Left Brain vs. Right: It’s a Myth, Research Finds

by Christopher Wanjek   |   September 03, 2013 12:21pm ET published in Live Science

An artist's depiction of the human brain.

The idea that one side of the brain is dominant is a myth, researchers say.

It’s the foundation of myriad personality assessment tests, self-motivation books and team-building exercises – and it’s all bunk.

Popular culture would have you believe that logical, methodical and analytical people are left-brain dominant, while the creative and artistic types are right-brain dominant. Trouble is, science never really supported this notion.

Now, scientists at the University of Utah have debunked the myth with an analysis of more than 1,000 brains. They found no evidence that people preferentially use their left or right brain. All of the study participants — and no doubt the scientists — were using their entire brain equally, throughout the course of the experiment.

A paper describing this study appeared in August in the journal PLOS ONE. [10 Things You Didn’t Know About the Brain]

The preference to use one brain region more than others for certain functions, which scientists call lateralization, is indeed real, said lead author Dr. Jeff Anderson, director of the fMRI Neurosurgical Mapping Service at the University of Utah. For example, speech emanates from the left side of the brain for most right-handed people. This does not imply, though, that great writers or speakers use their left side of the brain more than the right, or that one side is richer in neurons.

There is a misconception that everything to do with being analytical is confined to one side of the brain, and everything to do with being creative is confined to the opposite side, Anderson said. In fact, it is the connections among all brain regions that enable humans to engage in both creativity and analytical thinking.

“It is not the case that the left hemisphere is associated with logic or reasoning more than the right,” Anderson told LiveScience. “Also, creativity is no more processed in the right hemisphere than the left.”

Anderson’s team examined brain scans of participants ages 7 to 29 while they were resting. They looked at activity in 7,000 brain regions, and examined neural connections within and between these regions. Although they saw pockets of heavy neural traffic in certain key regions, on average, both sides of the brain were essentially equal in their neural networks and connectivity.

“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,” said Jared Nielsen, a graduate student and first author on the new study.

The myth of people being either “left-brained” or “right-brained” might have arisen from the Nobel Prize-winning research of Roger Sperry, which was done in the 1960s. Sperry studied patients with epilepsy, who were treated with a surgical procedure that cut the brain along a structure called the corpus callosum. Because the corpus callosum connects the two hemispheres of the brain, the left and right sides of these patients’ brains could no longer communicate.

Sperry and other researchers, through a series of clever studies, determined which parts, or sides, of the brain were involved in language, math, drawing and other functions in these patients. But then popular-level psychology enthusiasts ran with this idea, creating the notion that personalities and other human attributes are determined by having one side of the brain dominate the other.

The neuroscience community never bought into this notion, Anderson said, and now we have evidence from more than 1,000 brain scans showing absolutely no signs of left or right dominance.

Anderson said he wasn’t out to do some myth busting. His team’s goal is to better understand brain lateralization to treat conditions such as Down syndrome, autism or schizophrenia, where the left and right hemispheres have atypical roles.

So, should you trash your app that tries to determine if you are a left-brain or right-brain thinker? Both sides of your brain, as well as neuroscientists, say yes.

Christopher Wanjek is the author of a new novel, “Hey, Einstein!“, a comical nature-versus-nurture tale about raising clones of Albert Einstein in less-than-ideal settings. His column, Bad Medicine, appears regularly on LiveScience.

Parents Encourage Creativity in Kids by Helping Them Tinker –


Brothers Noah and Jacob take a break from engineering with some recreational gun play near their cardboard-box stronghold.Like a lot of boys, Jacob and Noah Budnitz like to build things. And they like to take things apart.

re identifying projects that teach these skills. Photo: Rich Addicks for The Wall Street Journal.

First it was Bristle Blocks, then Tinkertoys. They went through Legos—lots of Legos. But now, Jacob, age 10, and Noah, age 8, have graduated to other types of building materials: Doorknobs, alarm clocks and telephones. Plastic bottles and cardboard boxes. Scotch tape. Duct tape. Keys without locks, locks without keys.

One thing they don’t use? Directions.

