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Thursday, April 10, 2014

Thursday's Psychology Trivia: T or F: Analytical People Are Left-Brained while Creatives Are Right-Brained?

Thought for the Day: Here in New England, everyone seems to be basking in the rays of sunlight which have been doled out in small doses over the past week or two. Somehow Mother Nature has not been convinced that we have had enough cold wintery weather for the year. Hopefully, the frequency of sunny days will increase and spring will take over. Hopefully today's Psychology Trivia question will help you pass some time and ignore any remnants of wintery weather that are still around. Here's the question:
True or False: Logical, methodical and analytical people are left-brain dominant, while the creative and artistic types are right-brain dominant. 
What do you think the answer is?  

     You may be as surprised as I was when I read the answer to this question. Pop psychology has tricked us all into buying into this theory. Coaching businesses continue to market multiple personality tests and leadership training courses based on theories that you are either left-brained, i.e., analytical or right-brained, i.e., creative. However, the answer to the question is: FALSE. 
     Although recent studies totally debunk this theory, given the number self-help books and coaching practices based on them it would be hard for you to know that the research simply does not support them. Pop culture myths do not get changed easily.
      In August of 2013, scientists at the University of Utah, led by Jeff Anderson, M.D., Ph.D. looked at MRI brain scans of over 1000 subjects (“An Evaluation of the Left-Brain vs. Right-Brain Hypothesis with Resting State Functional Connectivity Magnetic Resonance Imaging.”). Anderson reported that, 
“It’s absolutely true that some brain functions occur in one or the other side of the brain. Language tends to be on the left, attention more on the right. But people don’t tend to have a stronger left- or right-sided brain network. It seems to be determined more connection by connection. ”
      You may be thinking, "What difference does it make whether the brain really functions according to this theory. Is there harm in thinking that you are either a left-brained, analytical thinker or a right-brained creative person?" It may seem trivial, however, to me this misconception is significant.
     It reminds me of the controversy over IQ scores in the early days of psychological testing. IQ scores were given to parents. Some children were labeled as "geniuses," "average," or "retarded." Parents and children in the high IQ group would boast about their scores. This led to superiority complexes and social conflicts for may children and the adults they became. At times these "geniuses" became slackers who avoided hard work falsely assuming their innate brain power would lead to success in life. The negative implications of being labeled "average" or "retarded" were even more devastating leading to lack of motivation. Today we know IQ is a complex phenomenon made of of multiple aspects of intelligence, not a single defining number. Therefore, we speak about strengths and weaknesses and ranges of IQ scores.
     When we lead people to believe that they are either left or right-brained, we send a similar message that somehow this is an inalterable personality type. As a clinical psychologist, I encourage people to learn and grow throughout their lives. Even though many of the building blocks of our personalities are learned early in life, our ability to enhance both our logical and creative sides does not stop at any given moment in time. What do you think? Have these labels beneficial? Could believing your child is left or right-brained be harmful to their development? Does this labeling help you grow or lead to making you feel that you cannot change?

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