In 1985, University of Chicago Professor Dr. Jerry Levy determined through extensive research that both sides of the human brain, being the right and left sides or hemispheres, are “involved in nearly every human activity,” based upon the timing and degree of involvement, such as when a child first begins to learn his/her alphabet or basic arithmetic. Dr. Levy also discovered that one side or hemisphere “can influence developmental events occurring at the same time” on the other side or hemisphere of the brain, being either the left or the right (Jensen, 2000, p. 1). However, more recent research has revealed that both sides of the human brain work either independently of each other or in conjunction as a sort of cerebral team that works together to achieve a goal, in this instance, to learn something new.
Anatomically, the human brain is divided into two separate halves known as cerebral hemispheres, “located on the most superior part of the brain and separated by a longitudinal fissure” that holds connecting nerves and blood vessels. Sometimes referred to as “gray matter” because of its color, these two hemispheres are “responsible for conscious behavior and contains three different functional areas”–1), motor areas for controlling muscles and body movement; 2), sensory areas for sight, smell, hearing, etc.; and 3), association areas that are responsible for memory, thoughts, and the ability to learn and understand (Basic Anatomy and Physiology of the Human Brain, 2013, p. 28). There is also what is known as white matter which is responsible for “communication between cerebral areas and between the cerebral cortex and lower regions” of the central nervous system (Basic Anatomy and Physiology of the Human Brain, 2013, p. 28). Thus, although both sides of the brain are responsible for certain individual actions and reactions, both hemispheres must work together when it comes to learning a new skill or retaining new information and knowledge.
A good example of this connectivity between the two hemispheres is provided by Eric Jensen. When a person speaks and we hear the words, activity in the left hemisphere makes it possible to process the words, their definitions, and the language in which they are spoken. However, the right hemisphere is responsible for processing word inflections, tone, tempo or speed and the volume of the words being spoken. Also, as opposed to the male human brain, the female brain “processes both language and feelings at the same time” which may be explained via gender differences between men and women. Therefore, although each side of the brain “does have some clear-cut specialization, each side still requires the other to complement its overall functioning” (Revisiting the Left/Right Brain Dialogue, 2000, pp. 2-3), especially related to learning.
As Steven D. Bielefeldt relates, most humans “typically favor the use of one side of the brain over the other;” however, a select few, such as scientists, artists, and creative individuals “are more whole-brained and are equally adept at utilizing both hemispheres.” From an educational perspective, left brain utilization is more favored than right brain usage, due to the fact that the left hemisphere involves “logical thinking, analysis, and memorization” as opposed to the right side which involves emotional feelings, intuition, and creativity (2006, p. 1).
Bielefeldt also notes that due to this difference in left and right side functioning, it is “important to understand the concepts of brain lateralization” or how the brain is divided into two equal parts, at least physically, and “preferred styles of learning” in those who are either right brain or left brain dominant. In addition, there are distinct advantages and disadvantages concerning styles of learning when a student is right brain dominant as opposed to left brain dominant (2006, p. 2).
Left Side/Right Side Learning
From a learning standpoint, people who are more prone to being left side dominant learn best when things are in sequence and prefer that subjects be taught from the bottom up (i.e., from specific to general); they also prefer phonetic reading systems; words, symbols, and letters; conducting research before reading about a given subject; gathering factual information and data; detailed and orderly instructions; and structure and predictability. One other important trait is that left side learners tend to be more internally focused on the job or task at hand, especially in the classroom (Jensen, 2000, p. 2). As might be suspected, left side learners are more logical and tend to enjoy subjects related to science, mathematics, and economics.
In contrast, people who are more prone to right side dominance are “more comfortable with randomness, learn best from wholes to parts (i.e., from the general to the specific), prefer a whole language reading system, pictures, graphs, and charts,” visual experiences, spontaneity via “go with the flow learning environments,” and tend to be more externally focused (Jensen, 2000, p. 2). In essence, right side learners tend to be artistically inclined and often seek careers in art, music, writing, and the humanities.