When the boys use imagination and whatever they find at hand to create something, their mother, Tina Budnitz, calls it tinkering. Their latest project was the “Cricketnator 5000,” a contraption for feeding Noah’s pet bearded-dragon lizard, Spikey.

The invention moves live crickets through a bath of calcium powder (for proper lizard bone growth) and into the lizard’s tank, where they meet their fate—and the boys don’t have to touch the crickets.

Not Just Playing—Tinkering

Rich Addicks for The Wall Street Journal

Noah Budnitz, 8, left, and his brother Jacob, 10, played in a hammock they created from an old infant beach tent at their home in Norcross, Ga.

“There was a lot of trial and error with tubes and a few loose crickets in the house along the way,” says Ms. Budnitz, of Norcross, Ga. “The mistakes are part of the discovery process.”

Parents have long worried about how kids, as they get older, spend more time with videogames, cellphones and computers and less time tinkering.

Now, Ms. Budnitz and a growing number of like-minded parents are fighting back by encouraging unstructured, hands-on creativity.

A few years ago, toy companies vowed to focus on developing products that would keep kids playing with toys longer, says Adrienne Appell, trend specialist for the Toy Industry Association.

The industry’s effort may have paid off. Building and construction toys were one of the few retail growth engines in toys last year. Sales of hands-on building toys jumped 23% to $1.6 billion in 2011 from $1.3 billion, while toys overall fell to $21.2 billion from $21.7 billion, according to NPD Group.

But true tinkering is more than following directions to assemble prepackaged parts. Ms. Budnitz thinks the unstructured experience is being squeezed out of childhood. With most building toys, “you can’t fail,” she says. “It’s much more fun to tinker and fail and figure things out.”

When MAKE Magazine started in 2005, its audience was adult do-it-yourselfers interested in electronics, metalworking, robotics, woodworking and computers, says founder Dale Dougherty. “But very quickly we heard from parents doing the projects with their kids, and now young teens are often creating the projects themselves.”

Rich Addicks for The Wall Street Journal

Jacob and Noah in their work space, called the ‘Man Castle,’ which is also their dad’s workshop. They keep some materials in their ‘Invention Box.’

“This idea of making something is very fundamental to human beings, and children really get that,” says Mr. Dougherty, “We are not just consumers. We are makers of things.”

The magazine holds Maker Faire, a sort of science fair on steroids for amateur inventors and visitors, that has grown from 20,000 in 2006, its first year, to more than 100,000 in San Mateo, Calif., in 2011. There are more than 50 MAKE-approved local fairs held around the world each year, and last year nearly half of all visitors brought their kids, the organizers say.

“There’s a sense of learning, resourcefulness and confidence that comes from making or fixing something with your hands, and that really matters,” Mr. Dougherty says.

Somewhere during or after their tween years, many boys seem to outgrow their Legos and lose the urge to build and tinker in favor of exercising their thumbs with electronics.

It doesn’t help that retail shelves offer older boys few hands-on projects. In contrast, there are lots of options for older girls, whether it’s knitting, sewing, beading and scrapbooking or edgier crafts like inkjet tattooing, make-your-own makeup and nail art.

It’s tricky, though, for toy makers to address boys’ and girls’ differing hands-on styles without alienating parents.

Even Lego—whose intricate building sets are beloved by legions of families—hit a sour note in December, outraging feminist bloggers with a line of building sets for younger girls called Lego Friends, with themes like “Emma’s Fashion Design Studio” and “Butterfly Beauty Shop.” The bloggers were offended by the curvy figures and ponytails of the female play figures.

JT Morrow

Lego says the Friends line simply offers what girls and parents have been asking for. “Girls may choose to start with Friends, but then they go into Lego City or other sets. There’s a lot more instances of brothers and sisters, or fathers and daughters playing with Legos together than there was before,” says Michael McNally, director of brand relations for Lego.

Lisa Damour, a psychologist and director of the Center for Research on Girls at the Laurel School in Shaker Heights, Ohio, says, the battle over girl-versus-boy Legos was, in some ways, the wrong fight to pick with the Danish toy giant.

“I think the real controversy is that everything comes out in kits,” she says. “This limits both boys and girls—they need just big bags of Legos poured out on the floor.”

