Jan 10 2012

More Left Brain / Right Brain Nonsense

This is one of those memes that refuses to die. It’s a zombie-meme, the terminator of myths, one of those ideas of popular culture that everyone knows but is simply wrong – the idea that individuals can be categorized as either left-brain or right-brain in terms of their personality and the way they process information. Related to this is the notion that any individual can either engage their left brain or their right brain in a particular task.

The most pernicious myths tend to have a kernel of truth, but are misleading or oversimplified in a significant way. In the case of brain anatomy and function, it is true that our brains are divided into two hemispheres, left and right. Each hemisphere is capable of generating wakeful consciousness by itself. And there are many higher cognitive functions that lateralize, meaning they are largely located in one hemisphere or the other.

For example, language function lateralizes to the dominant hemisphere, which is the left hemisphere for most people. Visuo-spacial reasoning lateralizes to the non-dominant hemisphere (right hemisphere for most people).

That is as far as the left-brain/right-brain popular belief goes. It ignores other important facts of brain anatomy and function. First – there is a large cable of connection going between the two hemispheres (the corpus collosum), in addition to smaller connections. The hemispheres connect together and operate as a unified whole.

In order to see each hemisphere operating on it’s own you need to specifically create a situation in which they do not communicate. Severing the corpus collosum is a treatment for certain severe forms of epilepsy. These patients have been studied in a series of studies collectively known as the split-brain research. In this situation you can see the effects of one hemisphere or the other operating on it’s own.

Another situation is a neurological test in which one hemisphere of the brain is put to sleep with a powerful anaesthetic (injected into the blood supply of that one hemisphere), so that the other hemisphere can be tested in isolation (called a Wada test, after the physician who developed it).

Further, there are many networks in the brain that include areas of both hemispheres – the two hemispheres are therefore functionally integrated. And finally, some higher cognitive functions do not lateralize to one hemisphere or the other. This is particularly true of the frontal lobes, where most functions are bilateral, including executive function – the ability to plan and control one’s behavior.

So while some specific functions do lateralize, our minds and personalities are the product of one integrated brain, not each hemisphere independently. It is misleading to the point of being wrong to describe people as either “left brain” or “right brain” in terms of their personality or how they process or learn information, and not just because it is a simplistic false dichotomy.

I recently encountered two instances of the left-brain/right-brain myth, prompting this post. One was an e-mailer asking a question about such a claim that they had heard. Fellow skeptic Chris writes:

I recently came across an interesting claim that depending to which ear your hold your phone during a conversation, the information heard is processed quite differently. For example: if a right-handed person holds their phone to their left ear, the speech heard is more likely to be inspected using reason and critical thinking by the left brain, rather than reacting emotionally via the right brain.

I mentioned the split brain experiments above. In subjects where the two hemispheres are mostly isolated you can present information visually to one hemisphere or the other (by showing it to only the left or right visual field), and that information cannot be communicated to the other side because the connection is severed. This can result in interesting results, such as the subject not being able to name with their left hemisphere what their right hemisphere just saw.

The same is not true for the auditory cortex. Both ears connect extensively to the auditory cortical regions in both hemispheres. This is why people do not lose the ability to hear on one side even after a large stroke. The primary auditory cortex responsible for discriminating pitch receives information from both ears. The auditory function that does lateralize is for language and music. Essentially language sounds are processed in the dominant hemisphere and tonal or musical sounds in the non-dominant hemisphere. But both of these regions are getting information from both ears and both primary auditory regions.

Therefore, it does not matter what ear you hold the phone up to. The sound information will get to both hemispheres and to the proper areas for processing the information.

The other left-brain/right-brain claim I heard recently was from an advertiser hoping that I would link to an article they wrote on my blog as a way of driving traffic to their online college course website (for which reason I will not provide a link to them). The article, ironically, was pushing the worst kind of left-brain/right-brain nonsense.

The point of the article was that left-brained people have different learning styles than right-brained people. I guess this means that this online college can tailor their courses to your learning style. I would stay far away from any institution of learning that bases its teaching philosophy on rank pseudoscience.

According to their article, if you are a left-brain person then your learning style is “linear” and “reality-based”, while right-brained people are “holistic” and “fantasy-oriented.” They then give specific advice. Left-brain learners like to be in control, so should volunteer to lead their study group. Right brain learners should be creative in their language choice.

