Right-brained vs left-brained: creative vs logical?

There’s a popular assumption that ‘right-brained’ people are more creative than their ‘left-brained’ counterparts. One of the reasons for this view, according to Philip Hesketh, a professional speaker on the psychology of persuasion, is because right brainers are often left-handed, and statistics prove that ‘lefties’ are disproportionately more successful in the world of the creative arts and sport.

Whenever I come across views like this I always say to myself – Yeah, but is it true?

Supporters of this theory point to the fact that while only about 15 per cent of the population is left-handed, ‘lefties’ account for a disproportionate number of the most successful musicians, artists and sports people of all time. From Van Gogh to Van Persie, Lionel Messi to Paul McCartney, Lady Gaga to Bill Gates. All very successful right-brained ‘lefties’.

However, there is a downside to being left-handed. Statistically, they’re more likely to be a schizophrenic, alcoholic, dyslexic criminal. Plus, they suffer more illness, have more accidents and tend to die younger.

So just when us right handers were feeling slightly miffed, it suddenly doesn’t seem quite so bad to be in the majority now does it? After all, scientists say that left brainers are blessed with better analytical skills and logical thinking.

Well hold your horses with both hands. Because some smarty pants at the University of Utah has blown a hole in the theory by examining the functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging scans of over 1,000 people. Researcher Jared Nielson asked participants to lie in a scanner for 10 minutes and think about nothing in particular. He then analysed the state of their ‘resting’ brain for evidence of more activity in one side or the other.

His conclusion? On the one hand, there was no evidence to suggest that one half of the brain was more active. But on the other hand, he couldn’t rule out that right-brained people might be more creative and left-brained folk more analytical.

That’s what you and I call sitting on the fence. We know that language processing is biased more towards the left-hand-side of the brain and attention is biased towards the right. But one side isn’t dominant over the other.

Summary? It seems we can put this into the urban myths file, along with the idea that we only use 10 per cent of our brain, women talk more than men and the two numbers in Pareto’s 80:20 rule must always add up to 100.

It seems far better to talk about people’s creativity or analytical skills without worrying whether they are left-brained or right-brained, especially since many people have plenty of both.

This was first published in the April issue of CN. Any comments? Email conferencenews@mashmedia.net

Paul Colston


Paul Colston

Managing Editor, Conference News & Conference & Meetings World.

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