The left-brain right-brain myth stems from the common idea that your dominant personality traits are related to which side of your brain has more control. Supposedly, left-brained people are more logical, while right-brained people are more creative. This popular idea has been around for more than 200 years and has proliferated in the age of BuzzFeed personality quizzes, but it simply isn’t true. In reality, people use both sides of the brain equally, and logic and creativity are not mutually exclusive.
Mixing Fact with Fiction
It’s true each hemisphere of the brain controls different functions, but this fact doesn’t relate to personality. The misleading idea of left- vs. right-brained people originates from science and has become fictionalized over time.
Take The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, for example. Robert Louis Stevenson’s fictional characters represented the duality of human nature and explored the idea of a logical left brain (reasonable Dr. Jekyll) competing with an emotional right brain (instinctual Mr. Hyde).
People love to learn about their own psychology, and they crave definitive answers. We love classification schemes like astrology, Myers-Briggs and endless personality quizzes, even though, according to Inc., calling yourself “left-brained” or “right-brained” is totally meaningless.
What’s Really Happening on Each Side of the Brain
It’s not all fantasy. Certain areas of the brain do manage particular functions, such as movement and sight. For example, the left side of your brain controls your right arms and legs, and vice versa.
In the 1800s, neurologists Broca and Wernicke determined that their patients who were having trouble communicating had damage to the left temporal lobes, which suggested that the left brain controlled language, as explained by TedEd.
Additionally, Nobel Prize-winning research by Roger Sperry demonstrated in the 1960s that each hemisphere of the brain specializes in certain tasks. By studying epilepsy patients who have undergone a procedure that separates the left and right hemispheres of the brain, Sperry determined the left side of the brain handles analytical and verbal tasks, while the right half takes care of the spatial perception tasks and contributes emotional context to language.
Sperry explained, “‘The great pleasure and feeling in my right brain is more than my left brain can find the words to tell you,'” according to Nobelprize.org.
The results of this study and others have been misunderstood to link brain lateralization with individual personality traits, such as left-brained people being logical and right-brained people being perceptive. But according to Harvard Health blog, if you performed a CT scan, MRI or autopsy on the brain of a mathematician and compared it to the brain of an artist, you probably wouldn’t see a difference.
In fact, a 2013 University of Utah study on brain lateralization examined the brains of more than 1,000 people and found no evidence for people having a dominant side of the brain. Even though each side of the brain does more work for certain functions, such as language being localized on the left and attention on the right, this doesn’t vary by person. All of the study participants, whether they were engineers or musicians, used their entire brain equally, debunking the left-brain right-brain myth.
The Dangers of These Misconceptions
So-called left-brained people are described as: logical, analytical, and detail-oriented. Their worldview is objective and factual, so they are good at math, engineering and other fact-based tasks and careers. Right-brained people are considered: creative, perceptive, intuitive, freethinkers. Their worldview is subjective and expressive, so they’re destined for creative tasks and careers.
These distinctions may limit your potential. Yes, some people are especially logical or creative, but that doesn’t mean one side of their brain is more dominant than the other. Many logical tasks require creativity, and creative works are often rooted in logic. Thinking of people’s brains and personalities in such a divisive framework is false and restricting. Embrace what you’re good at and let your whole brain do the work.