All of this is evidence-free nonsense.  The entire concept of learning styles is not evidence-based. A recent review concluded:

Although the literature on learning styles is enormous, very few studies have even used an experimental methodology capable of testing the validity of learning styles applied to education. Moreover, of those that did use an appropriate method, several found results that flatly contradict the popular meshing hypothesis. We conclude therefore, that at present, there is no adequate evidence base to justify incorporating learning-styles assessments into general educational practice.

People do have different personalities and strengths and weaknesses in how they process information. This simply does not translate into specific learning styles that can be distilled down into studying tips, or even educational strategies. Further, differences in personality and information processing cannot be represented as either left-brain or right-brain.

The left-brain/right-brain dichotomy is pop-psychology pseudoscience. Be suspicious of anyone touting it as a legitimate or insightful way of looking at human personality or cognition.


42 responses so far

42 thoughts on “More Left Brain / Right Brain Nonsense”

  1. Kawarthajon says:

    The brain is such a weird thing – the fact that one side of your brain controls the opposite side of your body; it is the nerve centre of your body/being, and yet it can’t really feel itself; dreams; the fact that we don’t actually know how we store memories; the strange impacts of brain damage (like people who only have short term memory, or people who lose specific abilities because of a stroke); sleep; brain stimulations that can cause us to have have specific memories or recall specific experiences and; imagining something can seem real to the brain, among other weird aspects. I think that because it is such a complex and mysterious object, people like to make shit up about it all the time (i.e. we only use 10% of our brain). I think it’s analogous to the impact of quantum mechanics on popular culture – because it is so weird, people make shit up about it (i.e. that quantum mechanics can account for things like ESP and quantum jumping). Weirdness motivates people to make up simple theories about things, kind of like the weirdness of the world motivated people to make up religion and gods to explain them.

  2. I don’t know, Steve; I seem to recall that when you & I had lunch on the Queen Mary, we established beyond any reasonable doubt that brain-sidedness is a fact, based on our two similar slacker brothers. Both are lazy, undependable, massively creative in utterly useless directions, and left-handed.

  3. ingsve says:

    If we completely ignore the whole left-right anatomy part of this myth and just look at the rest is there any truth behind the various correlations that are claimed for the two types?

    In other words is there a correlation between things like logical thinking, rationality, objectivity focus on details etc. in some people and a correlation between intuition, emotionality, creativity, subjectivity, good body control etc in other people?

    I mean these are pretty common stereotypes so it shouldn’t be too surprising if there is some small truth behind it somewhere. I understand that people probably exist on the complete spectrum if this sort of separation even exists but if you only consider the extremes then do these correlations exist?

  4. daedalus2u says:

    At one time I worked with someone who had an aversion to Apple computers, and at the time there was a marketing campaign about how Apple computers were for right-brained people, which he characterized as computers for people with half a brain. He preferred to use his whole brain.

  5. kijibaji says:

    Great post, I definitely find this one of the more annoying examples of pop-psych pseudoscience. Perhaps one of the legitimate research findings which also fuels these wild speculations is work on the Right Ear Advantage (I think Kimura 1961 (http://psycnet.apa.org/journals/cep/15/3/166/) is usually cited as the original work on this). For people with left hemisphere lateralisation for language (the vast majority), there is greater accuracy for identifying verbal stimuli presented to the right ear. This effect is quite robust and has been tested in a variety of ways (e.g. interactions with auditory illusions such as the McGurk Effect). The REA can very reasonably be explained by the structure of the brain (contralateral auditory pathways), and has nothing to do with rational vs emotional responses to stimuli!

  6. ToddStark says:

    I don’t quite get it, Steve. I thought Doreen Kimura and others did fairly extensive study of ear differences in dichotic listening tests with neurologically typical folks and found cognitive differences consistently. It sounds like your argument claims that this should be impossible for anatomical reasons. I’m not sure I understand why the existence of anatomical pathways on both sides would neccessarily mean that there was no functional difference between sides or how it invalidates observed data? Can you say a little more on this please?



    kind regards,


  7. elmer mccurdy says:

    Well, the last sentence of that paper is “However, given the lack of methodologically sound studies of learning styles, it would be an error to conclude that all possible versions of learning styles have been tested and found wanting; many have simply not been tested at all. Further research on the use of learning-styles assessment in instruction may in some cases be warranted, but such research needs to be performed appropriately.”

