Right and Left Brain
The article in which I chose to examine is called Right Brain, Left Brain: Fact and Fiction, written by Jarre Levy. Jarre Levy, a psychologist at the University of Chicago, has been at the forefront of scientists who are trying to dispel the notion that we have two separately functioning brains. In the past fifteen years or so there has been a lot of talk of left brain and right brain people. Levy’s reason for writing this article was clearly to stop the misconceptions and show the truth about how our brain hemispheres operate.
Levy first explores the myth of the left brain and right brain theory. She states that generally people see the left hemisphere of the brain controlling logic and language and the right, creativity and intuition. In addition people differ in their styles of thought, depending on which half of the brain is dominant. She believes that most of what these notions state is false.
The article explores the history of this fascination of the left and right hemispheres of the brain. The study of this aspect of the brain traces back to time of Hippocrates. In ancient Greek times psychologists believed that the left side of the brain controlled all of the brains major functions. Levy weaves in and out of the various theories and prominent people known for contributing to this confusion.
Not until 1962 when Roger W. Sperry began experimenting on certain aspects of the brain did contributions to the truth of the left and right brain theory emerge. Sperry studied people who had undergone surgical division of the corpus callosum, the bridge between the two hemispheres of the brain. 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. Branching off of Sperry’s studies was psychologist Doreen Kimura. Kimura developed behavioral methods which involved presenting visual stimuli rapidly to either the left or right visual fields, and developed a method known as “dichotic listening,” which centered around the use of sound to study the hemispheres. Through these tests and studies the theory that the left brain controlled both hemispheres ended. Instead a new theory was born known as the two-brain theory. This stated that at different times of thought only one of the two hemispheres of the brain would be operating. One example of this is when an artist paints the right hemisphere is in control but when a novelist is writing a book the left hemisphere is in control. This theory failed because physical studies showed that people with hemispheres surgically disconnected could operate in everyday life. Also, research demonstrated that each hemisphere had its own functional expertise, and that the two halves were complementary to one another. The author summarizes the new theory of the brain s two hemispheres in five simple points. First, the two hemispheres are so similar that when they are disconnected by split-brain surgery, each can function remarkably well, although quite imperfectly. Secondly, although they are remarkably similar they are also different. The differences are seen in contrasting contributions. Each hemisphere contributes something to every action a person takes. Next, logic is not confined to the left hemisphere. Although dominant in the left logic is present in the right hemisphere. Also there is no evidence that either creativity or intuition is an exclusive property of the right hemisphere. Finally, 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. She claims that it is precisely because each hemisphere has separate functions that we must integrate their abilities instead of separating them. She believes through such integration that the brain will be able to perform in ways that are greater than and different from the abilities of either side alone.
When you read a story, for example, your right hemisphere is specializing in emotional content, which includes humor, visual and artistic appreciation and keeping track of the story as a whole structure. At the same time the left hemisphere is understanding the written words, deriving meaning from sentences and translating words to phonetic sounds so that they may be understood as language. The reason you are able to read, understand, and appreciate a story is that your brain functions as a single, integrated structure. (Levy, 1985, p.43)
Levy comes to the conclusion 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. The popular myths are interpretations and wishes, not observations of scientists. Normal people have not half a brain, nor two brains, but one gloriously differentiated brain, with each hemisphere contributing its specialized abilities. She concludes, We have a single brain that generates a single mental self.”(Levy, 1985, p.44)