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Left vs Right Brain

  1. Oct 27, 2014 #1
    Sorry if this post is too speculative, but it intrigues me so much. Is their any evidence between right and left brain usage correlating with a particular skill, such as an artist or scientist? As an artist, I've wondered if their was scientific reasoning behind skill and free will, besides memory and repetition.

    For example, you can be greatly interested in a subject such as the universe and physics, but that doesn't necessarily mean you can learn and comprehend the subject. I once dreamed of being a Physicist or Astronomer of sorts, but saw how I hated math so much, not the basics mind you, and just pursued what I enjoyed and did best. I used to think the brain as being a hard drive of sorts, new information can take the place of old, or mix with it, but I see now it's way more complex than that, like some parts are favored for some apparent reason.

    Creativity, as I understand it, has to do with accessing memories and being able to combine them in different ways. Often times those memories are irrelevant to even be remembered in the first place, and I come up with weird random things.

    I found an interesting article here that explains it differently, though it could be hogwash according to you experts. What do you think on this subject?

    This post looks disorganized with possible grammar issues, sorry for that. I never go to forums often either, so I might be misunderstood.

    Last edited: Oct 27, 2014
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  3. Oct 27, 2014 #2


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    What online scores? You do realize that such things on the internet are made up games at best?
  4. Oct 27, 2014 #3
    Very true, which is why I deleted that from the post now, I just figured after taking 4 or so, I might get a "ballpark" answer if averaged, but I never took it seriously. There wasn't another way that I knew of so I took the short quizzes anyway awhile back, as stupid and llogical as they were, no other way I know of.
    Last edited: Oct 27, 2014
  5. Oct 27, 2014 #4

    Simon Bridge

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    I was thinking: where is the question?

    The left-right brain paradigm is a well known bit of junk.
    ... and elsewhere. Commentary and studies are easy to find.

    Off the BBC article linked in post #1:
    The research, published in NeuroImage, suggests that an artist's talent could be innate.
    But training and environmental upbringing also play crucial roles in their ability, the authors report.​
    ... i.e. nothing new here. It is also unclear how the article is supposed to link to your post.
    Note: The journal, NeuroImage, is mostly about imaging the brain.

    ... "no other way" to do what?
  6. Oct 27, 2014 #5
    Ha, I can already see that this post is going nowhere and I'd rather not maintain it with my limited knowledge on the subject. My question was, "If their was evidence for a particular skill correlating with the brain and what part exactly", the article just explains that their appears to be a correlation with art, though I'm not sure how reliable the information is honestly. And if this post is silly enough, really, just lock or delete it mods I'm ok with that. I already know little is known about the brain, which is why I hesitated to post this to be honest. I'm not particularly good on forums either so please understand.

    As far as "no other way to do what", I had posted stupid averaged left right brain usage from a variety of quizzes, but their very inaccurate, I deleted them from my post as such. Good article by the way.

    One thing I didn't bring up was how people who suffer brain damage sometimes lose a skill, or gain a different one etc. Though I doubt this is understood yet. Thanks!
    Last edited: Oct 27, 2014
  7. Oct 27, 2014 #6

    Simon Bridge

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    ... then what?
    That is not a complete question. Without a question, the post is certain to go off track. Did you mean this bit:
    ... turning a "wondering" into a question is an important scientific skill. We can wonder all we like but it won't get us anywhere.

    Skill acquisition and use is studied in neuroscience. The issue of free will would require a solution to the mind-body problem - as I think most possible rephrasing of your "wondering" into a question will end up needing. The field you need is philosophy - I think Dan Dennet is still prominent in this discussion. But I suspect it is too philosophical for here.

    You seem reluctant to say what you were trying to learn from averaging out certain unnamed and unreferenced quizzes. It is unlikely that this method is really the only way to go about it, but, unless we know what "it" is, we cannot help.

    I'm not trying to get at you or anything with these comments: part of the PF mission statement is to help people learn how to talk to scientists.
    You will probably wonder about other things in the future and feel moved to try to talk about them with us or other scientists ... the point of the above comments is to help you focus your questions to get the most out of the people you talk to.

    It's all good - enjoy.
  8. Oct 27, 2014 #7
    No problem Simon, I love to learn, except math lol. I guess to rephrase the question the best I can, "How do parts of the brain relate to a specific skill-set and why are certain things preferred for one brain and not anothers, such as a person with brain damage becoming a musician, but not before an accident?" Now off the top of my head, I'd have to say it's a highly complex combination of the different parts picking up the load that was lost in the damaged area, yet the article says the Precuneus is related with what we call, an artist, get rid of that, how would it affect the brain?