    That’s not quite the same thing as “This simply does not translate into specific learning styles that can be distilled down into studying tips, or even educational strategies.”

    One of the things I like about tutoring is that you can get to know the student, try stuff, and see what works. And you can do this on yourself, too.

  8. cogman says:

    While I agree with what you’ve said regarding phone conversations and learning styles, you may want to clarify one thing:

    The signals from the ears do go predominantly to the opposite temporal lobes at least;


    The picture on page 35 illustrates it.

    “Thus, although auditory signals from one ear reach both auditory cortices in the temporal lobes,
    the contralateral projections are stronger and more preponderant”

  9. BillyJoe7 says:


    “The brain is such a weird thing – the fact that one side of your brain controls the opposite side of your body”

    My first thought was that there must be an evolutionary explanation. This narrowed down my google search for an explanation:

    Here is an explanation aimed at specialists:

    Here is the same explanation aimed at the layman:

    “it is the nerve centre of your body/being, and yet it can’t really feel itself”

    Actually it can:
    There are sensory nerves in the dura – which is why meningitis is painful.
    There are also sensory nerves in the blood vessels – which is why migraines are painful.
    But, yes, the neurological tissue of the brain does not contain any sensory nerves which is why it “can’t really feel itself”.

  10. ToddStark says:

    re: kijibajion …

    Yes, that makes sense. Often pseudoscience exploits legitimate and useful findings that are ultimately more interesting than the wild speculations.


  11. shocknurse says:

    While I agree that you can’t define one’s personality as “left-” or “right-brained”, I am curious about how you would explain how/why some individuals are more inclined toward artistic endeavors, while others excel at verbal and numerical reasoning.

    Would it still be appropriate to categorize an individual who excels at building things or creating things, as “right-brained”, assuming that this individual fits the example given above(“..language function lateralizes to the dominant hemisphere, which is the left hemisphere for most people. Visuo-spacial reasoning lateralizes to the non-dominant hemisphere [right hemisphere for most people]). Likewise, would an individual who excels at arithmetic and language arts be categorized as “left-brained”?

    I don’t see this as personality as much as I see a more dominant use of the one side of the brain which leads to people being better able to comprehend the dynamics of language or visual-spacial reasoning.

  12. Kawarthajon says:


    You are absolutely right on your point about brain evolution.

    My point wasn’t that there isn’t an explanation for these weird aspects. My point is that these explanations are often too complicated to think about or to learn about for the average person. Therefore, the brain becomes this magical, mysterious entity for people to make things up about. Once one person latches onto an idea (regardless of how false or ridiculous), it can quickly become part of our collective common knowledge (i.e. “Oh yeah, I read about that we only use 10% of our brain somewhere on the internet. It must be true). This is further complicated by the fact that really complex things (like brain science or quantum mechanics) require so much knowledge and education to understand even on a fairly basic level, that they become so far beyond what an average person is able to understand. Because the brain is so weird and complicated, you can make almost anything up about it and people will just accept it as true because of his mysterious and weird character. Same goes for other things, like quantum mechanics.

  13. BillyJoe7 says:


    “My point is that these explanations are often too complicated to think about or to learn about for the average person.”

    Sorry, I miscontrued your comment.

    A similar point is made in Steven Novella’s post “Tonsillectomy Indications and Complications” in Science-Based Medicine where he “reveals the pitfalls of non-experts trying to understand the clinical literature and the effects of bias on evaluating a complex medical question”:


  14. etatro says:

    Elmer –

    Actually that was the last line of the abstract.

    The last paragraph of the full paper is: “Our review of the learning-styles literature led us to define a particular type of evidence that we see as a minimum precon- dition for validating the use of a learning-style assessment in an instructional setting. As described earlier, we have been unable to find any evidence that clearly meets this standard. Moreover, several studies that used the appropriate type of research design found results that contradict the most widely held version of the learning-styles hypothesis, namely, what we have referred to as the meshing hypothesis (Constantinidou & Baker, 2002; Massa & Mayer, 2006). The contrast between the enormous popularity of the learning-styles approach within education and the lack of credible evidence for its utility is, in our opinion, striking and disturbing. If classification of students’ learning styles has practical utility, it remains to be demonstrated.”

