Friday, October 9, 2015

Left Brain, Right Brain is a Myth. Suggestions on Teaching Critical and Creative Thinking

Too many faculty are still using the theory of left-brain, right-brain dominance although newer scientific research has shown that it is a myth.   The theory is that people who are logical and analytical are left-brain dominant and people who are creative and artistic are right-brain dominant.  There are many assessments and exercises designed to stimulate left or right brain thinking. 

The origin of this myth is the work done by Roger Sperry whose famous studies of the 1960’s resulted in a Nobel Prize in Medicine in 1981.  He worked with patients who suffered from epilepsy and discovered a cure by cutting the corpus callosum which connects the two halves of the brain.  These split brain patients were able to live a near normal life.  Newer cures sever only part of the corpus callosum.  His studies showed that the left side of the brain specializes in analytical and verbal tasks.  The right side of the brain specializes in spatial perception, music and emotion. 

The misconception is that analytical thought is done only on the left side and creative tasks are done only on the right side and that one side of the brain dominates the other.  Newer scientific findings show that it is the connections between the two hemispheres that enable us to think analytically and creatively. 

Scientists at the University of Utah have done brain imaging on over 1000 brains and found that people use the entire brain equally when doing analytical and creative tasks and there is no evidence that people are right-brained or left-brained.  They concluded that, "We just don't see patterns where the whole left-brain network is more connected or the whole right-brain network is more connected in some people.  It may be that personality types have nothing to do with one hemisphere being more active, stronger, or more connected."

In a recent video, Dr. Neil DeGrasse Tyson debunked the myth of left-brain, right-brain theory and says it is a result of being intellectually lazy.  People take scientific findings and misinterpret them and spread misinformation which few people question.  It is easy to put a label on someone because it reduces the need to think about each individual.  He says, "Don't call me left-brained or right-brained.  Call me human."  Click this link to watch his three minute video.

If left-brain, right-brain dominance is a myth, how do we help our students to develop analytical and creative thinking?  Here is an outline of the material I am using to help students to develop these skills.

Critical Thinking
            Fallacies in reasoning
            The critical thinking process
            Universal intellectual standards to assure quality thinking: clarity,
                    accuracy, precision, relevance, depth, breadth, logic, and fairness
            Critical thinking over the Internet
            How to recognize a scam
            Critical thinking and moral reasoning (Kohlberg)

Creative Thinking
            What is creativity?
            Divergent and convergent thinking
            The creative process: sensitivity, synergy and serendipity
            Creative thinking techniques: brainstorming, relaxed attention,
                   visualization,imagination, and humor

Read my chapter, “Thinking Critically and Creatively” by clicking this link.  

The new 7th Edition of College and Career Success includes two chapters on practical learning strategies based on brain science.  

If you would like a Word document of this blog to share with other faculty, contact me at 

Some Relevant References:

“Left Brain vs. Right: It's a Myth, Research Finds”

 “The Split Brain Experiments”

"Researchers Debunk Myth of "Right-brain" and Left-brain Personality Traits."