Cognitive Neuroscience in the Popular Media
Information on the subject matter was obtained from an online article titled Left brain versus Right brain that was available from a site called About.com Psychology. The exact date that the article was released is not provided, but it was in the year 2013. As the title elucidates, the article is explaining the truth behind the popular myth that the level of creativity and to some extent the personality of an individual is dependent on the more dominant hemisphere of their brain. The author provides some historical information about the emergence of the left brain right brain theory and the circumstances that led to its acceptance (Cherry, 2013).
In addition to this, she also includes more recent research that refutes this notion. The newer studies, she explains, prove that the brain does not have a more principal hemisphere but instead works in unison to carry out its activities. Apart from this, the author explains the particular uses of both the right and left brain in the body for instance that the left brain is the more logical aspect while the right is, the more expressive of the two. Finally, the author explains why despite proving that the split brain theory is untrue and unfounded; it is still very popular. This is due to its over-popularization by psychology (Cherry, 2013).
Several empirical articles that hold valuable information to this subject matter are available, but only three will be selected for the purpose of this essay. In the case of the first article, a series of experiments was carried out on a patient that had undergone a complete resection of the corpus callosum. That is, the corpus callosum was removed. This structure serves to connect the two hemispheres of the brain together and is important in the transmission of impulses across different sides of the brain (Metcalfe & Funnell et al., 1995).
The corpus callosum is assumed to play a major role in the etiology of seizures, and its resection has been seen to reduce the occurrence of seizures in individuals who suffer from conditions like epilepsy or grand mal seizures. From this article, the experiments that were conducted were done in order to try and point out the functioning of the two hemispheres of the brain independent from the each other. In so doing, the researcher would be able to prove the functions of both sides of the brain as well as show the effect of resection of the corpus callosum that connects them (Metcalfe & Funnell et al., 1995). During the experiment, the patient (who had undergone resection) was shown a series of images; the first lot was of familiar and related objects while the second lot was of unfamiliar and unrelated objects. For instance, the first images were of a lady with a tray of cookies followed by an oven; the two images are related since the oven was used to prepare the cookies that were held by the lady.
The result of the experiment was that the right hemisphere easily identified with the familiar objects while compared to the left hemisphere which was unable to accept them (Metcalfe & Funnell et al., 1995). For the unknown images, the left hemisphere easily identified them and made a logical assumption about them despite them being unrelated while the right hemisphere only rejected them since they were foreign to it. From this data, the researchers concluded that the left hemisphere and not the right is more sensitive to variations in the environment of the person and that it is more likely to try and make sense of it. They stated that the right hemisphere is more reliant on familiar occurrences and is unable to integrate new information as the left hemisphere does (Metcalfe & Funnell et al., 1995).
The results obtained from this experiment are a little contradictory to the ideas brought forth in the media idea. This is because it is clear that the two hemispheres have distinct functions and the left brain seems superior to the right. However, the media idea refutes this by stating that none is superior and that they work together in unanimity.
The second article discusses the prevalence and the distribution of the left brained and right brained individuals in the society. It explains why the distribution is as it is and the factors that may affect the distribution of the people in question. In addition to this, the authors also describe the evolutionary relationships (phylogeny) that the said right and left brained people have to other organisms in kingdom Animalia (Ghirl & A et al., 2004). By obtaining such information, the researchers would have been able to determine the individual efficiency of each of their subjects’ mostly based on whether they were left brained or right brained. Therefore, they would be able to prove the existence of a grander brain hemisphere, either the left or the right. As such research was carried out on both parties in question. Information collected included their familial and medical histories, their residences and their hobbies for example. This information was collected in order to provide some background information to the subjects that participated in the study (Ghirl & A et al., 2004).
The need to know their hobbies for example would be invaluable since different hobbies correlate with different brain hemispheres. For an individual who is generally creative and enjoys activities such as painting, the right hemisphere of their brain is perceived to be the more dominant of the two. In the case of an individual who enjoys playing chess that requires more logic, concentration and reason, the left hemisphere is assumed to be more active. The results obtained from the study showed that a relationship existed between the hobbies an individual enjoyed and their hemispherical dominance. They also showed that the dominance was partially genetically dependent.
