for me and depended highly on how I was feeling on the day I took the test. Did I feel logical and organized? Then I showed up as more left-brained. Did I feel creative and productive? Then the results tended toward the right-brained.
According to a new, two-year study of 1,000 people aged 7 to 29 published in Plos One, the left-brain/right-brain dichotomy is a myth. The neuroscientist researchers at the University of Utah who conducted the study first separated the brain into 7,000 regions, then scanned the participants’ brains as they were relaxing or reading. What they found was that, while specific functions definitely showed up on certain sides of the brain, the idea that the two sides perform completely separate functions is false. For example, though language functions are typically left-brained, some pieces of language like recognizing tone or inflection are right-brained.
We shouldn’t be surprised that the brain is more complex than a simple analysis like the left-brained/right-brained myth that has been perpetuated in society. According to The Guardian, this myth actually dates all the way back to the 1800s, when scientists found that an injury to one side of the brain caused the loss of specific functions in the body. Later, in the 1960s, neuropsychologists Robert Sperry and Michael Gazzaniga did groundbreaking research that discovered that, when the two halves of the brain were cut off from one another, they responded differently to different stimuli. This suggested that each hemisphere of the brain had a different function.
However, those who study the hard sciences have never really bought into the theory that someone can be right- or left-brain dominant. That theory was developed and perpetuated by psychologists. According to Jeff Anderson, the lead author of the study, “The neuroscience community has never accepted the idea of ‘left-dominant’ or ‘right-dominant’ personality types. Lesion studies don’t support it, and the truth is that it would be highly inefficient for one half of the brain to consistently be more active than the other.”
While it is important to understand that the brain is far more complex than we could ever imagine, and there are many more factors that come into play in our personalities and talents, the left-brained/right-brained myth is probably harmless. However, next time someone asks you what side of your brain is more dominant, you can be assured that you are correct in saying, “Neither!”
Photo Credit: _DJ_