How many times have you heard, “Oh! She is so good at painting, such a right-brained person!” or “Look at you with all your math skills! Such a left-brained thinker you are.”
With all the growing market for training in ‘right-brain’ activity, we are rapidly moving towards becoming more creative or right-brain focused and less logic or left-brain focused problem solving. But is it so? Do we have a brain that has such a high level of lateralization or complete division of work to left or right sides? Are the extremely complex processes our mind performs compartmentalized? Let us debunk this left v/s right brain myth.
Let us first understand how the brain generally works. So you have two sides of the walnut shaped brain – these two sides are connected by a thin structure called corpus callosum. This structure’s primary function is that of a mediator.
Here is a situation where one is Reading a Text
The reader will take the paragraph and the brain will now start processing it. The signals will travel to what is called Broca’s area on the left hemisphere, and the language processing takes place. The sound of the words; the meaning of the words and sentences are drawn here.
The corpus callosum simultaneously communicates to the Broca’s area on the right hemisphere. This side will now make sense of the sentences; that is, the intonation: whether it is a question, it is sarcasm, the rhythm, and the timing.
The result being a complete language comprehension of the text read. Now take away any of the aspects, and the process will be rendered incomplete.
Does this mean that no activity is completely lateralized?
Yes, It’s Not! The brain is the perfect delegator. Each activity is carefully and yet incompletely delegated to specific yet diffused areas. Popular psychology still has been promoting the left-right theory, with the increasing self-help tools adding to it.
However, recent studies and the current growth in neuroscience has shown that this is in fact, not true. Though, each hemisphere does have a degree of specialization. Just like in the example above about language processing, left hemisphere takes care of the syntax, semantics, and phonology; and the right hemisphere takes care of the prosody (the rhythm and feel). Everything combined would only make language comprehension complete.
Why are some people Left-handed while others Right handed?
Probably the most confusing concept that contributes to this hemispherical theory is that of handedness. Handedness is still a relatively less understood subject. However, the left brain-right brain theory does help in some areas. It can help one identify what aspect one lacks in. Due to a cross-wiring in the brain, the right brain controls the left side of the body and vice-versa. This is one of the reasons lateralization was such a popular concept. During older days when neuro-imaging tools were not available, this concept was what helped determine the language center of a person for a neurosurgeon.
Although neuroimaging studies have shown that complex subjects like maths are processed best when both the sides work together, one can improve their memory by writing and doing maths physically (left-centered) rather than verbally (right centered).
For everything else, it’s a balancing act! And truthfully, the brain has done a better job at figuring out how to process than we ever can.