Research Myth 4: Left-Right Brain

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John Dabell

I trained as a primary school teacher 25 years ago, starting my career in London and then I taught in a range of schools in the Midlands. In between teaching jobs, I worked as an Ofsted inspector (no hate mail please!), national in-service provider, project...
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Are you a left-brained dominant learner?

Let’s hope you aren’t, because left-brained learners don’t exist anymore than right-brained learners do.

Why pigeon-hole a child with a false binary label? The idea that we are dominantly left- or right-brained has never had a concrete basis in neuroscience, “and now the best evidence we have is convincingly negative” so “labelling people as left or right-brained is no better than approaching people according to their astrological sign or blood type” (Novella, 2014).

This brainiac maniac myth has convinced us that:

  • a right-brainer is intuitive, spontaneous, emotional, nonverbal, visual, artistic, holistic, playful, diffuse, symbolic, physical
  • a left-brainer is analytical, linear, explicit, sequential, verbal, concrete, rational, active, goal-oriented

The concept of hemisphericity is just full of jelly and using it to “to guide and direct educational practice is highly questionable.” 

Yet there is no direct scientific evidence supporting the idea that different thinking styles lie within each hemisphere and brain scans the two hemispheres are in fact highly complementary. As Morton (2013) states “Recently, a further nail in the coffin of hemisphericity has been supplied by the observation that no individual or group differences in lateral brain activity could be seen by functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI)” (Nielsen et al., ).

The brain is a single, spectacularly complicated, and profoundly integrated system: “And far from having separate lives, the two halves work together. They are not isolated systems that compete or engage in some kind of cerebral tug-of-war” (Kosslyn and Miller, 2014)

Will the bunk die away? Probably not.


Read the full Research Myths series.

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