    So in a nutshell, what do you know about how the different parts work with each other and form into the brain of someone who enjoys something specific and is good at it. I'm probably still very unclear and it sounds like a very hard question, I should've thought better before posting in the first place, brain fart.

    I like philosophy, but if the thread is turning into it, I'm not interested myself, I like some evidence. I have a new question as well. Is free will really regarded as philosophy? I've always seen it as something that's true and inescapable, I view a human for example as nothing but an organic robot with a consciousness on a fundamental level, what you do is predetermined so to speak. Though I suppose that itself is philosophical and we won't know till the far future.

    Another article about region believed to be responsible for consciousness...


    Article about brain damage and different people gaining something from it. (caution: some language and cornyness)


    At any case, this thread can be about your opinions on the subject generally.
    Last edited: Oct 28, 2014
  9. Oct 28, 2014 #8


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    It's true that there are a lot of myths about left brain vs. right brain, but it's also true that lateralization exists: some behaviors and traits are associated with more activity in one hemisphere than the other, and the corresponding hemisphere can have larger nuclei or stronger connectivity. Language is a common example, but be careful not to extrapolate. Language lateralization is statistical: most people have language mostly in their left hemisphere, but many do not and left-handers are more likely to have it in their right hemisphere than right handers, but for both groups left brain language dominance is more common.
    Last edited: Oct 28, 2014
  10. Oct 28, 2014 #9
    Very interesting Pythagorean, it seems like the brain doesn't really have to follow a specific commonness among people and can be flexible.
  11. Oct 29, 2014 #10
    I think the thread has made progress though, agreeing on that a full right-left side lateralization isn't present. And your reference supports that:

    "She said it should help "put to rest the facile claims that artists use 'the right side of their brain' given that increased grey and white matter were found in the art group in both left and right structures of the brain"."

    On the initial subject, "Is their [sic] any evidence between right and left brain usage correlating with a particular skill,", there is a correlation. Taxi drivers see a lot of gray matter growth in the posterior hippocampus - " the part of the brain in charge of memory and spatial navigation" - as a result of their training.

    If we ask for causality instead of mere correlation, it seems by lateral (long time) studies that this is due to brain plasticity:

    " "By following the trainee taxi drivers over time as they acquired — or failed to acquire — 'the knowledge,' we have seen directly and within individuals how the structure of the hippocampus can change with external stimulation.""

    [ http://www.livescience.com/17376-london-taxi-drivers-brain.html ]

    Your reference may report the same plasticity on behalf of artists. ""It falls into line with evidence that focus of expertise really does change the brain. The brain is incredibly flexible in response to training and there are huge individual differences that we are only beginning to tap into.""

    So there is a response to training, but the response is individual. (This is perhaps no surprise, the brain reacts to repeated use much as the other parts of our body.) On the one hand this could all be due to small but perhaps noticeable differences in structures that make some respond better. On the other hand it may all be due to small differences in "brain chemistry", how well we produce proteins et cetera responsible for the plastic response. Most likely it is "all of the above", similar to how length is not a simple response to either a few genes or environment.

    Incidentally, both US and Europe has brain projects that are trying to tease apart the overall but also detailed structure and function (including metabolic and regulatory) of the brain. Hopefully that could spur more tangible results than plasticity, interesting but also hard to get to the details of.
    Last edited: Oct 29, 2014
  12. Oct 29, 2014 #11
    Thanks Torbjorn! That was well explained indeed. Like you say, I guess the brain can mold like plastic (to some degree) into what you do with repetition and memory, it also helps if your actually interested in said actions as well. I'm seeing it all quite different now! Besides learning about the universe, the brain is one intriguing subject to talk about, it seems we know little solid facts yet of how both work.

    What I think plays a role as well is what you grow up with, being chased as a kid for example of an artist murderer might have changed me, silly as that is. I often study myself to understand why I do a particular action and not another, but that usually goes nowhere! I remember somewhere that the memories your most fond of and relate to are around 20 years old and it stays that way, but I could be wrong. :p
  13. Nov 22, 2014 #12
    For anyone that's followed any of my posts through the years (and I'm guessing they are few:w), you'd know that I'm I big believer in the left brain right brain dichotomy of human cognition. The evidence for this is substantial, and too voluminous to list here, but for the interested, I recommend a good recent book by Gazzaniga: https://www.amazon.com/Human-Science-Behind-Makes-Unique/dp/0060892897

    In short, lateralization of brain dynamics in hominoids was driven by preferred handedness, which is dominant right in the vast majority of individuals but not all. The right arm and hand evolved to enable and facilitate complex, hierarchically organized sequential movements involved in object manipulation in our ancestors. The information from this right hand activity is grossly represented in the contralateral hemisphere and only very limitedly represented in the ipsilateral hemisphere. Therefore, these hierarchically, sequentially based cognitive skills such as language and mathematics are biased to the left hemisphere in right handed individuals (in general). The situation is somewhat the opposite in left handed individuals but you cross some grey areas, etc.