Dr. Damour says the urge to preserve hands-on play is important. “We need to care about both boys and girls doing things with their hands because it develops spatial and mental rotation abilities, which are really important to geometry and engineering.”

What motivates tinkerers to keep going through their teen years? Often, it’s the desire to circumvent a rule-setting, safety-conscious mother.

Robert Scalzo, age 12, of Washington, D.C., was forced to tinker after his mom flatly refused to get him an airsoft gun for his birthday or Christmas. Instead, he built a slingshot, using a Swiss Army knife to trim a V-shaped branch, attaching two rubber bands and adding a pouch made of hockey tape. “I use a lot of hockey tape,” he says.

Jim Danielson, of Arlington Heights, Ill., fell into tinkering after his mother said he couldn’t have a TV set in his bedroom. “If I build my own TV, can I have it in my room?” he asked. “They probably didn’t think I could do it, so they said yes,” he recalls.

He built a projector system for his room during his high school sophomore year, and he and his friends used it to play Nintendo 64 games. His mother didn’t let him take the creation to college, though, concerned it might be dangerous in a small dorm room.

No matter. Mr. Danielson, now 21, dropped out of college last year to accept a Thiel Fellowship—an unusual program started by Peter Thiel, co-founder of PayPal—which pays young innovators $100,000 to stay out of college and spend two years tinkering instead.

Patrick Corelli, a Wayne, Pa., tinkerer, turned to YouTube and Wikipedia after his mother banned videogames when he was in sixth grade. He learned how to put together furniture, fix his computer and “mod” his remote-control cars. His favorite YouTube-inspired creation was the air cannon he and his friends made out of 4-inch PVC pipe a few summers ago.

“We put Gobstoppers candy down the tube, pumped it with a bike pump and shot the hard candy at targets across the street,” recalls Patrick, now 18 and a high school senior. “So far that’s the coolest thing I’ve built.” That may not be true for long. He is heading off to the University of Pittsburgh in the fall—with an engineering scholarship.

via Parents Encourage Creativity in Kids by Helping Them Tinker –


The artist who knitted a playground | KaBOOM!

Posted by Kerala Taylor on December 5, 2012

If you thought knitting a sweater required patience, try knitting a playground. That’s right—Japanese artist Toshiko Horiuchi MacAdam (pictured right) challenges our understanding of what a playground can look like by creating breathtaking, interactive “sculptures” from colorful nylon ropes.

ArchDaily editor Vanessa Quirk recently sat down with Horiuchi MacAdam to learn more about her work. (You can read the full interview here.) When asked what motivated her to start creating playspaces for children, Horiuchi MacAdam says:

“One day I was exhibiting a 3-dimensional open-work textile sculpture I had created in collaboration with a friend. Some children came to the gallery and climbed into it. Suddenly the piece came to life. My eyes were opened. I realized I wanted just such a connection between my work and people alive at this moment in time (not a hundred years from now). I realized I was in fact making works for children. It was an exciting moment for me.

“I was teaching at the Bunka Institute in Tokyo at the time and with 2 of my students I began to look carefully at the situation for children, in particular regard to play. We spent the next three years, mostly weekends, visiting all the parks and playgrounds in central Tokyo.

“The result of our research was depressing. At the time the country was narrowly focused on economic development; few were considering the effects on children of growing up in cramped, high-rise apartments, watching television, often an only child without brothers or sisters to interact with. I was very worried about this. I felt I needed to do something to bring even a little change.

Top photos and bottom left photo: Wonder Space II, by Toshiko Horiuchi MacAdam and Interplay, at Hakone Open Air Museum. Bottom right photo: Rainbow Nest, by Toshiko Horiuchi MacAdam and Interplay, at Takino Suzuran Hillside National Park, Hokkaido, Japan. All photos © Masaki Koizumi.

“The crochet forms I make resemble the mother’s womb. The soft, elastic surface is familiar to the child. The net membrane is sensitive to the child’s slightest movement capturing his energy and transmitting it back to him. The wave-like motion of the net connects him with other children and they start playing together. Their creative minds start to move and they find new ways of playing. They respond to each other. It is sometimes hard to entice children out of the net; they can sometimes be lost in it for 3-4 hours.

