Updated: Aug 17
The terms “right-brained” and “left-brained” are used often to help explain our behavior. Whenever we are tying to make an argument that someone behaves the way they do, we often refer to the them either being left-brained or right-brained. However, scientific research shows that this is a myth!
Honestly, when you really break it down, it seems so simple – certainly we are not ONLY using one half of our brains at a time!
The brain is a highly complex organ that is responsible for a multitude of functions at any given time; responsible for both conscious and subconscious processes. It’s certainly more logical to consider that we are using various parts of both hemispheres at any given moment.
So if this is true, why does the myth still prevail? To figure that out, we must first look at where the theory came from.
Where did the right-brain/left-brain theory originate?
Whenever I think of brain experiments, I begin to be flooded with images and references of Frankenstein. I imagine the green giant lying lifeless on an old-timey steel operating table with lights flickering, lightning filling the room with camera flashes of light, and thunder that you can feel in your chest. Suddenly the monster’s eyes shoot open and his body becomes infused with electrical energy and you hear those two infamous words “IT’S ALIIIIIIIVE!”
While actual brain experiments in the mid-twentieth century were, in no doubt, creepy they weren’t always as entertaining as fiction (and sometimes they were)!
In the 1960’s, psychologists Roger Sperry and Michael Gazzaniga sought a treatment for epilepsy by pursuing some unconventional methods of research. The team tested their theory by cutting the thick, bundle of fibers connecting the two hemispheres, also known as the corpus callosum.
They found that by presenting stimuli to just one hemisphere of the brain at a time, they were able to discover that the two halves could act independently and with differing functions.
What does each side do?
Further research has been able to identify the types of tasks and abilities for which each half of the brain is responsible.
For example, the right-brain has been found to be responsible for expressiveness and creative tasks. Other functions include:
expressing and reading emotions
The left brain is more concerned with logic, language, and analytical thinking. Other examples include:
From Sperry and Gazzaniga’s experiments, they were able to conclude that, generally speaking, functions of one side of the brain were responsible for functions of the opposite side of the body (however there are exceptions to this).
More specifically, it was found that patients were not able to name certain objects while using the right side of the brain but they were able to label them while using the left side of the brain. Thus, it was concluded that the left side of the brain is primarily responsible for language.
What the two halves are actually doing
Sperry and Gazzaniga’s groundbreaking research paved the way for vast amounts of research to be conducted on the two hemispheres of the brain and their relation to one another. In fact, Sperry even earned a Nobel Peace Prize!
However, as is often the case in neurobiology, uncovering new information begets more questions and the need for even more research ensues. Against researchers’ best efforts, in totality, we STILL don’t know that much about the brain – how it functions, why it works, etc. However, having a working understanding of some of the functions of each half of the brain has helped us to better understand language, behavior, emotions, and personality types.
We also understand that the brain works best when it is able to put things into groups or categorize them; whenever we are presented with new information, our brain works feverishly trying to make sense of it. It is consistently trying to regain balance because that’s where it is happiest and most optimal. If this is the case, it is easy to see that it is imperative that each half of the brain does not operate on an island.
There are various, complicated networks that are talking to each other all of the time, helping you try to get back to a place of balance, where things make sense.
But what happens if you get stuck?
Why mental health counseling is so effective
A skilled therapist will assist you in utilizing both sides of the brain during conversation or through other techniques designed to go deeper, such as Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR). A skilled therapist knows that this is when the brain is operating most efficiently and the brain is able to find a conclusion all on its own.
This is also another reason why therapists don’t give advice – the answer is already within you, you simply just must be provided the path to find it.
Why a holistic approach is best
Now that we know that we are not simply using isolated parts of our brain, it makes sense that our approach to understanding the human body and overall health cannot be treated this way either. If we focus all of our efforts in one place, we are undoubtedly leaving crucial parts out and things are getting missed.
While it is not possible to have all of the answers, it is my philosophy that techniques in mental healthcare should and must concentrate on mind, body, AND spirit (the importance of this will be further explored in future blogs).
If the brain controls the body and the body controls movement then it only makes sense that both must be addressed in order for a person to keep moving forward. You simply cannot have one without the other.
Not sure how to get connected, find balance, and optimize your journey on this spinning ball of dirt? No problem, you are not alone and you are no less intelligent for reaching out for help.
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