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 at some point. The theory, which was first popularised 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 are either left-brain or right-brain dominant, 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?

What does it mean to be right-brain or left-brain dominant?

A roadmap of your brain’s structure

Your brain is made up of approximately 86 billion neurons .

These neurons are organised into two symmetrical halves (i.e., hemispheres). You can physically see this separation in brain scans: 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.

Characteristics of left-brained and right-brained people

Sperry’s research, using experiments on both animals and humans , took the left brain versus right brain divide a step further. His research suggested that not only did each half of the brain monitor and control one half of the body, it was also responsible for specific types of thinking.

Sperry’s hypothesis, which is widely accepted in pop culture today, argues that right-brained people are stronger in music, the arts, creativity, and imagination.

In contrast, left-brain dominant people do better 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 science around left and right brain functions

Each half of the brain

First off, there is some basic truth to this popular idea.

Using brain scans, researchers found that the right half of your brain specialises 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 speech and language.

This seems to support Sperry’s hypothesis. But 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 rely on 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.

“If you 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.

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

Letting go of the false idea that you’re inherently left-brained or right-brained should feel invigorating. 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 redefine your own skills and passions. And you can find the confidence to chase after dreams and goals that you might have discounted in the past.

Regardless of your old notions 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 Vitals⁺ .

  • Spend time every day doing something creative, whether that’s reading a book or doodling on a notepad.

  • Make sure you are feeding your brain the nutrients it needs to thrive.

  • 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 Vitals⁺ . It offers the highest quality nutrients for better cognition in both your left brain and right brain.


Know your own mind?

The average brain health score is 51/100. Take our 3-minute quiz to learn how yours measures up and how to boost it.

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