    In any case, if you want to educate yourself on the matter, just look at the classic split-brain studies and if that doesn't make you a believer, then I don't know. My interest in the left brain/right brain issue, however, really has to do with education. Specifically math education. I think there are left brain learners and right brain learners, and each needs to be taught this important discipline in essentially an entirely different fashion. You can't take a right brain learner and just post a big line of equations on the board and expect them to pick it up as "naturally" as a left brain learner. A right brain learner thinks in pictures, and learns mathematics best through visual analogies. And they can learn math just as well as any left brain learner, it just takes them typically more time and they need to learn it in a different way. However, most don't get the chance because they attend universities where they have left brain biased mathematicians teaching the math courses. Subsequently, they typically drop out of the STEM path. I've seen this happen so often it's sad. Really bright and promising people I have known throughout the years taking different paths because they were forced to learn this stuff in a way that is unnatural for them.
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  14. Nov 22, 2014 #13

    Simon Bridge

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    Its important to be specific about what you mean by the left-right brain dichotomy.
    Popular books aside, can you cite any recent peer reviewed studies that will shed light on the extent to which the dichotomy exist.

    I don't think Nature cares what we believe.
  15. Nov 22, 2014 #14


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    I personally don't think dichotomy is the right word. It implies opposite - mutual exclusivity, but that doesn't really make sense in the context of trait-specific lateralization. Language, for instance, being more dominant in the left hemisphere, doesn't have an "opposite" in the right hemisphere. But perhaps I misunderstand Dirac.
  16. Nov 22, 2014 #15
    Suppose we start writting, playing tennis etc. equally frequent with both arms. How long it will take "weaker side" to catch up?
  17. Nov 22, 2014 #16


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    In most people (right handed or left handed) language dominance is in the left hemisphere. You're about seven times more likely to have it in the right hemisphere if you are left handed, but the majority of left-handers still have left hemisphere language dominance. Quantitatively, right-hemisphere dominance has a 27% occurrence for left-handers and a 4% for right handers, whereas it's 15% occurence for ambidextrous.

  18. Nov 22, 2014 #17
    Perhaps "dichotomy" is too strong a word. Maybe replace that with "specialization," "asymmetry," or "lateralization." You're right, these lateralized roles for the left and right hemisphere are more biases in processing roles than clear cut modularized distinctions.

    That's where the "in general" and "grey areas" phrases come in :D

    Last edited: Nov 22, 2014
  19. Nov 22, 2014 #18
    The only "belief" part of my post (#12) was my speculation on the role of lateralization in math education, and I stated that that was a speculation. The existence of said lateralization, on the other hand, is not a belief but a fact.

    Let's go with laterization/specialization instead of "dichotomy" per Pythagorean (my apologies). Lateralization of cognitive functions is a well-researched and accepted model in contemporary cognitive neuroscience. Run a search in pubmed and you'll find several hundred empirical studies relating to the matter: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/?term=hemispheric+lateralization

    Here's a specific link to a recent spate of empirical and review articles on the matter http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4189433/
  20. Nov 22, 2014 #19

    Simon Bridge

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    That's a lot of hits sure - of varying quality.

    The pubmed articles talk about a "lateralization" in the sense that different hemispheres appear associated with different tasks. The top hits concern neuromuscular functions for instance.

    The popular left-right model reverses that: proposes that an individuals character is determined, in part, by a dominance of one side over the other...
    i.e. lateralization in maths education speculation and post #1 in this thread.

    The "left-right" brain stuff (used to be called hemisphericity - but the term is a tad vague these days) is a well known pseudscience... so it is probably best to refer to the actual science as "hemispheric lateralization" and take pains to distinguish them.

    Hemisphericity in learning:

    Multi-metric tests for hemisphericity:

    So I suspect we are talking about different things.
  21. Nov 22, 2014 #20


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    I think the specific claim that needs citations is that there are "left brain learners" and "right brain learners", and that they are a significant proportion of the population. I don't disagree that learning styles and teaching styles can clash, but I doubt that the story is explained by hemisphero-typing people.
  22. Nov 22, 2014 #21
    I disagree. Granted, it’s not likely the whole story, I but I believe it is a significant part of it.

    Well, the problem there is that a rigorous analysis of the subject would pre-require that we have an agreed upon theory of mathematical learning, which we don’t. This is why I framed my hypothesis here as speculative. Plus, research into this area is rather scant as far as I can tell, although I haven’t done a tremendous amount of research into it.