    I have debated the issue of learning styles with friends and colleagues. It’s my opinion that classifying students into learnings styles for the sake of teaching to that style puts an unnecessary label on the student and is actually detrimental. There really is no such thing (demonstrable) as an inherent “learning style,” but rather, there are learning strategies that people have picked up with experience & practice. Learning strategies should be in harmony with teaching strategies if any learning is to take place. Students may favor particular strategies over others, but with practice, they can master a variety of learning strategies. It is true that some teaching strategies are more effective than others, and an instructor needs to use a variety of techniques to convey information or teach more nebulous things like critical thinking skills and the scientific method. But the best learning tactic overall is to be adaptable to a variety of teaching methods.

    There’s a whole industry in assessing, studying, and designing teaching methods around “learning styles.” I also think that finding out that, “Student A is learning style X,” is really just a result of a bunch of methodological noise, the same test in a different context (a different semester when she’s taking different classes) to the same individual is likely to yield different results. I think that results of learning strategy assessments just assign labels to students that could permanently handicap their ability to academically thrive.

  15. lizditz says:

    Psychologist Daniel Willingham on the persistence of the “learning styles” myth



    (7 minutes)


    The prediction is straightforward: Kids learn better when they are taught in a way that matches their learning style than when they are taught in a way that doesn’t.

    That’s a straightforward prediction.

    The data are straightforward too: It doesn’t work.
    It doesn’t work–not only for the visual-auditory-kinesthetic theory, but for many other learning styles theories that have been proposed and tested since the 1940s.

    Researchers have been conducting experiments on learning styles for 50 years. They’ve been tested with the sorts of materials that kids encounter in schools. They’ve been tested with kids diagnosed with a learning disability.

    Phooey. Can’t access the paper where Willingham discusses WHY the learning styles myth is so persistent.

  16. etatro says:

    Thanks for the link the Willingham’s work. He’s got quite a library there. Which article, specifically are you looking for?

  17. elmer mccurdy says:

    Well, first of all, that wasn’t really the last line either. The last straw, maybe.

    One thing I noticed from those Willingham links was that he was contrasting pictures with spoken words rather than spoken vs. written words. The other is that his conclusion about learning styles in general conflicts with the one I quoted i.e. he seems confident that we have enough data to dismiss the concept entirely; the other authors, not so much. Me, I don’t pretend any knowledge about the research, but it seems to me that the practical implications are pretty limited, since everybody agrees that approaches ought to be varied, even if the justifications differ.

    But back to my favorite subject: me. I know from my experience as a grown-up that I learn much, much better by reading than by having someone talk at me, and the reason is largely that the former gives me more control – over speed, repetition, and breaks. Also, I personally just have a real problem with noise, very much including speech. If I’m in a room with a person who’s talking too loud, I sometimes find the noise so disturbing that I’ll have to get up and leave.

  18. elmer mccurdy says:

    Also, I wonder if asking a person’s preference, especially a kid’s, is the best way to determine style. Maybe the only way to make the determination is to try teaching the individual both ways and see which works better.

  19. lizditz says:

    While a bit off topic of the “left brain Right brain” mythology, some background on the “learning styles” stuff. Naively, I thought it was the domain of k-12 education, but it is at least as popular in adult learning and training.

    Back in 2006 , Will Thalheimer issued a challenge:


    I will give $1000 (US dollars) to the first person or group who can prove that taking learning styles into account in designing instruction can produce meaningful learning benefits.

    I’ve been suspicious about the learning-styles bandwagon for many years. The learning-style argument has gone something like this: If instructional designers know the learning style of their learners, they can develop material specifically to help those learners, and such extra efforts are worth the trouble.

    Surprise! Five years on, no takers….

    But the notion of learning styles, and the value of a learning styles inventory, is still being widely hawked:


    The Paragon Learning Style Inventory (PLSI) is a self-administered survey that provides a very reliable indication of learning style and cognitive preference. It uses the four Jungian dimensions (i.e, introversion/ extroversion, intuition/sensation, thinking/feeling, and judging/perceiving) that are also used by the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, Murphy Meisgeir Type Indicator, and the Keirsey-Bates Temperament Sorter. But this is the only instrument that can be self-scored and works with ages 9-adult.



