Robert Bacal en beBee in English, Psychologists, English Book author • McGraw Hill, Complete Idiot's Guides 12/10/2016 · 4 min de lectura · 2,0K

Left Brain, Right Brain - Why everything you believe about the two "parts of the brain" is wrong by Robert Bacal

Left Brain, Right Brain - Why everything you believe about the two "parts of the brain" is wrong by Robert Bacal

Left Brain, Right Brain - Why everything you believe about the two "parts of the brain" is wrong by Robert BacalOf all the myths people hold about how people behave (Psychology), the left brain, right brain "idea" is probably the most common. No doubt you've heard of thinking with the left brain, or thinking with the right brain, having been exhorted to use one or the other, for most of your life.

Unfortunately, this false distinction and the contention that different parts of the brains are so super-specialized is over-simplified and misleading.

It IS true there is some hemispheric specialization and that certain kinds of thinking are associated with the two different sides of the brain. Function are somewhat "assigned" to different brain sections, but we now know that the "assignments" are not fixed, and can be modified through experience, learning and training.

The term used to describe brain flexibility is called neuroplasticity and it reflects our newer understanding that brain structure AND function change with experience. For example, stroke victims often can "relocate" specfic functions to different parts of the brain than were originally assigned the tasks originally. That's why stroke victims can regain abilities, like speech, reading, and memory that existed in parts of the brain that no longer work correctly.

Apart from neuroplasticity, there is a much bigger misunderstanding of the brain that gives rise to our tendency to see it as a collection of individual parts.

Brain as Complex System. Brain As Mechanical Machine

Left Brain, Right Brain - Why everything you believe about the two "parts of the brain" is wrong by Robert BacalBrains are systems. That is the sum of the brain parts is MUCH greater than the simple addition of the functions of the parts. A system is usually something that has strong inter-relationships among the parts, such that part A can affect part B, while part B is also affecting part A. Multiply that by hundreds of brain sub-sections, and you can see why even the best scientists don't fully understand how the brain works.

If part A affects part B and part B is affected by what part A does, and part C affects both and is affected by both, the interactions, even if we had just three brain "parts" the possible set of interactions becomes huge, and outcomes become unpredictable unless we know exactly the relationships of each part, or in terms of the brain, each neuron, synapse and brain transmitter. Not only that but it becomes nonsensical to say "part A does this" and "part B does this" because neither part can do it's job without the other.

To keep it simple, consider this. There have been situations where individuals have had the connecting links between the two hemispheres severed. The connecting element is called the corpus collosum. On occasion the victims of accidents have had the connecting portion rendered inoperative, and in other situations, it has been deliberately cut to try to address severe symptoms of other diseases, most notably epilepsy.

In any event, these people have been studied, even, filmed on various tasks to see what happens. Literally, one ends up with a situation where the left hand doesn't know what the right hand is doing. The person is rendered impaired with respect to all kinds of function, even though the left brain and the right brain are left completely intact.

The example illustrates that the brain doesn't work in pieces. It can only be meaningfully considered as a whole system. If all you do is interfere with the brain's ability for the parts to communicate, and have every actual sub-part intact, you get a severely limited brain, and a person similarly limited. The parts are all there. But the SYSTEM cannot function because the inter-relationships among the parts are broken.

Why Do We Hold With This Misconception

Apart from the cognitive quirks that we use that are tied into information load processing, our beliefs about how the brain work are conditioned by many years of hearing the same things repeated over and over again and an outdated idea of the brain as a machine, much like an automobile, that has a part for mixing fuel and air, a part for warming up the car and so on. In the car, if you have a problem, you identify the faulty part, and since it's a relatively simple machine compared to a brain, you can fix the problem by replacing the part.

Brain systems are not mechanical machines. They are dynamic organs full of complex interactions, such that if one part is damaged, it doesn't mean a function is lost forever as would be the case in a broken automobile when a part breaks.

Unfortunately, we've had a mechanistic idea about the brain far longer than we've understood how dynamic and flexible the brain system is, and that notion is so embedded in our cultures that we no longer even know of the assumptions we use.


The left brain, right brain distinction, while inaccurate and misleading, may not actually be harmful in everyday life, PROVIDED we understand that it is not an accurate reflection of the brain. It is simply a metaphor to help us cope with some very complex issues. A creative and useful fiction perhaps, but one that, if taken literally can become confusing. Let's look at an example.

It's often suggested that to be creative involves using "right brain thinking". Except there's really no such thing. It, too is a metaphor. In fact creativity is a function of the WHOLE brain, left, right, cortex, amydala and all the other parts.

If ANY part is damaged so will the ability to "create".

But it gets even crazier when you ponder creativity. To produce a "creative" output, let's say a novel, or even a visual representation (painting, sculpture) requires the WHOLE brain. It requires the ability to think in pictures, or spatial relations, and all the other things you might associate with the right brain, but it also requires analytic (supposed left brain) thinking to produce the actual output. It involves the use of symbols, words and thoughts.

When you create (and everybody does to some extent), you draw from BOTH sides. The writer may be using "right brain thinking" to visualize a scene, for example, but the word choices he uses are from the "supposed left brain". Even the painter uses logical thought together with the more creative kinds of thinking, in order to produce a painting. How much ochre should be there? Is this shade too bright? Should that shadow be brighter?

In fact it's probably fair to say that no creative act of music, drama, writing, sculpture or problem solving can ever produce results using "one side of the brain" even if that was possible to do.

It's all bunk. To some degree it's not harmful bunk, as is the case with other Psychology myths. But it's bunk none the less.

And What About Mental Health Professionals? Trainers?

