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Left vs Right Brain


The brain is considered to be one of the most complex organs housing encrypted functions in its million grooves and crevasses that scientists till date have not been able to completely encipher. The cerebrum or cortex is the largest part of the human brain, associated with higher brain functions. A deep furrow partitions the cerebrum into two halves, known as the left and right hemispheres, which are ostensibly similar yet show differences in their functioning. The corpus callosum is a bundle of axons which bridges and links these two hemispheres.

The theory of the structure and functions of the mind suggests that the two different sides of the brain control two different "modes" of thinking. The left and right hemispheres of our brain process information in different ways. We tend to follow our dominant side and start inculcating characteristics and areas of interest, typical of that side.

Hemispheric Dominance Influences Learning Patterns:

Each individual perceives, conceives and processes information in a distinct fashion. But if can discover the best possible route that befits his/her learning curve, learning can become more efficient and less time consuming. When learning something new or difficult, one would naturally be inclined to use the learning style one is most comfortable with. Dominance is a preference, not absolute. Virtually our brain gets gravitated to the preferred side. And while nothing is entirely isolated on one side of the brain or the other, the characteristics commonly attributed to each side of the brain serve as a valuable guide for improved and accelerated ways of learning.

Thus let us look beyond what meets the eye and take a deeper dive into the functions of the two hemispheres. The left side of the brain is the seat of language and processes in a logical and sequential order while the right side is more visual and processes intuitively, holistically, and randomly.

The left side of the brain deals with things the way they are-with reality. When left brain students are affected by the environment, they usually adjust to it. Not so with right brainers. They try to change the environment! Left brain people want to know the rules and follow them. In fact, if there are no rules for situations, they will probably conjure up rules to follow! But right brain students are sometimes not aware that there is anything wrong. So, right brain people must make sure they constantly ask for feedback and reality checks.

Basic Right Brain and Left Brain Characteristics:

In general, the learning and thinking process is enhanced when both side of the brain work in tandem. This implies strengthening the recessive hemisphere of the brain. Dr. Carolyn Hopper's Practicing College Study Skills: Strategies for Success 4th edition, 2007, Houghton Mifflin Company, throws light on the following distinct information processing styles pitting the left hemisphere against the right.

  • Linear Vs. Holistic Processing

    The left side of the brain processes information in a linear manner. It processes from part to whole. It feeds on pieces, lines them up, and arranges them in a logical order; then derives conclusions.

    The right brain however, moves from whole to parts, holistically. It starts with the answer. It reviews the big picture first, not the details. A right brained person might face difficulty following a lecture unless provided the big picture first. Hence it is absolutely necessary for such a person to read an assigned chapter or background information before a lecture or to survey a chapter before reading. If an instructor doesn't consistently give an overview before delivering a lecture, the subject in concern may need to ask at the end of class what the next lecture will be and how he can prepare for it.

  • Sequential Vs. Random Processing

    In addition to thinking in a linear manner, the left brain processes in sequence. The left brained person is a list maker. Such a person would enjoy daily planning and making master schedules. He would complete tasks in order and take pleasure in checking them off when they are accomplished. Likewise, learning things in sequence is relatively easy for him. For example, spelling involves sequencing hence left brained people make good spellers.

    By, contrast, the approach of the right-brained person is random., there is a tendency to flit from one track to another. He will get just as much done, but perhaps without having addressed priorities. An assignment may be late or incomplete, not because he weren't working but because he something else has been engaging him. Right brained people make a special effort to read directions. Oh yes, the mention of spelling makes him cringe. Since the right side of the brain is color sensitive, he might try using colors to learn sequence, making the first step green, the second blue, the last red.

  • Symbolic Vs. Concrete Processing

    The left brain has no trouble analysing symbols such as letters, words, and mathematical notations. The left brained person tends to be comfortable with linguistic and mathematical endeavors. Left-brained people will probably just memorize vocabulary words or math formulas.

