What's the Difference Between the Right and Left Brain?

right briain and left brain illustration
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The human brain has a right and a left hemisphere (otherwise known as the right or left brain), which are connected by a thick bundle of nerves fibers known as the corpus callosum . Many people tend to be right or left brain dominant. Anatomically, these hemispheres are separate and they function differently. Neither the left brain or the right brain is superior to the other.  One key to mental health, however, is being able to live in a way in which the right and left brain function well together, communicating and cooperating.

The Left Hemisphere

The left hemisphere is responsible for all things logical, linear, and having to do with language. Organization, lists, and order are the domain of the left brain. People who are left-brain dominant tend to be good at languages, highly verbal, structured, and generally neat and organized.

The Right Hemisphere

The right hemisphere is less oriented to detail than the left and instead attends to the big picture. Whereas the left hemisphere is interested in the literal text or content in a situation, the right hemisphere is more interested in the context of a situation. The right hemisphere is non-verbal, and has been said to be more intuitive and emotional.

Questions to determine which side is more dominant

While it is possible that your brain hemispheres are equally at play in your life, there are a few questions that can help you determine whether you may tend to favor your left or your right brain.

  1. When you cross your arms over your chest, which hand is on top?  [Answer A for left hand; B for right hand]
  2. Is your desk messy or neat? [Answer A for messy; B for neat]
  3. Do you love rules? [Answer A for no; B for yes]
  4. Do you remember people's faces or names? [Answer A for faces; B for names]
  5. Are you more big picture or detail oriented? [Answer A for big picture; B for details]

    Add up your A's and B's. If you have more A's than B's, you are most likely right brain dominant, and if you have more B's than A's, you are most likely left brain dominant.

    What if one hemisphere is too dominant?

    If one key to mental health is whole brain integration, it is important to have both hemispheres active in order to function optimally. Practices such as mindfulness can greatly assist right and left brain integration. Dan Siegel, known for his work on interpersonal neurobiology, describes right and left brain integration as riding the "river of well-being" to ensure maximum mental health.

    If someone tends to get swallowed whole by their emotions, it is likely that their right brain is running the show without access to much of their left brain. To bring more of the left brain on the scene, it is helpful to attempt to name the emotions as they arise. Simply naming the emotions makes them less all-consuming. 

    If someone is left brain dominant and is literally cut off from their right brain, they may appear to be rigid and emotionless. Helpful exercises can involve relaxation and guided imagery practices to bring the right brain a bit more to life.

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