ParenTalk: Busting the myths about right-brain and left-brain development
The human brain is divided into two hemispheres. The left and the right hemisphere. Each of these hemispheres is associated with certain personality traits. There is a widespread belief that only one hemisphere is dominant in every person, and the dominant hemisphere defines their personality traits.
Have you come across left brain vs. right brain theories? Do you also believe that people have a dominant hemisphere in their brain that governs their personality traits and academic abilities?
Well, a lot of us have come across Facebook quizzes that claim to identify if our left brain is dominant or right brain. In reality, what this understanding shows is that our brain is not balanced. The perils of such an understanding extend to educational systems and thus affect the students.
Do you think such ideas are healthy? Researchers do not think so. They believe that this false understanding can lead to teachers being prejudiced and students internalizing false ideas about themselves.
This article is aimed at busting left brain vs. right brain myths. Read on to know more:
According to the popular myth, everyone has a dominant hemisphere in the brain. Those with a dominant left brain are known to be analytical thinkers and are assumed to be good at languages and maths. On the other hand, people with a dominant right brain are known to be more creative and inclined towards art and music. However, what about artists who are good at maths or mathematicians who love to play music? This article mentions 7 musicians who had a degree in mathematics. Are they abnormal? Or extraordinary?
The origin of the myth: The theory originated after Roger Sperry’s split-brain experiments. The experiments studied the brain functioning in people for whom the connection between the right brain and left brain was damaged surgically as a treatment for refractory epilepsy. These experiments led to the discovery that the left hemisphere was responsible for language and maths. However, neuroscientists later deduced that while each hemisphere handles certain functions, they work only when both the hemispheres collaborate.
What is wrong with the left brain vs. right brain myth:
This research is based on brain scans performed on 1011 individuals and it refutes the myth around left brain and right brain dominance. It may be fun to keep guessing the dominant side based on preferences and abilities, but there is no scientific evidence to the theory.
In layman’s terms, a dominant brain side only means that the other half of the brain is wasted. Now that is sheer inefficiency and cannot be blamed on a robust organ. Assuming so is a disservice to the millions of neural connections. While some brain functions are indeed controlled majorly by a certain hemisphere, a stronger hemisphere is a myth.
How the left-brain vs. right-brain myth affects education:
These myths may seem fun and intriguing when presented in form of personality tests and Facebook quizzes. However, they may have a detrimental impact on education. There is an increase in the number of courses that claim to train teachers on learning methods targeted towards different brain types. This can lead to bias among teachers who may then behave differently with students. It will also lead to misconceptions regarding a student’s academic abilities and teachers may avoid nurturing certain aspects in them, thinking that it is futile. Imagine an aspiring musician being demotivated from attending music lessons because of the misconception that their left brain is dominant.
It is even more harmful if students are subjected to such beliefs. Young brains are highly impressionable. Feeding young children, the notion that a particular part of their brain is dominant and this would make them good at a particular set of skills and not so efficient at others will lead to self-doubt and low confidence. Once, they internalize these myths, they will quit trying because of their beliefs and predictions about tasks. This may also lead them to compare with their peers and harbor feelings of inadequacy or jealousy. Apart from impacting their performance, it will also affect the way they interact with peers. For example, telling a child that they are right-brained may make them doubt their mathematical abilities and bring down their motivation to learn mathematics.
The truth about stimulating the dormant part of the brain with creative exercises:
Well, this portion of the article may earn me some flak but trust me I have nothing against learning programs or educators. It is all about evidence and it doesn’t side with myths about enhancing creativity with right brain exercises. Many educators advocate moving the left side of the body or working with the non-dominant hand to activate the functions of the right brain. These activities work but not by waking up a dormant hemisphere of your brain. They are effective because they motivate you to focus on achieving something out of your comfort zone. While you concentrate on doing them, both parts of your brain are collaborating to help you achieve your goal.
The spinning dancer test to determine the dominant hemisphere and how it determines if you are a genius
When I was in college, the spinning dancer test was quite a rage. We’d go to the computer lab only to determine who among us was a genius. For the uninitiated, it is a popular video that shows a silhouette of a girl spinning. The myth states that those who see it spinning clockwise are right-brained, those to see it spinning anti-clockwise are left-brained and those who see it changing directions are geniuses. I, for the record, have been proven a genius by the test 😉. For years, this test has been reinforcing the myth. It, however, has been proven to be just an optical illusion. According to experts, most of us see the dancer spinning clockwise because we see it from the top and also because of the existence of attentional bias towards the right side of the body. This article explains the science behind the optical illusion. While I wrap my head around the fact that I am no genius, you must know that it is nothing but a fun activity for young students who’d find the differences in perception magical. The test cannot determine the truth about your brain and most definitely cannot judge your intelligence or aptitude.
The bottom line:
Neuroscientists are still researching the brain and a lot more needs to be uncovered. However, dominant hemispheres are just a myth and questionnaire results must not be used as a yardstick to judge the inclination or aptitude of a person. If you are a parent, expose the child to maths, art, music, history, and everything else and wait for them to choose what they like without burdening them with unscientific assumptions.
Smriti is a freelance content writer and an avid reader. She quit her 6 year-long IT career to embrace her love for writing. She writes content across genres and takes pride in her ability to research and carve magic with words. She passionately writes about parenting and is currently working on her book. When not writing or reading, she can be seen running behind any of her 2 kids or learning Deutsch.