The right brained conundrum

Apr 19, 2012 by     12 Comments    Posted under: Advertising, Branding, Business Success, Creative, Design


Psychology has always strived to create measures for how to categorize one’s aptitude and behaviour based on brain function. “What’s your IQ? What’s your EQ? What do you see in this ink blot?” There are innumerable tests designed to determine how we as people think and process information.

Mapping Psychology
The cognitive tests, models and theories based on studying the human mind can help us determine individual and group responses to certain stimuli. With this research, we have a better understanding of the differences in the way people think.

Taking into consideration the theory that our brains function differently from person to person, yet can be categorized into different groupings, we can also divide people into right brained and left brained. This of course is nothing new. The basic understanding of right vs. left brain is that the right brain controls creativity, visual and spacial perception and thinks “big picture” and ideas. The left brain controls logic, maths and sciences and thinks “practical” and reality based solutions.

The right brained tendency
Personally speaking, I have always been categorized by others as a “right brained” person – long before I had an understanding of what that truly meant. I’ve taken the tests online, seen the dancer spinning clockwise and sometimes even counterclockwise. When I wash the dishes, sometimes I stack them neatly and other times I balance them precariously in a pile. But, I can say that I believe I do have a right brained tendency – tendency being the key word.

Brain

So, who are right brained people?
There is a lot of theory as to what makes the right brained person tick. According to my go-to source, Wikipedia: “The processing of visual and auditory stimuli, spatial manipulation, facial perception, and artistic ability are represented bilaterally, but may show a right hemisphere superiority.”

Of course, not everyone with a right brained tendency has the same behaviour and thought patterns. The same is true for those with a left brained tendency. Although, there seems to be enough common ground (or mind) that these hemispherical categorizations can and have been made.

What’s the point?
The point is, even with all the research, individuals with a right brained tendency are not that well understood. They don’t typically fit the mold. However, right brained thinkers have contributed to some of the greatest discoveries and creative masterpieces we’ve ever known.

A few likely right brained thinkers

  • Thomas Edison
  • Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni
  • Pablo Picasso
  • Rembrandt Harmenszoon Van Run
  • Walt Disney
  • Nelson Rockefeller
  • Hans Christian Anderson
  • Leonardo da Vinci
  • Sir Winston Churchill
  • Benjamin Franklin
  • John F. Kennedy
  • Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
  • John Lennon
  • Louis Pasteur
  • Orville and Wilber Wright
  • Alexander Graham Bell
  • Ludwig Van Beethoven
  • Thomas Jefferson
  • George Washington
  • Vincent Van Gogh
  • Agatha Christie
  • Ernest Hemmingway
  • Mark Twain
  • Anna Roosevelt
  • King Gustav IV of Sweden
  • Albert Einstein
  • Marie and Pierre Curie
  • Socrates
  • Galileo Galilei
  • F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • Abraham Lincoln
  • Steven Spielberg

Bottom line
Don’t underestimate those right brained people that you know. Perhaps they have more clarity of thought than you realize. And, don’t be surprised when they come up with a really good idea seemingly out of nowhere. I have the privilege to work with some exceptional creative thinkers who have strongly developed right brains. Do you?

What do you think about the theories surrounding right brained psychology?

About the author

Lindsay Sleightholm Lindsay Sleightholm is a fireball of creative passion who is committed to brilliant design and client satisfaction. An unrelenting perfectionist with 8 solid years of design and production knowledge for print-ready creative, Lindsay is an intrinsic part of the creative process from conception to delivery.

12 Comments + Add Comment

  • Another excellent article from 3H, Miriam. The human brain is much too complex, in my humble opinion, to be segmented to right and left. I think – like in business, nature, the cosmo – that the truly successful creative mind does not work in exclusion of the logical mind. It, in fact, quickly reorganizes to reach its goal. It analyzes the parameters then fulfills its creative destiny within those parameters. The Sistine Chapel is a creative masterpiece that could not be accomplished without the extreme focus on the limitations and requirements. The ceiling was there, there was nowhere else to paint, so the creation had to fit in those parameters. To make the human image seem realistic, complex mathematical formulas and comparisons had to be used (intuited?). It is the interaction within the brain, the connection between creative and logical that allows a masterpiece to be created – whether you’re talking about art, music, writing, design, business plans, accounting – it is the creative mind that finds solutions to the challenges defined by the logical mind. It is like like the relationship between a kite and the wind.

