Are you a right-brain or a left-brain thinker? Do you even know? How many times have you heard, if you think of yourself as a creative person, then you might be a right-brain thinker? Or, if you’re a highly organized and logical person, then you may be a left-brain thinker?
These distinctions have been said to guide people to function more efficiently in their everyday lives. Some feel that the type of “thinker” you are can help determine your ideal learning style. For example, if you struggled as a student when it came to retaining information, it may be useful to know whether or not you are more successful as a visual learner rather than researching on your own.
Speaking of research, studies on this theory done in the 1960s by the psychobiologist and Nobel Prize winner Roger W. Sperry revealed that the left hemisphere of the brain is more geared toward abstract and analytical thought, calculation and linguistic ability, while the right hemisphere is more important for comprehending spatial patterns and complex sounds like music.
Can this be true? Can our personalities and behaviors be predetermined by hemispherical brain activity? Not so much, according to Dr. Robert H. Shmerling, Faculty Editor at Harvard Health Publishing. He states “individual personality traits, such as creativity or a tendency toward the rational rather than the intuitive, have little or no evidence supporting a residence in one area of the brain.”
This got me thinking about when I see articles or books stating, if you’re creative and you like art, you must be a right-brain thinker; if you’re analytical and you like puzzles, you must be a left-brain thinker. So does this then mean that brain distinction research done in the ’60s is a myth?
Results of a 2008 study by Robert Epstein, PhD, demonstrated that by developing four core areas, people can enhance their brain’s ability to innovate. The areas are:
- Capture New Ideas
- Engage in challenging tasks
- Broaden knowledge
- Interact with stimulating people and places (my personal fave)
In this study, 74 employees took part in creativity training consisting of exercises that focused on these four proficiencies. Eight months after the training, the employees increased their rate of new idea generation by 55%, brought in more than $600,000 in new revenue and saved about $3.5 million through innovative cost reductions.
Do you still think you’re a right-brain or a left-brain thinker?
True, some people may have more trouble than others freely navigating between the creative and the analytical, making them appear more left-brained or right-brained. But scientists like Dr. Epstein agree that the ability to shift rapidly between these different styles of thinking can be sharpened and improved.
How do you shift? Focus on and develop those four core areas and experience how powerful the brain really is. Seek out fresh ideas that are different from your own. Challenge yourself by picking up a new skill on your bucket list—we could all stand to exercise more and learn a new language. Pick something you’ve always been curious about and let that Wikipedia tangent rip! Also, travel and make new friends. Duh.
The bottom line is that the two sides of the brain should not be thought of as radically different. The research suggests that while hemispheres have subtly distinct processing styles, mental processes are shared among both sides. They don’t function exclusively, but instead complementarily. Don’t let yourself be told you that you aren’t creative or that logical thinking isn’t for you. It’s all in your head!