Balanced Thinking (Balance amid Extremes - Part 4)
These posts began with the suggestion that the teaching of subjects in school is out of balance, that currently the emphasis is on science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, and that an imbalance of subject matter weakens student achievement. Next, I presented three examples of men who balanced their studies and work and are considered to be among the greatest minds of the last 500 years. Then we looked at an educational plan that balanced intellect and industry, so that dreams could put on work clothes and be achieved. This post will deal with balance within the brain itself or having a "balanced brain."
Our culture tends to rely upon labels. We use labels to categorize all aspects of life, including our personal lives and the people around us. For many, those labels are
"either-ors" which means something or someone is either one way or another ‒ liberal or conservative, Democrat or Republican, good or bad, black or white, rich or poor, fat or thin, smart or dumb, etc. The problem with labels is that we don't really live in an "either-or" world. That certainly is not to say that Truth is relative, but for the most part, life, events, and people are more like a platypus with a lot of influences blended together to make a unique individual.
Left-Brain vs. Right-Brain
Since the 1960s, there has been a lot of talk about "left-brain, right-brain." Tests run on epilepsy patients who had undergone surgery to cut the corpus callosum, the "super highway" which connects the two hemispheres of the brain, showed that the two hemispheres controlled different functions in behavior and learning. Much earlier studies of stroke and brain injury victims had led to the belief that the left hemisphere of the brain controls physical actions on the right side of the body and the right hemisphere controls the left side of the body. However, the studies made by Roger Sperry and Michael Gazzaniga of the epilepsy patients after surgery earned the scientists the Nobel Prize and gave psychology, particularly pop psychology, new labels for those seeking to better understand themselves and others.
Self-help books became the rage in the latter part of the twentieth century and tests for right-brain/left-brain fit the desire for explanations for behavior and programs for improvement. Because more people are right-handed than left-handed, it was declared that we live in a left-brained world that was in desperate need of right-brain creativity ‒ two extremes.
Books were written, programs developed, and classes taught to develop one's right hemisphere to increase creativity. Teacher education programs taught that the struggling students in classes were most likely frustrated right-brain learners who were bored by or couldn't understand the "traditional left-brained methods" schools had used for centuries. So millions of dollars were poured into developing programs that would make learning more "fun and creative" and thereby accessible to those right-brained students and expanding for the left-brainers. Parents started to become obsessed with encouraging creativity in their children to the detriment of discipline in some cases. In the enthusiasm to espouse creativity, logic and other attributes that were labeled "left brain" were forgotten or berated.
Truth or Myth?
If you were to research more into "left-brain, right-brain," you would find two sides to the topic ‒ one, that it is gospel, a proven theory, and one, that it is a myth ‒ again, two extremes. Even as early as the 1980s, neuroscientists were finding flaws in the theory that the left hemisphere strictly controlled logical thinking and the right controlled all creativity. As more recent testing is showing, although each hemisphere is responsible for certain functions, the most important factor in learning and productivity is communication between the two hemispheres.
In "Left Brain, Right Brain: Facts and Fantasies," an article in the January 2014 issue of PLOS Biology, Michael C. Corballes acknowledges that studies using magnetic resonance imaging of patients' brains show that there are "biases" in the brain. For example, vision and attention appear to be most often governed by the right hemisphere, and language and internal thought seem dominated by the left hemisphere. However, Corballes states: "Brain imaging shows, though, that creative thought activates a widespread network, favoring neither hemisphere."
As the plasticity of the brain is increasingly understood, neurotherapy has begun to focus on building connections within the brain. In those with brain injuries or damage from disease as well as in those whose connections were not completely formed, therapists are finding ways to help the brain make detours to redevelop the communication between parts of the brain. Stimulation from outside the brain often helps to build the needed connections. As a result, learning therapies such as Brain Balance in the Atlanta area have had high rates of success with students who struggle with learning or behavioral issues, and medical facilities such as the Shepherd Spinal Center, also in Atlanta, have been successful treating patients with brain damage from injury or disease.
There are even simple exercises that can be done at home to strengthen the communication lines between the two hemispheres and boost learning and retention within "normal" brains. These include using the non-dominant hand for simple tasks such as putting coins in a bank or picking up and moving items from one place to another. Two that I learned in a continuing education class for teachers are to just toss a ball from one hand to another between learning activities, and to quietly manipulate an object, perhaps rolling a ball between your fingers, with your non-dominant hand as you write with your dominant hand.
As more is learned about the brain and its functions, a balance between the disciples of "left-brain, right brain" theory and its myth-busters is likely to be approached. As Terence Hines wrote in 1987, "The brain is an astonishingly complex organ, and it is wrong to think of any higher cognitive function as being localized in any one area." Making connections within the brain is key.
Next time, I will bring the elements of these four posts together to connect them in full circle. In the meantime, you may like to read more about "left-brain, right-brain" and even take a "test" for fun.
For further investigation:
Corballes, Michael C. "Left Brain, Right Brain: Facts and Fantasies." PLOS Biology. Jan. 2014, Vol. 12, No. 1.
Goldman, Jason G. "Of Two Minds" Los Angeles Magazine. February 2015, p. 64-66.
Hines, Terence. "Left Brain/Right Brain Mythology and Implications for Management Training." Academy of Management Review. 1987, Vol. 12, No. 4, p.600-606.
Kalbfleusch, M. Layne and Gilmartin, Charles. "Left Brain vs. Right Brain: Findings on Visual Spatial Capacities of the Functional Neurology of Giftedness." Roeper Review, 2013, Vol. 35 Issue 4, p. 265-75.
(The following articles can be found online, so the links are given.)