Definition Right Brain vs. Left Brain
This theory of the structure and functions of the mind suggests that the two different sides of the brain control two different “modes” of thinking. It also suggests that each of us prefers one mode over the other.
Experimentation has shown that the two different sides, or hemispheres, of the brain are responsible for different manners of thinking. The following table illustrates the differences between left-brain and right-brain thinking:
Most individuals have a distinct preference for one of these styles of thinking. Some, however, are more whole-brained and equally adept at both modes.
In general, schools tend to favor left-brain modes of thinking, while downplaying the right-brain ones. Left-brain scholastic subjects focus on logical thinking, analysis, and accuracy. Right-brained subjects, on the other hand, focus on aesthetics, feeling, and creativity.
How Right-Brain vs. Left-Brain Thinking Impacts Learning
Curriculum–In order to be more “whole-brained” in their orientation, schools need to give equal weight to the arts, creativity, and the skills of imagination and synthesis.
Instruction–To foster a more whole-brained scholastic experience, teachers should use instruction techniques that connect with both sides of the brain. They can increase their classroom’s right-brain learning activities by incorporating more patterning, metaphors, analogies, role playing, visuals, and movement into their reading, calculation, and analytical activities.
Assessment–For a more accurate whole-brained evaluation of student learning, educators must develop new forms of assessment that honor right-brained talents and skills.
We also offer teaching techniques for right brain and left brain students and information about right brain vs. left brain functions in learning.
Bernice McCarthy, The 4-MAT System: Teaching to Learning Styles with Right/Left Mode Techniques.
Note: This article has been edited by Funderstanding
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In their study, Nielsen and company analyzed the brains of more than 1,000 people, aged 7 through 29, for clues of left- or right-brained dominance. Their highly precise measurement of 7,266 regions throughout the brain revealed some lateralization of function, but only locally, not globally. In other words, there were some regions that seemed to be more active in one hemisphere than another, but in no one was there an overall profile of left- or right-brain activation that dominated the other hemisphere.
Local activation of certain regions is actually the grain of neuro-truth that spawned the left-brain/right-brain myth. Yes, there are some brain regions in the left hemisphere that are more closely associated with, say, language production than the analogous bits in the right hemisphere. This was pioneered in the 1860s by the French neurologist Pierre Broca when he examined the brains of adults who had presented with language difficulties before their deaths. Broca noticed that all these patients had some damage to a specific region in their left frontal lobes while their right frontal lobes remained intact.
But it’s important to note that not every aspect of language is processed in this part of the left frontal lobe (“Broca’s area”). While patients with damage to this area had difficulty in producing language, they could still comprehend the meaning of words, a cognitive function that relies on both hemispheres.
There’s a similar example for math, another aspect of so-called left-brained thinking. Some aspects of math, like counting and reciting multiplication tables, seem to recruit the left hemisphere more than the right, while other aspects, like estimating the quantity of a set of objects, seem to recruit the right hemisphere more than the left.
This illustrates one of the facts we know for sure about the brain: every complex cognitive function is a result of the engagement of a network of multiple regions, distributed throughout both hemispheres, acting in coordinated ways. Many neuroscientists think about brain activity as a sort of neural concert, where individual players may have a stronger role during certain movements, but no one side of the orchestra always dominates.
The widespread belief in left-brained/right-brained thinking styles has led to a proliferation of teaching programs and technology that are designed to help teachers assess the “styles” of their students, and then teach to those styles. As I pointed out in my post on the myth of the 10 percent, this amounts to a massive misallocation of resources in support of programs based on faulty assumptions and no scientific evidence. And as Dylan Wiliam said in his post on the learning-styles myth, learning is actually more effective when it’s hard – so trying to match instruction to a particular style is not only based on faulty assumptions, it may actually reduce learning.
Whenever I discuss this and other neuro-myths with educators, I stress that these myths have likely become popular because they capture what every teacher knows: that students show individual differences in the ways they learn. But are these differences appropriately described by left/right-brained thinking, or by auditory/visual/kinesthetic styles? The science says probably not. Instead, research tells us that thinking about how students make meaning out of the information you’d like them to learn is a more appropriate way to think about individual differences in learning.