Monday, June 18, 2007

Left brain Right brain - a myth

Deliberately misleading
An excellent post from Clive Shepherd points to an article on neuroscientific myths and their detrimental effect on education and training. The one that has always disturbed me is the deliberately misleading ‘left-right brain’ theory. It has been used to support endless tracts telling us that we should liberate ourselves from too much left-brain ‘logical’ thinking and enjoy the fruits of our liberated, right-brained creativity.

Psychology or phrenology?
Are you right (creative) or left (logical) brained? In fact, you’re both. The right/left brain myth resulted from split-brain research in the 60s, now largely rejected. People and their brains can no longer be characterised or caricatured as right and left brainers. This is now seen as a primitive form of simplistic labelling, or phrenology.

Neurology, through scanning, shows a very different, and complex, picture. Research now sees the distinction between the two hemispheres as being very subtle. Every mental faculty seems to be shared across the brain, with complementary contributions. It is the combination, not separation, that matters. The mutually exclusive model has all but disappeared from the literature.

Right brain good, left brain bad
False analogical leaps were made from simple linguistic tests and surgical experiments to strict dichotomies between reason and creativity, linear and holistic, eastern and western thought – left and right brain. Unfortunately the left-brain, right-brain model still flourishes in populist self-help and pop-psychology books, courses and products. The line taken is often one of the dominant, left, rational brain censoring the poor, artistic, creative right side, to the detriment of the person and society.

Just as star signs belong to astrology, not astronomy, split-brain theories belong to phrenology, not psychology.


Harold Jarche said...

Gee, I always thought it was just a metaphor.

Meena Sanjay Shah said...

It's very nice and knowledgeable blog.

to know about casino games and it's history.


jay said...

I'm suspicious of any form of binary thinking. Just about everything has shades of gray. Everything's a mix...

Arun Kumar said...

One aspect of the right/left-brain issue is that most collaboration and learning tools are designed for driver types, not creative or visual types.

Pretty much everything that's delivered as a Web 2.0 service falls into this category, starting with that grand-daddy SharePoint.

But visual/creative types need something different altogether, something that appeals to their operating styles.

This was a big motivation for us building Kerika a "graphical Wiki": you can convey your strategy or process in visual terms rather than just words, numbers or lists. I think you will find this demo interesting:


Anonymous said...

Hi Donald

Absolutely spot on. Its one of those myths that people use to push all sorts of other pseudoscience.

I think you do an extemely good line in mythbusting. Its very helpful. I have a proposal that may help you expose even more powerfully. Send me an email to


Anonymous said...

Perphaps there is two kind people so-called "Logical and "Creative" (or "sequential" & "intuitive" or "rationnal" & "holistic", whatever you want) and to be honest, i do think so.

It is just the brain-side domination of each one which is,yes i agree ,definitely false.
Yes everything has shades of gray but most gray things are either white or black not equally balanced between them.

Anonymous said...

Hello Donald Clark.
Irony abounds in life.

I just posted about this in my own blog.

But you beat me by months.
C'est le vie.

It's nice to know someone else is using their whole brain.

Jacque said...

Mr Clark:
I am a student attempting to write a research paper debunking the "left brain vs. right brain" myth, and I was wondering if you might suggest any definitive resources on the topic. Thank you so much!

Research Paper said...

Many institutions limit access to their online information. Making this information available will be an asset to all.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the reminder on the details this urban myth. It has always seemed to me to be an easy excuse for flaky people to claim they can't be logical or use even common sense.

You might as well say "I don't get it because I'm a Libra, and we're such and such" or some other nonsense. It's always used as some sort of cop-out, often in subtle but disturbing ways.

Tristram Shepard said...

I don't think it matters whether it's happening on the left or right side or somewhere in between. The important thing is that we need to pay more attention to developing creative thinking...