How Your Left-brain and Right-brain Function
While it weighs just three pounds, your brain contains up to 100 billion neurons or brain cells.
Your brain is divided into two sides, technically called hemispheres. Nerve fibers connect these two hemispheres and communicate with each other.
Those hemispheres control different processes. The left hemisphere handles tasks including reading, writing, speaking, arithmetic reasoning, and understanding.
The right hemisphere, on the other hand, processes visual perception, understands spatial relationships, recognizes patterns, absorbs music, and interprets emotional expressions.
One hemisphere typically dominates (a process called lateralization), although the degree of lateralization differs among people.
Roger W. Sperry won the Nobel Prize in 1960 for his findings about brain lateralization, which eventually led to the idea of left-brain and right-brain personalities.
Are You Left Brain or Right Brain Dominant?
Sperry’s left-brain and right-brain personality theory suggests everyone has one dominant side or hemisphere of their brain that determines personality, thoughts, and behavior. After all, people are either left-handed or right-handed. Why shouldn’t they also be left- or right-brained?
In other words, people have a personality, thinking style, or way of doing things that is either right-brained or left-brained.
Left-brained people are more analytical, logical detail-oriented, fact-oriented, numerical, and likely to think in words.
Right-brained people, on the other hand, are more creative, free-thinking, intuitive, visualize more than think in words, and look at the “big picture” about particular situations.
You’ve probably met people who fall squarely into one of those categories. Perhaps you feel like you do, too?
Maybe you have a friend who just wants the facts. He’s a numbers guy, and very little “gray” exists within his thinking. And then you have a family member who’s an artist and some people refer to as a daydreamer.
Putting people into neat categories — either left-brained or right-brained — helps make more sense about their personalities. We can understand them better and say, “Ah, ha! That explains why they behave.”
There’s only one problem: This theory isn’t a scientifically accurate way to understand the brain. In other words, people don’t fall neatly into left-brained or right-brained categories.
Dividing the brain and categorizing personalities dramatically oversimplifies a very complex organ. Instead, the brain is a complex organ with different parts designed to work together.
While some functions do play out on one side of your brain, there is little evidence that personality traits like creativity are a function of one specific area of the brain.
In other words, that some of us have a dominant left or right brain and fall into specific stereotypes (such as being creative) makes sense but carries little scientific accuracy.
While your brain is lateralized — you use the left side for basic math skills, for instance — making broad personality statements based on this lateralization lacks scientific evidence. In fact, many creative or logical tasks require your entire brain.
Are Women and Men Left-brained and Right-brained?
While most of us have qualities that fall into left-brain or right-brain patterns, overall people can’t be so neatly categorized.
But what does that say about the similarities and differences between men and women? According to Olga Khazan in The Atlantic, we aren’t entirely sure.
One study found male brains have more connections within each hemisphere, while female brains are more interconnected between hemispheres. Those patterns might influence how we respond to certain situations.
Overall, though, studies challenge the long-held idea that men and women have different strengths in one part of the brain. In other words, we think far more alike than different.
Regardless, they can help us make sense of our differences.
Except in the past, they weren’t always harmless. The idea that your left and right hemispheres operate different parts of the brain, first proposed in the late nineteenth century by French physician Paul Broca, played into the pre-existing prejudice that white men were superior.
Your Brain on Stress
Scientists do note some key differences between how male and female brains work, including feeling and emotion. Women, for instance, have stronger, more vivid memories of emotional events than men do.
Even how we process stress might be different, even if that stress becomes equally detrimental for both genders.
When you feel stressed, your brain alerts the rest of your body (via the nervous system) to mobilize. This chain of command provides your body the energy and focus it requires to handle the stressor.
Once your fight-or-flight response calms the stressful situation, your stress hormone cortisol lowers and your body returns to its normal state.
At least that’s how it should work.
When that stress sticks around beyond its prime — a condition we call chronic stress — changes in the brain and body can create disease. That prolonged or overwhelming stress can manifest as an irregular heart rate, low energy, and emotional numbing.