Belief in the left brain/right brain distinction, that is if the belief is held literally and as scientific truth, can tell you the degree of competence and expertise people have in their fields. If a therapist uses the distinction, and means it in a literal sense, he or she simply lacks enough understanding of brain function to realize it's wrong. There's lots out there who could be perfectly good therapists, at least up to a point, without understanding how brains work though.

Still it might be troubling. It would trouble me.

Likewise with trainers and group leaders. When I look at the competence and expertness of trainers and group leaders, I look for one critical element: Whether the person knows what he or she does not know.

There is nothing wrong with not knowing something. There IS something wrong if, as a teacher of others, one is teaching things that are wrong because one is ignorant of the topic.

Not knowing means not doing the proper self-education regarding the material one presents, and that REALLY worries me, because a trainer who is presenting false information about how people learn, is likely also doing things and presenting other information that is wrong, ineffective and inappropriate.

The repeating of any psychological myths on the part of professionals who should know better, and should know their limitations, is a good indicator of whether one should hire the person.

Of course, this would be extremely controversial in the training and helping industries, where trainers almost always lack enough training and education to have even a remote clue about how brains work. In fact often they know no more than the people the serve.

Be that as it may, it is what it is, but in other articles, particularly in the areas on learning styles and personality styles, you will see that this ignorance is far from harmless.

(back to main index page for PsychMyths)

Left Brain, Right Brain - Why everything you believe about the two "parts of the brain" is wrong by Robert Bacal

Praveen Raj Gullepalli 13/10/2016 · #47

Hi Bob! Thoroughly enjoyed all the comments and liked quite a rowdy few of them before I read your uncharacteristically long buzz. Oops sorry! I think you have had enough of all trainers who make it sound as if the left and right brain are two different things with distinct, disparate functions that need to be integrated (by Trainers like them) to increase corporate productivity and individual performance ;) What Gerry is saying is that at the cellular, anatomical, neurological levels the uniqueness of each hemisphere is true. And those distinctions do apply. A faulty bridge or connection can upset the entire mechanism, but so can a faulty part in the left or right, right? But your buzz sounds like it underestimates the neuro-scientific paradigm a bit and it is quite likely that folks might arrive at a conclusion early and overlook the hyperbole ;) I had responded to something by Ian a while ago...let me paste that response here..but let this not take us on another tangent :) : ''....While waiting for a close relative to emerge from a comatose state that lasted for 41 days after an accident, many a doctor told us that time and again that the human Brain was still a mystery and only 10% of it made sense to modern science! And that the average human uses only 10% of his/her brain for all functions. So it was wait and watch till he finally came through. But it wasn't the same person that went in. The multiple clots on the frontal lobe and the right hemisphere/side/part of his brain did something no one could understand or explain. Just like a hard drive with bad sectors/corrupt areas that will not function the same as before! The OS now has less functionality or limited functionality! The Brain is the closest to the barrier that separates matter from consciousness.Through the sensory complex of the Mind perhaps?....'' Okay end of that quote...time to pick up that guitar and sing a right brain song plucking with the left brain fingers maybe? :)

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Mark Anthony 13/10/2016 · #46

Correct me if I am mistaken but isn't Robert referring more to the dynamics , behaviours , learnings and thinking of the brain as a whole whereby Gerald is considering the science facts to date regarding the physical aspects of the brain. No doubt there is some overlap on the effects on people however , I would agree that the human brain is more than a machine and has many complex layers both physichal and psychodynamic .

Gerald Hecht 13/10/2016 · #45

#38 @Robert Bacal mature, coherent discussion -- with me? Hello?

Gerald Hecht 13/10/2016 · #44

#42 @Dean Owen I forgot about the time diff! Sorry...anyway I think I'm finished ; I tried my best to plug @Robert Bacal amazing and magical book; I only hope that I was able to be of some (however limited) service...

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Gerald Hecht 13/10/2016 · #43

#37 @Robert Bacal The original "Corpus Callosum patients" weren't rats they were humans suffering greatly --it was a desperate medical procedure designed to limit the focus in people suffering from the most severe types of Epilepsy that were intractable to any other available treatment. You could ask Ian; you don't seem very fun or knowledgeable about is amazing to me that they pay you to write Psychology Books! Could I trouble you to forward my resume??? I could also submit samples of my writing ---here's one of my recent "cut up rat runner" pieces

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Dean Owen 13/10/2016 · #42

#39 I am loving the show. But that was last night! 8am here now and I've moved on to bacon and eggs. Loving it as my knowledge on the subject is zero, so when someone writes with such authority, I tend to take every written word as gospel, not that I will ever be a doctor, but I totally understand this is serious stuff!

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Gerald Hecht 13/10/2016 · #41

#37 @Robert Bacal All kidding aside I hope and pray that you or anyone you know never suffers a severation any of the neural connections "discussed" here --I really wouldn't wish it on my worst enemy. Yes I am as serious as a heart attack about that --speaking of which; l recommend thinking of the heart as a single, simple pump...alternately pumping and resting in perfect harmony with the Universe!

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Robert Bacal 13/10/2016 · #40

#31 @Deb Helfrich Yes, it's hyperbole - the title of the article (there is no book). In no universe could anyone think that a sane, or partly sane person would mean such a thing literally. As I've said (I'm starting to repeat myself here), that behavior - almost any behavior requires the involvement of various parts of the brain, and nervous system for the behavior to occur.

One cannot "create" on one side of the brain, and produce something without involving other parts of the brain, hence the notion that the brain functions as a whole to result in behavior. It's really something we can all grasp.

The left brain--right brain distinction (you know this side is creative, this is rational, etc) is much more a metaphor than a reality on the behavioral side of things, which is where my interests, and most people's interests lie. THanks for the comment.

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