    Students preferentially take in and process information in different ways: by seeing and hearing, reflecting and acting, reasoning logically and intuitively, analyzing and visualizing, steadily and in fits and starts. Teaching methods also vary. Some instructors lecture, others demonstrate or lead students to self-discovery; some focus on principles and others on applications; some emphasize memory and others understanding.

    When mismatches exist between learning styles of most students in a class and the teaching style of the professor, the students may become bored and inattentive in class, do poorly on tests, get discouraged about the courses, the curriculum, and themselves, and in some cases change to other curricula or drop out of school. Professors, confronted by low test grades, unresponsive or hostile classes, poor attendance and dropouts, know something is not working. They may become overly critical of their students (making things even worse) or begin to wonder if they are in the right profession. Most seriously, society loses potentially excellent professionals. To overcome these problems, professors should strive for a balance of instructional methods (as opposed to trying to teach each student exclusively according to his or her preferences.) If the balance is achieved, all students will be taught partly in a manner they prefer, which leads to an increased comfort level and willingness to learn, and partly in a less preferred manner, which provides practice and feedback in ways of thinking and solving problems which they may not initially be comfortable with but which they will have to use to be fully effective professionals.

    This site contains resources for a model of learning styles generally referred to as the Felder-Silverman model. The model was originally formulated by Dr. Felder in collaboration with Dr. Linda K. Silverman, an educational psychologist, for use by college instructors and students in engineering and the sciences, although it has subsequently been applied in a broad range of disciplines.

    …these are just the first of thousands of sites.

  20. elmer mccurdy says:

    But again, apparently the problem for most of these styles is the lack of well-designed studies, and I wouldn’t really expect a thousand dollar prize to change that.

    I don’t have any particular interest in this, except that I can’t help noticing how dramatic the difference is between my reaction to lectures and other peoples’, as opposed to studying alone in a quiet room with some index cards and a pencil.

  21. elmer mccurdy says:

    God, that’s a lot of verbiage from me about something I’m not even really interested in.

  22. BillyJoe7 says:


    I recently met a girl who I thought was really interested in me, but she really wasn’t, she couldn’t wait till I left and she could be alone in her quiet house all by herself.
    (This is actually a true story, and if you find it hard to believe, imagine how I felt)

  23. elmer mccurdy says:

    I don’t find it hard to believe at all.

  24. cwfong says:

    Me neither.

  25. elmer mccurdy says:

    Zing! Snap! Burn!

  26. BillyJoe7 says:


  27. Captain Quirk says:

    This irritated me to no end in 5th-8th grade. Teachers very often talked about “left brain”/”right brain” stuff, and when I asked them to expand on the concept, some stuff just didn’t add up that you didn’t have to have a degree in neuroscience to realize. Defining it as L-logical / R-creative, or L-verbal / R-visuo-spatial, etc. quickly leads to contradictions. Like the person who is great at math but terrible in language, great in math and language, good at arithmetic but poor at abstract math or the reverse, highly creative and highly verbal, etc.

    There’s a book called “Drawing with the Right Side of your Brain” my 7th grade art teacher used, and my 8th grade science teacher giving us a 10-question quiz to determine learning styles (auditory/kinesthetic/visual), though at least she didn’t seem to take that one too seriously and more as a busywork thing to adjust the class to being in school again, or as something the administrators wanted.

    “I know from my experience as a grown-up that I learn much, much better by reading than by having someone talk at me, and the reason is largely that the former gives me more control – over speed, repetition, and breaks. Also, I personally just have a real problem with noise, very much including speech. If I’m in a room with a person who’s talking too loud, I sometimes find the noise so disturbing that I’ll have to get up and leave.”

    I can sympathize, as I have auditory processing problems and am the same way for that – more than one voice at a time is difficult to handle if I want to or need to interpret the meaning of the speech, even if it isn’t too loud, because it’s just gets confusing. I suspect that learning styles are mostly the product of experiences of environment interacting with natural tendencies, as a sort of feedback loop thing.

    For instance, school lessons were usually way too slow, so I would read or solve math problems in my head, so I strongly preferred reading books to attending lectures, but also I got used to zoning out, failing to pay attention to what I was supposed to do in class in favor of writing sci-fi novels in my head, so it was very difficult for me to appreciate the merit of group activities, since it forced me to pay attention to boring things instead of what I liked, and it didn’t help that very often other people took credit for my contributions, and either I did all the work or almost none of it, most of the times. What really didn’t help was consistently getting rewarded with high grades and praise for the results of taking this lazy approach.

