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article imageLeft Brain, Right Brain: Real Dichotomy, or Real Myth?

By Paul Wallis     Oct 9, 2007 in Science
The left brain/right brain thing has been a conversational additive since it was discovered. The theory is that left brain is practical, right brain is intuitive. So consider someone who isn’t both: dysfunctional, to some degree.
The Daily Telegraph came up with this rather small piece, including a graphic which “turns clockwise or anticlockwise” depending on your brain orientation. I watched this particular graphic change direction several times, and I’m curious if other people have the same perception.
Apparently this is now an article of faith (Why do I come up with these puns? What’s the English language ever done to me?) in the analytical world. A quick search of “left brain right brain” came up with no less than 5.4 million responses.
Having read the rather simple definitions in the Daily Telegraph article, it occurred to me that I use all those characteristics, and will simply go with what works. I found a few tests in the search, and decided to see if they would give a consistent result.
The first test was Intelegen Inc.’s Hemispheric Dominance Inventory Test. Answer was right brain 10, left brain 8. This was the analysis:
Type of Cognitive Processing
Brief Description
Holistic Processing information from whole to part; sees the big picture first, not the details.
Random Processing information with out priority, jumps form one task to another.
Concrete Processes things that can be seen , or touched - real objects.
Intuitive Processes information based on whether or not it feels right know answer but not sure how it was derived.
Nonverbal Processes thought as illustrations.
Fantasy-Oriented Processes information with creativity; less focus on rules and regulations
I could disagree and agree with all of that.
The next test was Similar
Result, right brain 48% left brain 47%. Nothing like the previous test.
This was the summary:
Left brain dominant individuals are more orderly, literal, articulate, and to the point. They are good at understanding directions and anything that is explicit and logical. They can have trouble comprehending emotions and abstract concepts, they can feel lost when things are not clear, doubting anything that is not stated and proven. Right brain dominant individuals are more visual and intuitive. They are better at summarizing multiple points, picking up on what's not said, visualizing things, and making things up. They can lack attention to detail, directness, organization, and the ability to explain their ideas verbally, leaving them unable to communicate effectively.
Overall you appear to be Left Brain Dominant
Yep, that’s me, non-verbal, all the way.
Then I found a test for teens on, which appealed to me, for some reason, after the previous two tests.
As a teenager, I’m a right brain student.
You probably get bored during long lectures and prefer to take classes with a lot of freedom of movement and thought. You like to write stories and even tell stories about your funny experiences. You might be a little suspicious of other people's motives sometimes, but that's only because you can usually tell whenever someone is lying or when they're up to no good. You are a little on the dreamy side--or a lot. You plan books or movie plots but you don't always follow through on things you think about. You should work on that. You are fun and spontaneous, and probably active in sports or clubs. Your feelings run deep, and it shows. You have strong instincts, and you solve problems on hunches and feelings. You are artistic in some way. You can believe in things based on experience, without seeing scientific proof. You might be a finalist on Survivor some day, since you know how to read people so well, and you have great survival instincts.
Apart from the bit about Survivor, not so bad, and not entirely wrong, either. Haven’t been active in social groups for ages, and am not about to start, but the writing stories bit isn’t too far wide.
Fortunately, someone else wasn’t entirely convinced by the simple dichotomy either, and checked it out.
has a piece about how they decided to get to the bottom of the disparity between brain hemispheres. They first did a brain scan, which established that the brain focuses differently, depending on which hemisphere is doing the job. The right brain is wide angle, the left brain is narrow focus.
Of course, that needed some proof, so an optical test was developed to get a refinement of the scanner test. It confirmed the analysis. The two hemisphere brain concept was developed from “split brain” concepts created by a drastic surgical procedure for epilepsy in which the two hemispheres were actually physically separated. The split brain did function with the two hemispheres behaving quite differently.
As a description of a healthy brain, it’s just plain wrong. The brain splits tasks to hemispheres, but integrates them functionally. Neither side has exclusive ownership of the thought processes. It’s the style of processing which differs. Chimps apparently have a similar response to humans in these tests. There’s no verdict yet on how the two hemispheres became so different, but the general wiring seems to be relevant, because some people who’ve received damage to one side or the other lose some cognitive abilities.
Nor are things that simple, even when they do get it right. The brain is still throwing conceptual and actual spanners into the works with gusto. Rense relates how one test got exactly the opposite of its previous results.
In what may be a scientific first:
The crestfallen team was forced to publish a paper concluding exactly the opposite of their own now famous Nature paper (Proceedings of the Royal Society B, vol 264, p 487, 1997).”
Anyway, I’m happy. I’m a right brained teenager (still!), a left brained person, and I’m pretty close to balanced on the hemispheric dominance test with a bias to the right.
Nothing like a bit of healthy ambivalence.
More about Right brain, Left brain, Neurology