However, as previously mentioned, in order for a person to learn properly and understand what is being taught, both hemispheres of the brain must function as a whole via the interconnectedness of the so-called “wiring system” located in the white matter and deep inside the cerebrum and cerebellum. As Jensen points out, there is currently an on-going debate among scientists and brain researchers concerning whether “one side of the brain is logical and the other side is creative,” a sort of outdated idea that goes back to the early days of brain research in the 1970’s when researcher Edward DeBono coined the term “lateral thinking.” This refers to the ability to use the left side of the brain as a creative source as opposed to the old idea that creativity only resides in the right hemisphere.
For example, musicians tend to “process music to a greater degree in the left hemisphere,” a kind of paradox which indicates the complexity of the human brain (2000, p. 3). The same could be said for the right hemisphere which traditionally has been seen as the center for creativity. But in reality, research has demonstrated that creative individuals like artists and writers utilize what is known as bilateral activity or using both sides of the brain to create a work of art or a piece of music (Jensen, 2000, p. 3).
In some educational circles, right side learners are considered as inadequate for proper learning in the classroom as opposed to left side dominant learners. As Melanie West relates, right brain dominant children “learn differently and have difficulties grasping and retaining new concepts” and ideas; they also “struggle with learning from traditional workbooks, class lectures, and independent reading” (2010, p. 1), all of which indicates that right side learners are left side deficient for reasons that still remain unclear.
Overall, both hemispheres of the human brain must function and operate in tandem in order for a person to learn properly and understand new concepts and ideas. Of course, one side of the brain can work overtime, while the other side remains somewhat dormant. But in the classroom, educators must understand and appreciate the fact that for optimal learning to take place, learning activities should be designed to accommodate both brain hemispheres. As Jensen explains it, true learning must be based upon the “whole brain concept” in which both brain hemispheres work together as a complex system of interconnectivity and order.
Basic anatomy and physiology of the human brain. (2013). Retrieved from http://www.medphys.ucl.ac.uk/research/borg/homepages/florian/thesis/pdf_files/p25_34.pdf. A simple yet very informative website on the basic anatomy and physical properties of the human brain related to its structure, function, and thought processing activities.
Bielefeldt, S.D. (2006). An analysis of right and left brain thinkers and certain styles of learning. Retrieved from http://www2.uwstout.edu/content/lib/thesis/2006/2006bielefeldts.pdf. This website explores the various aspects of the human brain related to how some people are more prone to right brain thinking than left brain thinking and why they tend to learn differently over the course of a lifetime.
Jensen, E. (2000). Revisiting the left/right brain dialogue. Retrieved from http://elc.uark.edu/wp-content/uploads/2012/01/The-Left-Right-Brain- Dialogue.pdf. This website examines the on-going debate over which side of the human brain is more dominant when it comes to thinking and learning and why some people tend to use one side more than the other.
West, M. (2010). Right brain learners–A reason your child may have trouble learning. Retrieved from http://therightsideoflearning.com/articles/Why%20Right%20Brain%20Learners%20may%20Struggle%20with%20Learning.pdf. In this short article, M. West explores why some children are more prone to be right brain learners than left brain learners, and as West relates, children who have dominant right brain learning activity are sometimes handicapped by it which affects their grade status in school.
The Left Brain vs. the Right Brain:
Impacts on Learning
A. Recent research has revealed that both sides of the human brain work either independently of each other or in conjunction as a sort of cerebral team that works together to achieve a goal.
II. Brain Anatomy
A. The human brain is divided into two separate halves known as cerebral hemispheres, being the left and right sides.
B. White matter is responsible for communication between cerebral areas and the cerebral cortex.
III. Brain Connectivity
A. As Jensen points out, an example of the connectivity between the two hemispheres is when a person speaks and we hear the words which triggers activity in the left hemisphere to process words, definitions, and language.
B. Most people favor the use of one side of the brain over the other, but those who are whole-brained are equally adept at utilizing both hemispheres.
IV. Left Side/Right Side Learning
A. Left side dominant
B. Right side dominant
C. The downside of right side learners
A. Both hemispheres of the human brain must function and operate in tandem in order for a person to learn properly and understand new concepts and ideas.