How the brain handles stress becomes important because chronic stress, characterized by high levels of cortisol, can damage your brain in multiple ways:
- May make you feel less social to interact with others.
- Can kill brain cells and reduce your brain size.
- Can shrink the part of your brain that contributes to memory and learning.
Men and women oftentimes respond differently to stress. While females are more likely to report stress-related physical symptoms and connecting with others, they are more likely than men to report experiencing a great amount of stress.
What we stress about also differs. Women overall stress out more about finances, while work becomes a massive stressor for many men. Stressors trigger more of a reaction among women, who are more likely to get a headache or upset stomach.
However, we are all different, so categorizing these reactions as male or female oversimplifies our very complex brains.
Stress Doesn’t Discriminate Based on Sex
Regardless of gender, chronic stress has a dramatic and far-reaching impact on your brain.
Your brain circuits are plastic, a term that scientists call neuroplasticity. Stress can actually remodel those circuits to impact anxiety, mood control, memory, and decision making.
In fact, reduced brain plasticity could contribute to depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder ( PTSD), and Alzheimer’s disease.
That impact, along with factors including aging, can mean your brain loses its resilience to recover from stress-induced changes.
The good news is that even if you’ve struggled with chronic stress and its impact on your brain, you can reverse that damage and cultivate a healthy, vibrant brain. Once a stress experience ends, your brain can recover.
Develop Your Left Brain and Right Brain Postive Mindset
A positive mindset becomes an excellent foundation to better manage stress and its damaging effects on your brain. Shifting into an authentic feeling of gratitude and optimism can reduce the impact of worry, anxiety, and stress.
Some ways to do that include:
- Keep a gratitude journal. Spend five minutes in the morning and evening writing what you’re most grateful for.
- Close your eyes and breathe deeply for one minutes.
- Do yoga.
- Practice mindfulness.
When you find ways to maintain that positive mindset, your brain recovers more quickly from stress. Part of that recovery results from a brain protein called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) that fosters healthy brain cells.
Chronic stress reduces levels of BDNF. Optimizing BDNF, on the other hand, could increase resilience so you cope better with life’s inevitable stressors.
Other ways to reduce the impact of stress on your brain and sustain that positive mindset include:
- Eat the right diet. Our Core and Advanced plans provide the ideal diet to support brain health. Depending on the plan, you’ll incorporate healthy fats, protein, and plenty of antioxidant-rich carbohydrates like leafy and cruciferous vegetables. These foods help increase BDNF, stabilize blood sugar, and protect your brain against stress.
- Take the right supplements. A few well-chosen nutrients can also increase BDNF, reduce inflammation, and protect your brain against damage. Discuss including these and/or any other additional supplements with your healthcare practitioner. Never modify any medications or other medical advice without your healthcare practitioner’s consent:
- Find ways to de-stress. You can’t eliminate stress, but you can reduce its impact on your brain by finding ways to foster a positive mindset for wellbeing. Researchers find music, for instance, can optimize BDNF levels, improve your mood, and lower stress.
- Get the right exercise. You’ve likely experienced the stress-reducing benefits of a good workout. But not all exercise makes the grade for brain health: Shorter bouts of high-intensity exercise can elevate levels of BDNF better than continuous high-intensity exercise. You can get those and other benefits with a full-body workout in just 12 minutes a day with our MaxT3 program.
- Maintain positive social interactions. Keep healthy relationships among like-minded people with a positive mindset and find your purpose in life. These are effective ways to manage stress. How you define those things is up to you. They might include volunteering, getting involved in a like-minded Meetup group, and joining a church or synagogue.
Many people today suffer from mental and emotional health that impact their overall wellbeing. Fostering a positive mindset to better manage your stress response can support a healthy, happy brain.
While scientists have largely debunked the idea that men and women have a dominant left brain or right brain, better understanding this theory can provide clues about how the brain operates. It could also help researchers better diagnose and treat disorders.
Discuss including these and/or any other additional supplements with your healthcare practitioner. Never modify any medications or other medical advice without your healthcare practitioner’s consent.