    • Miriam Hara

      Hi Brian, thanks for the compliment! Great creative (right-brained?!) analogy between the kite and the wind!

    • Lindsay Sleightholm

      Thanks for your feedback Brian!

      The brain is indeed a very complex organ, and from what I gather is still very much being studied. There are oodles of theories about how it works. But, no one really knows everything about it. However, the brain is physically divided into two parts and so one must wonder if these distinct parts also have distinct functions?

      Of course as I alluded to, nothing is black or white about right vs. left, hense the ‘conundrum’. I agree with you, I think to be truly successful the logical mind cannot and should not be discounted.

      As for the kite and the wind, I wonder which one is the creative and which one is the logic? I think it could go either way depending on how you look at it.

  • My point exactly. Maybe you view the kite as being free to fly with and against the wind; Dipping and swooping in a beautiful but unpredictable fashion. Or maybe the kite is the result of calculation of the tension on the string and the speed of the wind and its own design mechanics. Is the wind free or is it a measurable variable? How about this: Are we the string making sense of it all, or are we the flight itself?

    There is a connecting tissue that spans the two sides of the brain that integrates the interactions of both sides. It’s arguable that this is where “creativity” takes place; That this is where all the available information is gathered and the concept is born. We’ve all heard of “creative accounting” in business and read some very formulaic fiction books. As you said, Lindsay, there may be greater influence from one side of the brain, but it is its complement that helps that kite rise in the wind.

    Absolutely loved your article!

    • Lindsay Sleightholm

      Thanks Brian, your thoughts are very much appreciated!

      Yes, exactly! The possibilities are up for debate. As far as your kite flying reference (and what you had pointed out earlier) I think we are the culmination of all the elements involved. So, if the kite is our creative and the wind our logic, that might mean we are the one’s holding the string, trying to navigate both.

      To take it further, some kites are bigger and more elaborate than others. Also, depending on the air stream they catch fly high or tumble back to earth.

      Here’s to clear skies, favourable winds and ideas that take flight!

  • I don’t agree about the fact that the right brain (said the creative hemisphere) would find solutions to the challenges defined by the left brain (said the logical one). For both we have different ways of processing informations – wich could be resume in different ways of thinking (but of course it’s much more complicated than that) – and different ways of viewing the world around us.

    The brain is not as dichotomous as once thought… Both can work connected together (and some recent studies just pointed the fact that those who have the best skills in math aren’t left brained as said before, they are using both hemispheres), but both can define their own challenges and solve them on their own way, or both can challenge the other hemisphere.

    In Fine Arts by example, many painters came up with the question what is Painting? what is Art? etc. (wich was more right brain challenge, more subjective and intuitive, than a left brain one). For Jackson Pollock, the answer was purely intuitive and expressive, it was the birth of Action Painting (nothing about thinking, just doing). Lets pick another artist, Dan Flavin, his answer (even if we can look at it in an artistic way) is left breined, logic. His piece of art with fluorescent lights are fist described with technological knowledge on a piece of paper : size of the room, size of the tubes, spacing between them, what power, what exact color, etc. This is almost engineering… So we have right challenge – right answer and right challenge – left anser.