    I imagine that any learning styles that may exist would be far more varied and malleable than current proponents of the model typically suggest. Verbal/visual, or auditory/visual/kinesthetic, or other ideas I’ve seen, seem massively oversimplified, and it may be that any inherent learnings styles would most times not provide useful information in terms of structuring instruction, except for the extremes or if there were very detailed and very accurate profiles combined with a far more individualized method of instruction than we have today in schools, for it to be worthwhile. That’s just speculation, though.

  28. lizditz says:

    Ran across another resource today: a transcript of an interview with Dr Annukka Lindell, the School of Psychological Sciences at La Trobe University: Right Brain Teaching is Half-Witted

    Opening discussion

    Matt Smith:
    Now it’s a common belief that if you are creative, your right side of the brain is well active and dominant over the left, and if the opposite is true, then that gives you more of an academic bent and there’s much teaching directed at this, but you’re here to debunk this sort of thinking. So my first question to you, Dr Lindell, is right brain or left brain half-witted?

    Annukka Lindell:
    Well, the idea that your right hemisphere is creative and your left hemisphere is more logical intelligent is something that we call a neuromyth, so this is something that is a really popular belief but actually patently false, and this idea was debunked in the psychological literature over thirty years ago, but it’s something that is just so appealing, and it’s sort of captured people’s imagination that it still gets bandied about quite a lot. And this means then that when marketers are coming up with a product, they can throw in a word like right brain or left brain and it makes it inherently appealing to the people that they’re marketing to.

    Read the whole interview.

  29. ChrisH says:

    Captain Quirk:

    There’s a book called “Drawing with the Right Side of your Brain” my 7th grade art teacher used,

    Hey! I remember that book from junior high. I realized the left brain/right brain stuff was utter nonsense since I still could not draw! I still can’t, I cannot even draw a straight line with a straight edge. One reason I really like Computer Aided Design programs (though I admit, the engineering graphics/drawing class I had in college taught me how to print very legibly).

  30. usethebrainsgodgiveyou1 says:

    Dr. Steve:

    I am of the opinion that you are wrong here…but you know what they say about opinions…Besides, I’m a housewife with too much time on her hands, not a scientist.

    Funny how “Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain” would enter the discussion, because that is the primary reason why I disagree. A few years back, I was a wanna be artist and used the book to escape the “tyranny of the left brain” which led to drawing what you “thought “you saw. Using an exercise, I was able to interpret objects non-objectively…I drew what I saw, each tiny twist and turn in a breakdown of the whole object. Without words.

    Did you know you can get lost in your right mind? You can work a minute or hours, and your brain doesn’t know the difference. You become lost in observation.

    At the same time, my 3 year old son had been diagnosed as PDD-nos (autism lite). I saw the similarities of his visuospatial mind and the exercises I attempted. Time had no meaning. Language was secondary to observation. He still sees in pictures, something often derived by Dyslexic experts, ie, the people who ARE dyslexic. Ends up dyslexia may fit my son better than PDD.

    Split brain studies back up my assumptions. Left and right ARE different, and the brain that remains colors the abilities that are left to you.

  31. cwfong says:

    Unfortunately, you have assumed you were using your right brain because of the predicted results rather than because of the accuracy of the hypothesis. (Unless you can feel which side of your brain is working when, etc.)

  32. cwfong says:

    However, I must concede that you are not necessarily wrong in your intuition here.

    See this article about your story telling brain: http://bigthink.com/ideas/41943
    Excerpt: “Michael Gazzaniga, a cognitive neuroscientist and the author of Who’s in Charge?, has performed countless experiments with split-brain participants. They have revealed a function of the left hemisphere called ‘the Interpreter,’ which jumps in to make sense of memories, when it has no direct access to those memories or the context in which they were made.”

  33. artwoman says:

    I am a skills based artist who draws and paints by observation. When I am drawing or painting my thinking is visual. Words are pretty much banished from my mind. I say pretty much because whatever verbiage creeps into my mind while I am in action is only of the most vague sort. the words are not definitive. I know I am “in the zone” when language is no longer present in my head.