“Our structures encourage children to challenge themselves but with many routes and options. There is no program of play. There are always alternatives. Each child plays at the level he or she is comfortable with. From forty years’ experience I have learned a little about children’s psychology.

“Some groups of children come regularly to play on their own; their play is fantastic. They know what they are capable of and then stretch just a little further, becoming more and more adept. Some of their maneuvers are heart-stopping to a bystander – but they know what they are doing.

“Often it is parents who are the problem. They seem to have forgotten what it was like to be a child.”

Special thanks to ArchDaily for sharing this excerpt. Read the full interview here.

via The artist who knitted a playground | KaBOOM!.

Top 10 skills children learn from the arts

You don’t find school reformers talking much about how we need to train more teachers in the arts, given the current obsession with science, math, technology and engineering (STEM), but here’s a list of skills that young people learn from studying the arts. They serve as a reminder that the arts — while important to study for their intrinsic value — also promote skills seen as important in academic and life success. (That’s why some people talk about changing the current national emphasis on STEM to STEAM.) This was written by Lisa Phillips is an author, blog journalist, arts and leadership educator, speaker and business owner. To learn about Lisa’s book, “The Artistic Edge: 7 Skills Children Need to Succeed in an Increasingly Right Brain World,” click here. This appeared on the ARTSblog, a program of Americans for the Arts.

By Lisa Phillips

1. Creativity – Being able to think on your feet, approach tasks from different perspectives and think ‘outside of the box’ will distinguish your child from others. In an arts program, your child will be asked to recite a monologue in 6 different ways, create a painting that represents a memory, or compose a new rhythm to enhance a piece of music. If children have practice thinking creatively, it will come naturally to them now and in their future career.

2. Confidence – The skills developed through theater, not only train you how to convincingly deliver a message, but also build the confidence you need to take command of the stage. Theater training gives children practice stepping out of their comfort zone and allows them to make mistakes and learn from them in rehearsal. This process gives children the confidence to perform in front of large audiences.

3. Problem Solving – Artistic creations are born through the solving of problems. How do I turn this clay into a sculpture? How do I portray a particular emotion through dance? How will my character react in this situation? Without even realizing it kids that participate in the arts are consistently being challenged to solve problems. All this practice problem solving develops children’s skills in reasoning and understanding. This will help develop important problem-solving skills necessary for success in any career.

4. Perseverance – When a child picks up a violin for the first time, she/he knows that playing Bach right away is not an option; however, when that child practices, learns the skills and techniques and doesn’t give up, that Bach concerto is that much closer. In an increasingly competitive world, where people are being asked to continually develop new skills, perseverance is essential to achieving success.

5. Focus – The ability to focus is a key skill developed through ensemble work. Keeping a balance between listening and contributing involves a great deal of concentration and focus. It requires each participant to not only think about their role, but how their role contributes to the big picture of what is being created. Recent research has shown that participation in the arts improves children’s abilities to concentrate and focus in other aspects of their lives.

6. Non-Verbal Communication – Through experiences in theater and dance education, children learn to breakdown the mechanics of body language. They experience different ways of moving and how those movements communicate different emotions. They are then coached in performance skills to ensure they are portraying their character effectively to the audience.

7. Receiving Constructive Feedback – Receiving constructive feedback about a performance or visual art piece is a regular part of any arts instruction. Children learn that feedback is part of learning and it is not something to be offended by or to be taken personally. It is something helpful. The goal is the improvement of skills and evaluation is incorporated at every step of the process. Each arts discipline has built in parameters to ensure that critique is a valuable experience and greatly contributes to the success of the final piece.

8. Collaboration – Most arts disciplines are collaborative in nature. Through the arts, children practice working together, sharing responsibility, and compromising with others to accomplish a common goal. When a child has a part to play in a music ensemble, or a theater or dance production, they begin to understand that their contribution is necessary for the success of the group. Through these experiences children gain confidence and start to learn that their contributions have value even if they don’t have the biggest role.

9. Dedication – When kids get to practice following through with artistic endeavors that result in a finished product or performance, they learn to associate dedication with a feeling of accomplishment. They practice developing healthy work habits of being on time for rehearsals and performances, respecting the contributions of others, and putting effort into the success of the final piece. In the performing arts, the reward for dedication is the warm feeling of an audience’s applause that comes rushing over you, making all your efforts worthwhile.