This is to mean that if both parents are right brained, for example, there is a significant likelihood that their offspring will be right brained, as well. A suitable illustration of this is when the child of two exemplary singers turns out to be a remarkable singer. From this information, the researchers concluded that genetic relationships exist and have a large role to play in hemispherical dominance (Ghirl & A et al., 2004). The information portrayed in this article corresponds to the initial beliefs about the left and right brains which are later repudiated by the author of the media idea based on more recent findings concerning the matter.
The final article explicates the link that is present between brain plasticity and the behavior of an individual. This is all interpreted based on the particular usage of the hemispheres of the brain. In this case, the researchers conduct experiments that are aimed at determining how plasticity of the brain affects the normal behavior of a person and by what degree the hemispheres affect the said changes (Kolb & Gibb et al., 2003). Experiments were conducted on a diverse group of people, such as those assumed to be left and right brained. This was done in order to ensure that the information obtained was unbiased and accurate in every conceivable way. From the experiments, the researchers obtained results that showed that when the nervous system was altered, there was a corresponding change in the performance of an individual. For example, a previously humble person can become more arrogant (Kolb & Gibb et al., 2003).
In addition to this, their research showed that the change in the nervous system also transformed to a significant extent the most dominant brain hemisphere that the person under study used. The researchers, therefore, established that behavioral changes in a person are affected by brain plasticity which in turn affects the hemispherical dominance of the person in question. The media article contradicts the arguments brought forth in this article. This is because the researchers in this case have emphasized on the prominence of only one of the hemispheres of the brain as the previous articles do. They explain that changes in behavior are affected by plasticity and the most dominant hemisphere of the brain (Kolb & Gibb et al., 2003). The articles in this case do not support the media article that no superior brain hemisphere exists (Cherry, 2013)
In order to investigate the question further, a different experiment needs to be conducted. The aim of this experiment would be to prove that the brain works in unison and that none of the two hemispheres overrides the other in terms of functionality. In order to prove this, the subjects that would participate in this experiment would be individuals assumed to be left or right brained, one that has undergone a resection of the corpus callosum and a normal person who is neither left or right brained to act as a control. A series of activities will be carried out such as identification of pictures and sounds both familiar or not and some questions that require logic.
These particular tests will be able to show the harmonious working of both hemispheres of the brain. The process that I would use for testing will be fMRI, functional magnetic resonance imaging. This is because it is an accurate method that is non-invasive compared to other available methods. This method’s efficiency is based on the fact that it is dependent on cerebral flow of blood as well as the activation of neurons in the brain. Since blood flow to the brain is consistent, the test is accurate. In this test, when a particular area of the brain is in use, more blood flows towards that area and the screen lights up. In this case, the condition in experimental design would be to group the subjects into the independent and dependent variables.
Predicted results in this case would be that, in all the subjects with an intact corpus callosum, both hemispheres would light up and not only one hemisphere as is claimed by the supporters of the right versus left brain theory. In the case of a patient with a resected corpus callosum, only one of the hemispheres would light up since there is no communication between both sides of the brain. From this information, it would prove that there is no distinctly left of right brained individual but instead that the brain works in unison (Cherry, 2013)
Cherry, K. (2013). Left Brain vs. Right Brain. [online] Retrieved from: http://psychology.about.com/od/cognitivepsychology/a/left-brain-right-brain.htm [Accessed: 29 Nov 2013].
Ghirl, A, S. & Vallortigara, G. (2004). The evolution of brain lateralization: a game-theoretical analysis of population structure. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London-B, 271 (1541), 853–858.
Kolb, B., Gibb, R. & Robinson, T. (2003). Brain plasticity and behavior. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 12 (1), 1–5.
Metcalfe, J., Funnell, M. & Gazzaniga, M. (1995). Right-hemisphere memory superiority: Studies of a split-brain patient. Psychological Science, 157–164.