Tinkering with the mind of man

055 monitor brainThe idea of the left brain being logical while the right is creative has been disproved in studies which show that during creative activity people are more likely use both half of their brains. According to Dr. Jeff Anderson, director of the fMRI Neurosurgical Mapping Service at the University of Utah, “It is not the case that the left hemisphere is associated with logic or reasoning more than the right… Also creativity is no more processed in the right hemisphere than the left.”[1]

But when it comes to our outlook is does seem like the left side of the brain supports optimistic thinking while the right brain supports pessimistic ideas. More specifically physiological activity in the left-hemisphere tends to increase self-esteem and the assumption of a good outcome. While the right side of the brain supports the parasympathetic nervous system. This system kicks into high gear when we sense danger and controls the flight or fight response. A right brain viewpoint will tend to focus on possible dangers and consider how to avoid them.  Experiments which are aimed at manipulating people’s perception of whether or not they cannot control a situation demonstrate a difference in activity on each side of the brain. There are greater physiological changes in the left half of the brain when people are led to believe that they can control a negative situation, while the right half has a greater neurophysiological response if people are told they are powerless to enforce a change.[2]

However the left-hand and right-hand sides of the brain do not work in isolation, nor would we want them to. The constant flow of information between the two sides input what seems to us to be a unified experience to us. This allows us to avoid risky behaviors due to an optimistic sense of invincibility, while not succumbing to gloom in the face of negative events.

While all of this may make up interesting conversation at a convention of neurologists, the truth is understanding particular brain functions doesn’t really help us alter the way people think. It is simply too dangerous and costly to be performing brain surgery just to tinker with a person’s level of optimism. However, the idea keeps appearing that our increasing knowledge of how the brain works will allows us to make great strides in promoting mental health and learning. One of the recent findings about our brains in how much they differ between each person. Having what is considered an abnormality or learning disability is basically normal. Also, as we learn the brain changes and adapts in ways that we still do not comprehend. How much will all the new things we have learned about the brain enable us to improve ourselves? Stick with me for a few weeks while I look into brain-based learning.


[1] Wanjek, Christopher. Left Brain vs. Right: It’s a Myth, Research Finds (accessed Feb 17, 2014)
[2] Hecht, David. The Neural Basis of Optimism and Pessimism. Experimental Neurobiology. 2013 September; 22(3): 173–199. Published online 2013 September 30
This entry was posted in Education trends, Manipulation, Mental health, Optimism and Pessimism and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

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