How many times have we taken part in or overheard conversations about how our creativity and analytical skills are respectively controlled by the right and left sides of the brain?
From the dinner party to the work conference, this notion of “right-brained” people being more creative and “left-brained” more logical and analytical has largely gone unchallenged – until now.
Recent research by neuroscientists at the University of Utah says it’s all a myth! The researchers debunked it after taking Functional MRI scans of over 1,000 people’s brains aged between seven and 29.
Each person was asked to think about “nothing in particular” while lying in the scanner for five to 10 minutes. Their “resting brain states” were then analyzed for evidence of more or less activity in either the right or left sides of the brain.
The researchers found that certain mental processes DID occur in one hemisphere or the other – so-called brain “lateralization.” But there was NO evidence that people used one side of the brain more than the other. Jared Nielsen, co-author of the research paper, said “…we just don’t see patterns where the whole left-brain network is more connected or the whole right-brain network is more connected in some people. It may be that personality types have nothing to do with one hemisphere being more active, stronger, or more connected.”
Image courtesy of “An Evaluation of the Left-Brain vs. Right-Brain Hypothesis with Resting State Functional Connectivity Magnetic Resonance Imaging” by Jared Nielsen, Brandon Zielinski, Michael Ferguson, Janet Lainhart, and Jeffrey Anderson.
British psychologist Jeremy Dean, writing about the findings on PsyBlog, points out that the discovery “doesn’t mean people aren’t more creative, while others more analytical and logical, just that it’s not accurate to say that creative people are more “right-brained.” It’s not their over-active right-brain that’s making them more creative; it’s their whole brain.”
These skills are not innate
Already a firm believer in the maxim that creativity and analytical skills can be taught, I feel that the “game changing” research breakthrough has torn up the rule book of received wisdom.
On pretty much every client project, we see examples of people hard at work, being logical and creative simultaneously. So how would you explain that? These skills aren’t innate – you just have to put the time in to build them. Malcolm Gladwell recommended at least 10,000 hours to become an expert!
So the idea that some functions are directed to either the left or right side of the brain remains intact. But the suggestion that some people have creative skills controlled by the right side, in opposition to people with analytical skills largely coordinated by the left, is ultimately flawed. There are people all around you – at work and play – some you’ll know personally (maybe it’s actually you) adequately displaying both skill sets.
At best, the “left-brain right-brain myth” may well endure in years to come – as a metaphor for the division of labor within the corporate space.