10. Accountability – When children practice creating something collaboratively they get used to the idea that their actions affect other people. They learn that when they are not prepared or on-time, that other people suffer. Through the arts, children also learn that it is important to admit that you made a mistake and take responsibility for it. Because mistakes are a regular part of the process of learning in the arts, children begin to see that mistakes happen. We acknowledge them, learn from them and move on.

via Top 10 skills children learn from the arts.


In this article ex-Barrister, Trainer and Executive Coach, Neil Seligman digests the latest scientific discoveries on the benefits of presence, mindfulness and meditation that all professionals should know about.


The latest study into the long assumed physical benefits of meditation has shown the strongest link yet between a regular practice of meditation and better physical health.

“The main finding [of our research] is that, added on top of usual medical care, intervention with a mind-body technique (here transcendental meditation) can have a major effect on cardiovascular events,” says Robert Schneider, lead author on the study published in Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes.


Researchers at UCLA studied the brains of people who had meditated for years comparing them with those who never meditated or who only did it for a short period of time. They took MRI scans of 100 people, half meditators and half non-meditators. They were fascinated to find that long-time meditators showed higher levels of gyrification (a folding of the cerebral cortex that may be associated with faster information processing). In a study published in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience in February 2012, they shared that, the more years a person had been meditating, the more gyrification their MRIs revealed.


Researchers at Leiden University in the Netherlands looked at the way two types of meditation, focused-attention (for example, focusing on your breath) and open-monitoring (where participants focus on both the internal and external) affected two types of creative thinking: the ability to generate new ideas and solutions to problems. In a study published in April 2012 in Frontiers in Cognition, they revealed that those who practiced open-monitoring meditation performed better than non-meditators at tasks related to coming up with new ideas.


A computer scientist at the University of Washington teamed up with a neuroscientist at the University of Arizona to test whether meditation can help professionals stay focused and calm. The pair recruited 45 human resources managers and gave a third of them eight weeks of mindfulness-based meditation training, a third of them eight weeks of body relaxation training and a third of them no training at all. All the groups were given a stressful multi-tasking test before and after the eight weeks. In a study published in the Proceedings of Graphics Interface in May 2012, they showed that the meditation group reported less stress as they performed the multi-tasking test than both of the other groups. This study has further obvious implications on burnout and breakdown, which cost global business a fortune in lost productivity every year.


Generation Z represent our most conscious generation to date. They will be expecting a values-driven approach to doing business, where focus on profit is balanced with focus on planet and people. Whilst they will expect to work hard they will also expect their employers to train and develop them as a human being as well as a professional. The conscious generation will already be familiar with meditation and open to its benefits as these become more widely accepted by science and the media. Impressive employee wellbeing programs will differentiate the best firms from the rest.


It is already happening:

At General Mills in Minneapolis, Janice Marturano, deputy general counsel at the multinational has founded a program of meditation, yoga and mindfulness, “It’s about training our minds to be more focused, to see with clarity, to have spaciousness for creativity and to feel connected. That compassion to ourselves, to everyone around us, our colleagues, customers, that’s what the training of mindfulness is really about.”William George, a current Goldman Sachs board member agrees, “The main business case for meditation is that if you’re fully present on the job, you will be more effective as a leader, you will make better decisions and you will work better with other people, I tend to live a very busy life. This keeps me focused on what’s important.”


The body of evidence for the power of meditation in addiction treatment and prevention is growing. One 2007 study showed that individuals who participated in meditative practices during recovery gained higher levels of coping skills, as well as a heightened awareness of substance-abuse triggers. Addiction still costs global business billions each year. Meditation offers the prospect of addressing some of the root cause. Prevention is indeed better than cure.

Neil Seligman

Neil Seligman is Director at The Conscious Professsional, a new coaching and training consultancy delivering bespoke training, mindfulness and wellbeing solutions to corporate

Acknowledgements & Further Reading:

The Conscious Guide to Meditation

FT Online: The Mind Business

Ted Blog Meditation’s Role in Drug Addiction Recovery