What does a scientist think of "right brain/left brain" tests?

  • 27 February 2016
Millions of Facebook users have done the online tests.
Image caption Millions of Facebook users have done the online tests.

Maybe you've noticed the recent spate of "brain tests" making the rounds online.

There are different versions - several have been shared hundreds of thousands of times on Facebook - but most of them take the form of a quiz which purports to show how "left-brained" or "right-brained" you are. The idea is that the left side of the brain is associated more with logic and rationality and the right side controls creativity and emotion.

So is there any evidence that the two sides of the brain correspond to those particular characteristics?

Image copyright Facebook

"It is certainly the case that some people have more methodical, logical cognitive styles, and others more uninhibited, spontaneous styles," says Jeffrey Anderson, a brain researcher at the University of Utah. "This has nothing to do on any level with the different functions of the [brain's] left and right hemisphere."

Anderson led a team that looked at the brains of more than a thousand people and measured strong connections on both sides of the brain. They found that these connections were distributed fairly evenly - in other words, it wasn't the case that some people had stronger connections on one side of the brain or the other.

So what explains the origins of the right/left myth? It stems from Nobel Prize-winning research which showed that different sections of the brain have different functions. But separating the brain's two halves into "logical" and "emotional" hemispheres appears to be a function of pop psychology, not science.

"The pop culture idea (creative vs. logical traits) has no support in the neuroscience community and flies in the face of decades of research about brain organization, the functional roles of the two brain hemispheres and evidence from patients with lesions in one or the other hemisphere in the brain," Anderson told BBC Trending via email.

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A 2011 BBC Radio 4 programme debunked the right brain/left brain theory along with other popular brain myths, such as the idea that we only use 10% of our grey matter, or that listening to Mozart makes us smarter.

Now here at BBC Trending we hate to ruin the party, so by all means continue to take those Facebook brain quizzes if you like, but remember it's a just bit of fun - not a bit of science.

Blog by Mike Wendling

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