    The right brain, on the other hand, wants things to be concrete. The right brain person wants to see, feel, or touch the real object. He may have had trouble learning to read using phonics. He prefers to see words in context, to see how the formula works.

  • Logical Vs. Intuitive Processing

    The left brain processes in a linear, sequential, logical manner. Information is used in a piece by piece fashion much like a jigsaw puzzle to solve a math problem or work out a science experiment. When he reads and listens, he looks for the pieces so that he can draw rational conclusions. In writing, it is the left brain that pays attention to mechanics such as spelling, agreement, and punctuation.

    If one process primarily on the right side of the brain, he basically uses intuition. He may know the right answer to a math problem but not be sure how he got it. He may have to start with the answer and work backwards. On a quiz, gut feelings dictate his answer choices, and they are usually right. While writing the right side pays attention to coherence and meaning.

  • Verbal Vs. Nonverbal Processing

    Left brain students have little trouble expressing themselves in words. Right brain students may know what they have in mind, but often have trouble finding the right words. The best illustration of this is to listen to people give directions. The left brain person will say something like "From here, go west three blocks and turn north on Vine Street. Go three or four miles and then turn east onto Broad Street." The right brain person will sound something like this: "Turn right (pointing right), by the church over there (pointing again). Then you will pass a McDonalds and a Walmart. At the next light, turn right toward the BP station."

    So how is this relevant to planning study strategies? Right brain people need to back up everything visually. If it's not written down, they probably won't remember it. And it would be even better for right brain people to illustrate it. They need to get into the habit of making a mental video of things as they hear or read them. They need to know that it may take them longer to write a paper and the paper may need more revision before it says what they want it to say. This means allowing extra time when a writing assignment is due.


In general, schools tend to favor left-brain modes of thinking, while downplaying the right-brain ones. Left-brain scholastic subjects focus on logical thinking, analysis, and accuracy. Right-brained subjects, on the other hand, focus on aesthetics, feeling, and creativity. Just because they are not as good with numbers and remembering facts does not mean that they are "dull" compared to left brain people.

Left vs Right Brain - Is it a Myth?

The belief that left hemisphere of the brain controls logic and language and the right, creativity and intuition is somewhat debatable. Apparently the conventional aspect of the brain traces back to the time of Hippocrates. It wasn't until 1962 when Roger W. Sperry experiments brought to light the truth of the left and right brain theory.

Sperry researched people who had undergone surgical division of the corpus callosum, the bridge between the two hemispheres. His studies showed that, an object placed in the right hand (left hemisphere) could be named readily, but one placed in the left hand (nonverbal right hemisphere) could be neither named nor described.

Next to branch off of Sperry's studies was psychologist Doreen Kimura who developed behavioral methods which involved presenting visual stimuli rapidly to either the left or right visual fields. Another important method developed was dichotic listening which centered around the use of sound to study the hemispheres. A new theory was born known as the two-brain theory. This said that at different times one of the two hemispheres would be operating. An example of this is that the right hemisphere is in control when an artist paints but the left hemisphere was in control when a novelist wrote a book. Consequently a five points theory was proferred.

  1. The two hemispheres are so similar that when they are disconnected by split-brain surgery, each can function remarkably well, although quite imperfectly.
  2. Although they are remarkably similar they are also different. The differences are seen in contrasting contributions.
  3. Logic is not confined to the left hemisphere. Although dominant in the left logic is present in the right hemisphere.
  4. There is no evidence that either creativity or intuition is an exclusive property of the right hemisphere.
  5. Since the two hemispheres do not function independently, and since each hemisphere contributes its special capacities to all cognitive activities, it is quite impossible to educate one hemisphere at a time in a normal brain.

Thus in sum it can be said that people are not purely left or right brained. There is a continuum in which the hemispheres work together in harmony. Often the left or right hemisphere is more active in some people but it is never the sole operator.

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