Hey Brainiac: A Look into the Right vs Left Brain Dominance Debate

For almost all areas of life that exist within a binary, including politics, gender and optimism vs pessimism, there is a spectrum between the extremes. An area I find very interesting is the idea of right vs left-brained people. October is lauded as Right Brainers Rule month, so for this article, I will look at the history, theory and myths surrounding the idea that your brain functions better as a half rather than a whole. First, I will establish the differences between the right and left brain.


Left Brain is good for...

  • Language
  • Logic
  • Critical thinking
  • Numbers
  • Reasoning

a calculator covers a spreadsheet of expenses 777546 | Pixabay

Right Brain is good for…

  • Recognizing faces
  • Expressing, reading emotions
  • Creating music
  • Appreciating color
  • Imagining
  • Intuition
  • Creativity

Brush Painting Color Paint Daian Gan / Pexels


According to an article published by VeryWell Mind, the theory of right vs left brain dominance originates from the lateralization of brain functions. The two halves of the brain communicate with one another through the corpus callosum—think of this as a bridge! Each side of the brain controls the inverse side of the body, AKA left-brain controls the right-body and the right-brain controls the left-body. 


So, where does the history of this debate come into play?


History & Research

From the same VeryWell Mind article, it was stated that myths about the side brains’ dominance grew from observations that were then exaggerated. The theory was established by Roger W. Sperry who examined patients that had their corpus callosum—the bridge—severed to help them deal with diagnosed epilepsy, a condition that causes seizures. It was during this study that Sperry deduced language was processed by the left-brain. Sperry wasn’t wrong to suggest that different sides of the brain handle distinct features, but the two halves need to work together to be stronger. He also received a Nobel Prize in 1981 for the study.


In an interview with Discover magazine, science writer Carl Zimmer said, “The pop psychology notion of a left brain and a right brain doesn’t capture their intimate working relationship. The left hemisphere specializes in picking out the sounds that form words and working out the syntax of the phrase, for example, but it does not have a monopoly on language processing. The right hemisphere is more sensitive to the emotional features of language, tuning in to the slow rhythms of speech that carry intonation and stress.”


A 1,000-participant study from the University of Utah also showcased that people do prefer sides of their brain for certain tasks, but it wasn’t a down-and-out refusal to use the lesser side, either. 


So if there’s legitimate research to back up the importance of the pathway from left to right brain, why are the myths still around?


Pop Culture’s Role

Unfortunately for many aspects of science, the niche interests in studies were popularized through the creation of overgeneralized quizzes, charts and self-help books to determine people’s dominant brain side and serve as a science-based cash grab. 


The problem? 


It causes people to get too hung up on the dominant side and not prioritize the importance of the connection from left to right. 


Personal Reflection

This article is in no way meant to tell you that you’re wrong to assess your strengths and weaknesses based on what side of the brain they originate from. Because if I did that, I’d be hypocritical. Generally speaking, I connect on a deeper level to my functions from my right brain. I love to write and connect in my relationships through emotional intelligence. But I also find great peace in a well-organized planner and my ability to fine-tune my emotional responses with logical, pragmatic thinking. 


And my hope for those who read this is, 1 + 1 = 2, right + left = you. This month of October, appreciate all that our right brain does for us… just don’t downplay how its left-sided counterpart complements it. 


After all, aren’t we all just looking for our better half in life?