    That said, one thing I can do as a responsible scientist is make a prediction of what I think would be found in a hypothetical targeted study. We can get fancy with it, but let’s just stick to the conventional BOLD fMRI study. My prediction would be that, if you took a sample of university students studying various academic disciplines (not just math majors), and asked them if they thought of themselves as left brain or right brain learners, the ones that designated themselves right brain learners would show a greater amount of right central executive (prefronto-parietal) network (CEN) activation than the self-designated left brain learners. To be more specific, both would show bilateral CEN activation, but there would be a small but significant bias to the right CEN in self-proclaimed right brain learners. How would we define such learners? We would define right brain learners as those who state that they learn mathematical/physics principles better through visual analogies rather than a rote memorization of calculating operations. Left brain learners would constitute the latter category. That would be the criterion.

    Do we have any extant empirical studies that could be of relevance to this hypothesis? Again, I’m not prepared to do any extensive research here, but I did dig out a few studies as a cursory glance that may have some relevance, per your (Pythagorean) request.


    “Slow solvers exhibited greater frontal theta activities in the right hemisphere, whereas an inverse pattern of hemispheric asymmetry was found in fast solvers…These findings provide a better understanding of cortical activities mediating math-based problem solving and knowledge acquisition that can ultimately benefit math learning and education.”

    Recall that I stated in my above post that right brain learners are relatively slow learners compared to left brain learners.


    “All 14 patients with left-lateralized language showed better arithmetic performance with the left hemisphere (intracarotid amobarbital procedure right), while five out of six patients with bilateral or right-hemispheric language representation showed better performance with the right hemisphere (intracarotid amobarbital procedure left). Furthermore, in patients with left-lateralized language, an interaction between intracarotid amobarbital procedure and type of arithmetic operation was found. The study suggests a close association between language lateralization and hemispheric specialization for arithmetic processing.”

    This study implies an asymmetry in individuals which suggests a distinction between left and right brain learners.


    “We investigated whether normal variations in the degree of left hemispheric asymmetry in areas involved in sentence listening and reading are mirrored in the asymmetry of areas involved in mental arithmetic…Specifically, the profile of asymmetry in the posterior superior temporal sulcus during sentence processing covaried with the asymmetry of calculation-induced activation in the intraparietal sulcus, and a similar colateralization linked the middle frontal gyrus with the superior posterior parietal lobule. Given recent neuroimaging results suggesting a late emergence of hemispheric asymmetries for symbolic arithmetic during childhood, we speculate that these colateralizations might constitute developmental traces of how the acquisition of linguistic symbols affects the cerebral organization of the arithmetic network.”

    This study further suggests an asymmetry between individuals in arithmetic acquisition that mirrors the development of the language-cognitive system, which, in turn, reflects how an individual frames their cognitive world, either that of being biased toward (left) logico-sequential or (right) visuo-spatial.

    As a disclaimer, I did not read these full articles because they are behind a paywall, so I’m just going off the abstracts in this cursory treatment. However, my prediction still stands, and I believe that any serious enquiry into the subject will show that this left brain right brain learner asymmetry exists and is highly relevant.
  23. Nov 23, 2014 #22


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    Thank you for digging those up, I hope to take a look at them soon.
  24. Nov 23, 2014 #23


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    Ok, criticisms of the first study: Only on 11 people (9 males and 2 females) - only two slow learners were in the group (they didn't sort results by sex at all so not sure which two) and it wasn't a smooth correlation between solving latency (SL, the x-axis below) and hemispheric dominance (vertical axis), there were just two people that had a high brain activity asymmetry and were also slow math solvers. You can see the subjects ordered by latency time here: The bar shows the degree of laterality but subjects are ordered from fastest to slowest.

    The two slow learners may actually have a subtle (non-clinical) deficiency in processing, rather than being representative "left brain learners". Anyway, they can't be terribly representative, given there's only two of them.

    Second study: My institution doesn't have access to the second journal, but the abstract does actually seem more stronger for the case that you're making. However, this primary issue with it is that it is only epilepsy patients, not a representative experimental group. However, from both of these studies, a completely different conclusion we can come to is that when there's deficiencies in a lateralized function, there's no mirror hemispheric processing center to take over the function - that is, it's not the left hemisphere is working harder in the slow-learners, it's that the relevant right hemisphere component is deficient and underperforming.

    Third article. Again, I'm not sure this is saying what you think it's saying. In the abstract, there was a particular sentence you excluded from your quote:

    This paper is basically just acknowledging lateralization as a subcortical region-specific phenomena rather than a whole hemisphere phenomena.

    I'd also note that none of this pertains to learning - to demonstrate right-brain / left-brain learning, experiments with learning and retention tests need to be done, not just timing the solving of a problem.
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