    I see that Betty Edwards’ ‘Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain’ has been poo-pooed in some of the posts. I had been using many of the techniques described in that book long before I ever encountered it. When I was in high school, I drew metal objects with highly polished surfaces. In translating the reflective quality of those objects to a two dimensional surface, I had to focus the shapes of the light and dark areas. Those shapes were irregular and, as such, the shapes were un-name-able. Reproducing an irregular pattern of shapes is far easier to draw than an object called a ‘teapot’ or anything else that can be designated with a noun. Focusing intensely of the drawing of complex, irregular shapes which can’t be named is one of the techniques suggested by the Betty Edwards’ book.

    I was an pretty competent drawer when I first encountered that book. I was a much better drawer after the encounter. I think using techniques to tap into the visual-spatial capabilities of the right brain may be more valid for teaching observational drawing than has been acknowledged in the comments. The failure to learn to draw observationally using the Right Side of the Brain techniques, may be the result of many factors; the attitude of the student and the quality of the teaching among them.

    Additionally, observational drawing is also a very rational activity. One has to judge size relationships, relative positions, and value relationships and how all that translates into a spatial illusion. (For the non-artists, value refers to degrees of light to dark which fall between black and white. It’s the value range.)

    I am not sure who the Greek philosopher was who said, “Human beings are of two minds. One perceives. The other understands.” Taking advantage of the capabilities of both is essential to what I do. I think visual thinking takes second place to analytical thinking in our educational scheme. I also believe visual thinking should be cultivated to the same degree as analytical thinking.

  34. SimonW says:

    Ingsve, the issue of correlation on personality is an interesting one.

    As a mixed/ambiguous hander, with early language problems, I’ve occasionally taken a lay interest at some of the research on handedness, autism and handedness, handedness and dyslexia, handedness and dyspraxia. Not that I have all these issues, but it is pretty clear that my brain is subtly different in various ways to most of the people around me, although less clearly different to the various engineering/science geeks.

    Much of the research is poor, but what isn’t poor suggests there are various subgroups of left and mixed handedness.

    These sub-divisions necessarily include those with developmental abnormalities that have prevented normal handedness developing (it is unclear if left handedness is strictly “normal”, but it is common enough that we should remember evolution is all about mistakes in replication that turn out to be useful to survival). But it is plausible that any study that sets out to simply compare left and right handed individuals will find correlations through inclusion of subgroups with developmental abnormalities unless they specifically exclude those subgroups. Thus you would expect the research to find a lot of poor traits in left handers if they look simply at correlation if the subgroups with significant developmental abnormalities are large enough to be significant.

    Now the first question is does handedness correlate well with hemisphere dominance, and it seems it does (and the researchers even managed to exclude the unhealthy – reference at end).

    The second question is are the subgroups with significant developmental abnormalities large enough to impact research. Now clearly that depends on the power of the studies, the more individuals in a study, the more likely it is to include people from any subgroup, and the more statistical power to pick out attributes of those subgroups. So you’d expect larger studies to find more correlations with non-right handedness, which are less representative of the group as a whole. Just as surveys might show people have 2 legs on average, but a large survey might show very slightly less than 2 legs is average, it tells you something true but not necessarily representative.

    Now do you want to know if there are correlations between handedness and personality traits, or would you be more interested in traits that are universal, or broadly applicable, to specific subgroups with right hemisphere dominance for language?

    Geschwind’s theory of cerebral dominance is complicated, and as some critics note almost unfalsifiable (McManus and Bryden), but probably good hunting for interested skeptics. It led to much work providing correlations in big studies and some interesting ideas on how to test theories that are a “bit vague” in places.

    The literature is unclear whether I have “compensatory right hemisphere development”, or “enhanced right hemisphere development” or if these two are different. The second sounds a lot better to me. One thing is clear, Larkin was right about parents in “This be the verse” but the alternative is mere oblivion.

    Handedness and hemispheric language dominance in healthy humans

    S. Knecht, B. Dräger, M. Deppe, L. Bobe, H. Lohmann, A. Flöel, E.-B. Ringelstein and H. Henningsen

  35. usethebrainsgodgiveyou1 says:

    Although I am ignorant in understanding research regarding the brain, my gifts lie in different areas. Having been the main researcher in an environment surrounding a little person 24/7, and being repsonsible for his growth and development…I observed some things beyond reproach by a brain researcher who would not have that advantage. Besides, they can’t figure it out themselves. It’s a stubborn organ that doesn’t give up it’s secrets easily.

