Neuromyths in Education, Part III: Right-brained vs. left-brained

See Neuromyths in Education, Part I: Introduction for an overview and definitions.

What’s the myth?

  • That the left brain is realistic, analytical, practical, organized, systematic, and logical, and the right brain is intuitive, creative, passionate, sensual, tasteful, colorful, vivid, and poetic.
  • That people have a dominant brain hemisphere; they are left-brained or right-brained and are more analytical or creative as a direct result.
  • That exercises can be done to integrate the two brain hemispheres.

What’s the reality?

  • Healthy brains show no evidence of one brain hemisphere being dominant in terms of use or activity.

What’s the evidence?

In an fMRI study of more than 1000 brains, researchers found

[O]ur data are not consistent with a whole-brain phenotype of greater “left-brained” or greater “right-brained” network strength across individuals.

Source: “An evaluation of the left-brain vs. right-brain hypothesis with resting state functional connectivity magnetic resonance imaging.”

Why does the myth persist?

  • Many of myths about left/right “brainedness” arose from findings about split-brain patients—patients whose link between the left and right hemispheres had been severed—that have been inappropriately applied to the general population.
  • Studies with negative or null results are far less likely to be published than studies with positive or significant results [1]. This publication bias has contributed to the longevity and durability of various neuromyths.
  • See also

For museums…

  • When teaching about neuroanatomy and brain lateralization, be aware that you’re working against some long-held and deeply entrenched myths.
  • During exhibit/program development, aim to provide experiences that appeal to a range of visitors along many dimensions of preference and ability—no checking boxes for having met the needs of “left-brained” and “right-brained” visitors. (And the same goes for VAK!)

Learning sciences in museums

On a related note, here’s some of my favorite research about what does work in informal environments:

What are your favorites?

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