Enlightened Conflict

right brain, left brain, ambidextrous brain

April 9th, 2012


So I thought I had left the whole right brain left brain discussion behind. And it reared its ugly head again one more time just the other day.

And <distressingly> it was in a business environment, with senior people, discussing people’s strengths & weaknesses.


This whole right brain, left brain thing has to stop.

Now <please>.

The truth? We use our whole brain. Not halves.

And right brain left brain mumbo jumbo is just that … a bunch of mumbo jumbo crap.

Yup. The whole thing is bullshit.

Trust me. If you ever want to drive a psychologist/psychiatrist/neurologist/any ‘ist’ crazy … bring it up.

<just a reminder>

In the right-left mythology … the left brain is logical, ordered, and analytic, and it supports reading, speech, math, and reasoning.

In the same myth … the right brain is more oriented towards feelings and emotions, spatial perception, and the arts, and is said to be more creative.

Interesting myth.

And it is a myth.

It is wrong (wrong & wrong … and maybe even wrong again).

We have known for at least 30 years that this characterization is incorrect.

In fact the guy who probably put us all in this mess originally (Mike Gazzaniga who created the study in the 60’s that some pop psychologist used to write some fantasy business books that became best sellers) who was a pioneer of modern study of brain hemispheric differences immediately tried to put a stop to the craziness as soon as it began with a book chapter titled “Left brain, right brain: A debunking.”

And he did that 25 years ago.

<note: he wrote it because the original crap was begun after he did a brain hemisphere study in the 60’s>

And there is still plenty of bunk to go around.

Its crazy.

I myself have gnashed my teeth (and sometimes growled) against the “left brain / right brain” myth for years (probably not 25 but a bunch).

People are always trying to tell me how “right-brained” I am (or left … I get confused).

Which I always find amusing since whatever I am doing invariably needs whatever the other side of the brain was supposed to be doing.

Plus. I would like to think I am using my whole frickin’ brain.


It mostly aggravates me (and kind of disturbs me) because it is deliberately misleading.

It has been used to support endless management dialogue telling us that we should liberate ourselves from too much left-brain ‘logical’ thinking and enjoy the fruits of our liberated, right-brained creativity <or vice versa depending on your management belief system>.

Look. People may be inherently more visual, aural, spatial, sequential, intuitive, rational <or irrational> talented or non-talented … but it ain’t because of anything to do with left versus right brain.

Ok. If you don’t trust me I pulled this from a medical journal.

A more technical explanation of how the whole thing went haywire:

You’ve probably heard this left/ right brain dichotomy before. It goes something like this: the left hemisphere of the brain is logical, deductive, mathematical, etc., while the right hemisphere is artistic, visual and imaginative. The idea stems at least partly from the classic studies of split brain patients performed by Sperry and Gazzaniga in the 1960s.

There are some functional asymmetries in the brain, and it is true that certain regions of both hemispheres are specialized for particular functions. Speech illustrates this, but also shows that nothing is ever so simple when it comes to the brain: in most right-handed people, speech is processed in both hemispheres, but predominantly in the left. In some left-handers, speech is processed either predominantly in the right hemisphere or on both sides.

So the notion that someone is “left-brained” or “right-brained” is absolute nonsense. All complex behaviours and cognitive functions require the integrated actions of multiple brain regions in both hemispheres of the brain. All types of information are probably processed in both the left and right hemispheres (perhaps in different ways, so that the processing carried out on one side of the brain complements, rather than substitutes, that being carried out on the other).

An article was published this week in the venerable (and reliable) psychology journal Psychological Bulletin, which synthesized 67 brain imaging studies of creativity. Among other things, it showed that creativity is not especially a right-brain function. In fact, two of three broad classes of creative thought that have been studied seem not to depend on a single set of brain structures.

What we call “creativity” is so diverse that it can’t be localized in the brain very well.

One might think that this study would put to rest at least part of the left brain/right brain mythology, namely, that the right hemisphere of the brain is more responsible for creative thought than the left.

One would think so, but I wouldn’t count on it.

My conclusion?

I put the whole right/left brain thing in the same category as reading a horoscope or reading my own tarot cards.

If you give someone a vague positive description in which they can see themselves they will tend to agree with you.

And that is dangerous on a number of levels (if people actually believe it).


Here is the main reason I bring this up (beyond the fact it drives me crazy and it is still being seriously discussed in the business world).

It has a detrimental effect on education and how we manage our youth.

It is as bad as social profiling when it comes to kids.

Left brain kid.

Right brain kid.

You carry that label and not only does the child begin to see themselves in that label (it is kind of a self-fulfilling prophecy) the adults tag the child with the label. And start treating them that way. And expecting things based on the labeling.

All of a sudden the child is placed on the left, or right, brain treadmill <oops … I meant to say moving sidewalk>.

And then they are left there.

Uh oh.

One day the child wants to jump off the treadmill to hop on the other one for a while … <adults> “whoa … get back on your treadmill … you know that other one is only for the right brainers … and you will be much more successful on the left brain treadmill <sidewalk>.”

That, my friends, reads scary even if it seems just a theory.

And we all know that at some place, at some time, with some children … this is actually happening.

We need to squash this left/right brain myth forever.

Now <please … again>.

We use all of our brain. Brains are ambidextrous. And even if you do not want to believe this at least teach kids that is is so.


One Coment

  • Kimberly says on: August 13, 2012 at 8:44 am


    When you have a stroke….you won’t ponder how much we use our brain…you’ll know. My left side is now dominant with my right trying to take back it’s place..believe me pal..to say its bullshit is you stepping into shit laced with ignorance!

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