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Not With The Band: Can We Kill This ‘Right vs Left Brain’ Myth Once For All?

Brain-map

 

Myths are enduring, especially myths that can explain reality in a simplistic manner. Unfortunately, reality is never simplistic and there are a lot of chances that a 30-question test on Facebook is not going to explain how your brain works. Lately, I stumbled a lot of times on a ‘Left or Right Brain Test’ in my Facebook feed, probably because I have a lot of artists and musicians among my friends and they seem to want a validation that they are in the right field because they have a right hemisphere dominance? Common belief is that right-brained people tend to be more artistic and creative (so good at music and painting) whereas left-brained people tend to be more analytic and logical (so good at math)! I have news for you, my dear Facebook-test users… this is a totally outdated view of the brain, and this is simply not true. The Homo sapiens brain is probably the most complex thing is the universe and you thought you could figure it out with a simple test like this?

If you do a little research, you will find tons of serious articles about it and learn that this idea has been disproved by recent science. In 2013, scientists at the University of Utah have analyzed more than 1,000 brains using fMRI, they looked at activity in 7,000 brain regions and examined neural connections within and between these region, and they found no evidence that people preferentially use their left or right brain… On the contrary, all participants in the study were using their entire brain equally throughout the course of the experiment and their conclusion was ‘our data are not consistent with a whole-brain phenotype of greater “left-brained” or greater “right-brained” network strength across individuals’. They didn’t even find a difference in gender.

Sure we use different parts of the brain when we execute different tasks, but the idea that everything about logic and analysis is confined in one side of the brain, whereas everything about creativity is confined in the other side, is really false. Dr. Jeff Anderson, director of the fMRI Neurosurgical Mapping Service at the University of Utah, told the journal Live Science:

‘It is not the case that the left hemisphere is associated with logic or reasoning more than the right. Also, creativity is no more processed in the right hemisphere than the left.’

So why did we get this misconception? According to Live Science, it may come from a 1960 study by Nobel Prize Roger Sperry, who studied people who had epilepsy and had a surgical procedure cutting the corpus callosum, the part of the brain which connects both hemispheres. During his research on ‘split-brained’ people, Sperry determined which sides of the brain were involved when doing certain activities like math, language and drawing. Psychologists had a field day with this and loved the idea, but neurobiologists never bought into this notion. If it is true that each hemisphere tends to have some functional specializations (speech and language functions are generally in the left side for example) we now know that this is a representation of the brain way too simplistic, and we have much better tools to study the brain than 1960’s scientists.

But why are some people better at math and other people more creative, you may ask? Yes, everyone has a different brain but ‘This has nothing to do on any level with the different functions of the [brain’s] left and right hemisphere,’ declared Anderson to the BBC. ‘The pop culture idea (creative vs. logical traits) has no support in the neuroscience community and flies in the face of decades of research about brain organization, the functional roles of the two brain hemispheres and evidence from patients with lesions in one or the other hemisphere in the brain,’ he continued.

There’s still another idea to debunk, the fact that lefties are more the artistic type than the rest of the population. It is actually based on the same myth, since the motor functions of the left side of the body are controlled by the right hemisphere (and vice-versa) and since the right hemisphere is associated with creativity,… bingo, you lefties are the artists! However recent MRI research has demonstrated that left-handers and mixed-handers in general tend to exhibit more varied, unpredictable and diffuse cerebral activity than right-handers, meaning that they don’t necessarily exhibit a right-hemisphere dominance – they have actually found that only about 20% of left-handers have right-hemisphere language dominance for example.

Any activity, artistic or not, requires activities in both hemispheres and when it comes to music: ‘the right hemisphere remembers musical melodies, but rhythm and absolute pitch comes from the left hemisphere’ which kills, once again, the right-brain dominance associated with creativity and arts.

It’s a shame we still see this myth everywhere, I never considered Facebook as a reliable scientific source, but I have seen and heard this misconception everywhere, and popular culture has used this idea to death, and even educated people have perpetuated it! The reality is in fact much more complicated that a simple right-left dichotomy, thus, we have to kill this old myth.

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