Debunking the science of left versus right brain
Right brain for creativity? Left brain for analytical thinking? The actual research paints a more complex picture.
You’ve likely come across the left-brain versus right-brain debate in the past. The theory, which was first popularized by Nobel laureate and neuropsychologist Roger Sperry in the mid-1900s, proposes that each side of the brain is responsible for certain types of thinking.
Sperry argued that people tend to use one side of their brain more than the other, and that this affects their thinking, creativity, and the types of hobbies, skills, and jobs they do best. But does this hypothesis hold up with the decades of research that have emerged since Sperry initially put out his groundbreaking idea?
A roadmap of your brain’s structure
Your brain is made up of approximately 86 billion neurons.
These neurons are organized into two symmetrical halves (i.e., hemispheres). You can physically see this separation in brain scans, and each half is connected by a band of neural fibres through which the two sides communicate with each other.
Each half of your brain gets sensory inputs from, and controls movements for, the opposite side of the body. For example, your right brain gets sensory input from the left side of your body, and it helps you do things like wiggle your left foot or write with your left hand.
But Sperry’s research, using experiments on both animals and humans, took it a step further. His research suggested that not only did each half of the brain monitor and control one half of the body, but each half of the brain was also responsible for specific types of thinking.
Sperry’s hypothesis, which is widely accepted in pop culture today, argues that the right brain is associated with music, the arts, creativity, and imagination.
In contrast, the left brain deals with logical thinking, sequencing, maths, and science.
Yet modern studies paint a different picture of the common belief that painters and artists are right-brained and accountants and mathematicians are left-brained.
Two sides of the same brain: the studies and science of left brain versus right brain
Each half of the brain does specialize in certain tasks
First off, there is some basic truth to this popular idea.
Using brain scans, researchers found that the right half of your brain specializes in more ambiguous, creative tasks like reading someone's nonverbal communication or processing emotions. Meanwhile, the left half of your brain deals with things like speaking and language.
This seems to support Sperry’s hypothesis. There’s just one issue.
Studies show you don’t have a “dominant” side of your brain
For the theory to hold water, you would expect that creative, artsy people tend to mostly use their right hemisphere, while more analytical people would favour their left hemisphere. This is known as left-brain dominance or right-brain dominance.
Alas, it’s simply untrue. A two-year analysis using MRI scanners on 1,000 people found that people don't have a dominant side to their brain. Everyone uses both hemispheres equally.
Other researchers have looked at what happens when the connection between both hemispheres is cut off, or what happens when someone has a stroke and loses the use of one half of the brain. They found that skills, function, and thinking were essentially the same compared to someone who had both halves intact.
“If you performed...an autopsy on the brain of a mathematician and compared it to the brain of an artist, it’s unlikely you’d find much difference,” Harvard Medical School somewhat morbidly points out. “And if you did the same for 1,000 mathematicians and artists, it’s unlikely that any clear pattern of difference in brain structure would emerge.”
This is the problem when boiling down the complex structure and function of your brain into simplistic terms.
Each half of your brain plays an important role in the entire process of thinking, and each hemisphere helps the other. For instance, while the “language centre” of your brain may be in your left hemisphere, it’s the right hemisphere that helps you to take in the information and understand things like the tone of voice or situational context.
Beyond left and right: how to boost your creative and analytical thinking
Letting go of the false idea that you’re inherently left-brained or right-brained should feel invigorating and liberating. Too often, we write off a weakness or a strength as simply an inherent trait based on our left- or right-brained dominance.
But if you’re not restricted, nor supported, by right- or left-brained dominance, you can begin to re-envision and redefine your own skills and passions. And you can find the confidence to chase after the dreams and goals that you might have discounted in the past.
For instance, if you’re someone who has always proclaimed that you’re simply not a creative person, you can begin to embrace all the various nuances of creativity and art as being more than just drawing or painting or playing music, but also problem-solving and creating solutions.
Regardless of your old ideas of being left-brained or right-brained, try the following to wake up both hemispheres, power up your thinking, and keep both halves of your brain healthy and stimulated.
Fuel your brain with a daily dose of the Smart Supplement.
Spend time every day doing something creative, whether that’s reading a book or doodling on a notepad.
Spend time every day learning something new, such as watching a free online lecture or listening to an interesting podcast.
Try a new hobby or skill, which will activate both hemispheres and engage both creative and analytical thinking.
Keep your life fresh and new. Drive a different way to work. Cook a new weeknight dinner. Go to a different coffee shop than your usual weekend morning standby.
Move your body. Walking is the “godfather” of creative thinking.
Get the nutrients you need for both creative thinking and analytical thinking with the Heights Smart Supplement. It offers the highest quality nutrients for better cognition in both your left brain and right brain.