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One of those deeply entrenched myths has been the idea that we are either right brained or left brained depending on our personality traits. Perhaps it’s because we like the idea of it to explain our natural strengths.

But the reality is that we are neither and both, because we use all of our brain all of the time.

Proving this has taken a while, but Jeff Andersen and his team from the University of Utah published a study on PloSOne in 2013 backing this up.
Whilst it is true that some functions of the brain occur on one or other side, we don’t have lop sided brains where one side is predominantly stronger than the other.

The researchers took “resting state” brain scans of over 1000 subjects (age 7-29 years) who were asked to lie in an fMRI scanner thinking of nothing for around five to ten minutes. Their scans were examined to see if there was evidence of increased brain activity in one hemisphere or the other.

What they found was that at rest, there was no preference to use either the left or right brain networks more often. So whilst it’s true some people are more scientifically or more artistically inclined, this appears to be the result of whole brain function, not because our personality dictates which hemisphere is more dominant.

The implication being that while you may enjoy being logical and analytical, that doesn’t prevent you from developing your more artistic skills, any more than being creative, thoughtful and holistic prevents you from adopting a more systems orientated approach in other areas.

Indeed as our world becomes increasingly complex and busy having the capacity for rapid whole brain thinking is going to be a massive cognitive advantage.

Nielsen JA, Zielinski, Ferguson, Lainhart, Anderson. An Evaluation of the Left-Brain vs. Right-Brain Hypothesis with Resting State Functional Connectivity Magnetic Resonance Imaging. PLoS ONE, 2013 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0071275

Dr Jenny Brockis

Dr Jenny Brockis is a medical practitioner and internationally board-certified lifestyle medicine physician, workplace health and wellbeing consultant, podcaster, keynote speaker and best-selling author. Her new book 'Thriving Mind: How to Cultivate a Good Life' (Wiley) is available online and at all good bookstores.

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