Here’s How to Know If You’re Right- or Left-Brained
Medically Reviewed by Dr. Parris Kidd
You’ve probably heard about personality measures that determine if an individual is right- or left-brained. Do you know which side of your brain is more dominant?
Are You Right- or Left-Brained?
The human body is mostly symmetrical – it has a right and left side that closely resemble each other, yet have anatomical, functional differences. The human brain also has this subtle asymmetry. This is the basis for the understanding that each person’s brain will be functionally dominated by either the right or left side, that each of us is either right- or left-brained.
This theory, which emerged in the 60s and is based on the research of psychobiologist, Roger W. Sperry, is built on the idea that the two brain hemispheres operate differently. It has now entered the general lexicon as the idea that individuals who are analytical and methodical are left-brained, while those who are more artistic and creative are right-brained.
When a person is identified as either right- or left-brained, it doesn’t mean that the other side of the brain doesn’t work. Both brain hemispheres carry out many unique functions. Being right- or left-brained simply means that one of your brain hemispheres may be dominant over the other.
Many of the functions and characteristics associated with being right- or left-brained can be attributed to the temporal lobes.
Functions of the Temporal Lobes
The temporal lobes, situated behind the eyes and below the temples on either side of the brain, are involved with encoding memories into long-term storage. They also are linked to mood stability, receptive language (reading and hearing), interpreting social cues, and spiritual experience. These lobes store memories and images and help define our sense of self.
Some temporal lobe functions are more evenly divided between the left and right sides – vocal sound processing and music processing, for example.
The temporal lobes also house the “what pathway” in the brain. This allows us to identify objects by sight so that we know “what” they are.
Recent scientific research on the brain has discovered that despite the “division of labor” between the two sides of the temporal lobes and the rest of the brain, the brain has the capacity to flip these divisions. If one side of the brain becomes damaged, the other side can step in and take over those tasks.
Dominant Side (usually the Left)
- most language processing
- visual and auditory processing
- intermediate-term, and long-term memory
- auditory learning
- word retrieval
- emotional stability
Nondominant Side (usually the Right)
- reading facial expressions
- visual learning
- interpreting vocal intonation
- sense of rhythm
- musical ability
- spiritual experience
Dominant Temporal Lobe
Language is one of the keys to being human. It allows us to communicate with each other. Receptive language, being able to receive and understand speech and written words, requires temporal lobe stability.
The dominant temporal lobe helps to process written words and sounds into meaningful information. The ability to read, comprehend, remember, and integrate new information depends on the dominant temporal lobe. Problems with this lobe may contribute to difficulty understanding speech, language struggles, communication problems, and reading disabilities.
Emotional stability is heavily influenced by the dominant temporal lobe. The ability to feel stable and positive – despite the ups and downs of everyday life – is important for the development and maintenance of consistent character and personality. Healthy temporal lobe function may produce mood stability, but increased or decreased activity in this part of the brain can lead to inconsistent or unpredictable behaviors and moods.
Nondominant Temporal Lobe
The nondominant side of the temporal lobe assists with recognizing familiar faces and facial expressions, and with being able to accurately perceive voice tones and intonations. Having the ability to determine if someone is happy, sad, angry, or busy, is essential when interacting with others.
Both the right and left temporal lobes help us process sights and sounds. This part of the brain allows us to experience a wide array of emotions when listening to music. Often called the “interpretive cortex,” the temporal lobes help us interpret what we hear by accessing stored memories, which provides meaning to new information.
Strong convictions, meaningful insights, and the capacity to know the truth have been attributed to the temporal lobes. Though different sides will dominate in different people, the best way to protect the dominant and nondominant lobes is to keep the entire brain healthy.
Problems with the Temporal Lobes
- dark or violent thoughts
- internally or externally focused aggression
- overly sensitive
- mild paranoia
- reading challenges
- problems finding the right word
- emotional instability
- struggles with social skills
- problems recognizing facial expressions
- difficulty decoding vocal intonations
Either or Both Temporal Lobes
- memory problems, memory gaps
- headaches or abdominal pain
- anxiousness or fear with no discernable cause
- feelings of déjà vu or jamais vu
- periods of spaciness or confusion
- abnormal sensory perceptions, visual or auditory distortions
- hypergraphia (excessive writing)
- religious or moral preoccupation
Left Temporal Lobe Problems
A common left temporal lobe problem is aggressiveness, which can be expressed either externally toward others or internally in negative thoughts or feelings about oneself. Temporal lobe damage or dysfunction can make someone more prone to anger, irritability, or violent thoughts.
People with left temporal lobe issues can be more sensitive to slights, even those that are done in jest. This sensitivity can cause serious relational and work problems.
Right Temporal Lobe Problems
Right temporal lobe problems typically involve issues with social skills, especially with respect to recognizing facial expressions and voice intonations.
Either/Both Temporal Lobe Problems
Left temporal lobe issues are often linked with externally directed discomfort (such as aggressiveness, anger, irritability), while right temporal lobe problems are usually associated with internal discomfort (anxiousness and fearfulness).
It’s common for those with temporal lobe issues to have illusions, such as:
- Perceiving size or shape changes of objects
- Seeing shadows or bugs out of the corner of the eyes
- Hearing bees buzzing or static from a radio that isn’t there
- Smelling odors, odd tastes in the mouth
- Feeling bugs crawling on the skin or other skin sensations
Unexplained headaches and stomachaches are also common temporal lobe problems. Many people who experience sudden feelings of anxiousness, nervousness, or panic may develop fears or phobias.
Protect Your Brain
Temporal lobe issues can happen without us even knowing it. Many of the above issues are considered psychological when they may be biological.
The temporal lobes sit in a vulnerable area of the skull in the temporal fossa (or cavity). The front wall of the cavity has a bony ridge. The front part of the temporal lobes can be damaged if it impacts against this hard surface.
Since the temporal lobes are housed in a cavity surrounded by bone on five sides (front, back, right side, left side, and underside) they can be damaged by a blow to the head from almost any angle.
Temporal lobe problems can come from many different sources, including head injuries, genetics, and toxic or infectious exposure. The temporal lobes, prefrontal cortex, and anterior cingulate gyrus are the parts of the brain most vulnerable to damage by virtue of their placement within the skull. They’re also the most heavily involved in thinking and behavior.
Memory, Identity and Personality
Memories give us both our greatest joys and our deepest sorrows. Memories can influence everything we do. Essential components of memory are integrated and stored in the temporal lobes.
The most precious treasures we have in life are the images and memories we store in our brains. The sum of these stored experiences can contribute to our sense of personal identity and connectedness to those around us. In many ways, our experiences make us who we are.
As the executive control center of the entire body – and the supervisor of every thought, mood, memory, and action – your brain makes you you.
That’s why, regardless of whether you’re right- or left-brained, you must do everything you can to take care of your brain.
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