    My son learned language via pictures, not auditory exposure and extrapolation. By age 2, he could name any noun that had a visual representation. “Butterfly, watermelon, Barney, Thomas the Tank Engine”…but at age 4 you could ask him, “What is your name, Ben?” and he would either repeat it, “What is your name, Ben?” in the exact tone and cadence of the speaker (echolalia), or just look at you funny. Some left brain delayed (language delayed) are thought to have a form of schizophrenia by the ignorant because they so mimic other’s voices, without understanding. Right brain delayed kids talk early and become skeptics.

    So anyhow, for a year, I showed him pictures of non-noun words like above, below, run, jump, in , out…I’m guessing over a thousand words (prepositions, verbs, adverbs) at least, and gave him praise for showing me he understood. I did this 2 hours a day with pictures supplied by the speech therapist for a year. Teachers/Speech pathologists will tell you some kids are visual learners, and most of them are in the Special Ed classroom, regardless of their IQ. They are language, or left brain, impaired for some reason.

    I praised God when he first used the pronoun “I” (think of the confusion—picture “I” when everyone in the world uses it, in a million ways) because it gave his words power, where before they had been labels, not used for communication. His first communicative sentence was “I want to go to a movie”. We would have taken him to the moon!

    Even in kindergarten, he was unable to answer a simple question like “How was school today?” He would repeat LONG strings of verbiage from the video’s he loved, word for word with inflection and cadence intact. Try as hard as I could, I couldn’t wrap my mind around what he was trying to say, and I would just cry.

    So there you go, it’s all sappy and irrational, emotionally charged, and not one study to prove how smart I am. But there are kids who are right brained, and believe me, they pay a price. Strangely, the Dyslexic advocates I’ve come to know see themselves as “thinking in pictures”, as do many autistics. Both are considered language-impaired.

  36. usethebrainsgodgiveyou1 says:

    PS–he took one of those psycho-babble tests at age 9 and was extremely right brained. It could have been a quirk, or a trick, but I don’t think so.

    I would love to do research on left/right dominance, but I’m too old and tired.

  37. Mlema says:

    you may want to try something like Superbrain Yoga with your child. It helps to “balance” the hemispheres:


    cwfong: I loved that vid!

  38. usethebrainsgodgiveyou1 says:


    McGilchrist and the divided brain…That’s very good, close to what I am trying to say. ( I could never say it that eloquently, though.) He said, “The right brain has no language.”

    A very select group of people say they think in pictures, rather than in language. Autistic and Dyslexic persons have written that they think in pictures.

    Thirty years ago, when I obtained my degree in Special Ed, we were taught to present things visually to our students, and we studied visual thinking. It was very hard for my hard-wired left brain to understand. I was ignorant enough to hope I didn’t get a lot of visual learners in my classroom. But 90% of special ed kids are language impaired, according to a friend, a speech pathologist, and are visual learners. A neurologist would only see the most severe of these cases, but they are at least 15% of children, and some studies show higher percentages.

    These are the children who obtain labels. Because to teach them the way they learn is too expensive and difficult, and we are programed as teachers to teach facts. So we give them drugs to make sure their behavior is not a problem. They are as sinister as the kids who had the audacity to write left handed in the old days, who needed their hand tied behind their back to


    Miema: My son is too old to try anything now. Yoga might have been helpful to him at one time, though.

  39. usethebrainsgodgiveyou1 says:

    Re: learning styles

    Would my son have learned language at all if they had not been presented visually? I don’t know.

  40. Mlema says:

    Try it yourself and see what happens!
    Then decide if it really can’t help your son, no matter what his age.
    I wish you all the best.

  41. ChrisH says:

    My son’s first expressive language was sign language. He was diagnosed with oral motor dyspraxia, he was physically unable to vocally communicate as a very young child. The introduction to signing was a revelation, he learned seventy words in one summer as a two year old.

    Visual cues were used to reinforce words to him, but as he progressed in speech therapy he dropped (and even rejected) sign language (his first coherent vocalizations were when he was at least three years old).

    It is a very complicated problem with people who have neurological issues (my son had seizures, some from an illness). The “left brain”/”right brain” bits lose coherence when there is actual damage to some areas of the brain.

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