    Before studing Fine Arts, and becoming an art director, I was in an engineering school. I can say that there are some technical matters (so purely left brained) that you solve using typically your left hemisphere (the linear process from part to whole) and some are on the other hand solved with your right brain (holistically processing, from whole to part, more intuitive). So we have left challenge – left answer and left challenge – right answer too. The brain study is in its infancy, just 30 years, anything is too soon to tell…

    In architecture, the first step of building a masterpiece is creative, the architect is drawing, and the roughs are the challenge, a creative one. The answer to the creative challenge wil be logical, coming from the left side : mathematic formulas to solve materials’ resistance matters and come up with plans and technical drawing… So we are facing a chalenge defined by the creative mind and solved by the logical one…

    As creative and poetical the analogy with the kite and the wind can be, I have some doubts too, sorry. The kite, to reach its goal, to fulfill what it was designed for, needs the wind! No wind, no fly. Well, you can always try to throw it :) One the other hand, you can tell there is wind without seeing a kite… That made one hemisphere autonomous (the wind), and the other one (the kite) conditional to the 1st one, no way, that means one hemisphere is more important than the other one…

    Being either the right or the left brain, the kite could fly on its own, with or without wind (and this is the magic part, the mystery…) It doesn’t need the other part to leave, to live… (sure, in the thinking process, not the biology, because cut one half of the brain and there is just death…

    • Lindsay Sleightholm

      Thanks for sharing your views Olivier.

      You bring up a whole new line of questioning with the artist examples. Just because you are an artist, does that also mean you are right brained? Also, if you are right brained, does that mean you an artist? My guess is no.

      Considering your backgrounds Olivier, in both engineering and art, I’d think you have a leg up on most! You have had the experience that has allowed for both developing the logical and creative minds. Of course you are correct, brain function and the capabilities of the brain are still being studied. I wonder if it will ever be truly ‘understood’ in it entirety?

      Architecture is another profession that calls on both logical and creative. Marketing experts, Creative Directors and Graphic Designers also use both creative and logic.

      The kite analogy Brian mentioned is sure getting a workout! :) I suppose it helps illustrate what we are discussing. And, I don’t believe it was to dispute importance of the left or logical brain or saying that the right brain is of greater importance. It was simply to illustrate the success of both the logical and creative together.

  • Wow! Talk about dissecting theory! No, there was no reference to importance of either in my kite analogy. But to go down that road, The kite exists without the wind, the wind without the kite. Together they create flight. Physiologically, the brain cannot exist in half, not because of the way they interact but because autonomic functions are found in both sides of the brain. (for the record, our bodies are simply designed to keep our brains alive).

    But, Oliver, we seem to agree on the original point that the right and left brain have, respectively, creative and logical tendencies. And we definitely agree,(as I alluded to in my first entry), that there is a “creative” element and a “logical” element to all thought processes. Personally, I have always wanted to be a writer, so out of high school I became a biology major so I could start a career as a financial planner to get into marketing. One thing I have learned though this winding road is that the people who know their stuff the best, have found creative ways to learn, to assess, and/or to problem solve.

    I could go on and on with information about cognitive development in infants or the creativity of other chordates. This conversation, however has become much more technical than I think anyone ever intended. :) But what I will say is this: I have never met a person who was not creative or who was not logical. It is only our interpretation/evaluation of those traits that varies. We can try to categorize the biological process that allows us to create a masterpiece or solve the mathematical code to the Universe. Or, we can just watch in wonder as a kite flies in the wind.

  • Miriam Hara

    Hi Brian… I like to see people get passionate about their points of view. It’s all good! Thanks for contributing!

  • Big conundrum: graphic “artists” who often can’t spell because they’re just too creative, or won’t organize their files or name them properly because that is just SO left-brained. Just not wired that way, sorry. Too artistic, you know.

    Well, lining up boxes on a page and checking your measurements are part of the job too, and our creative tendencies are no excuse to get lazy and sloppy. Grow up! If we’re real graphic artists we have to exercise our left brains quite a lot, too. The right brain theory can be an excuse for sheer lack of skill and/or discipline, really.

    • Miriam Hara

      Thanks Tricia for you insight! Just goes to show, right brained tendency people all have a little of the left-brain know-how happening! We just like to pick and choose!

    • Lindsay Sleightholm

      Hi Tricia,

      Very valid point about the left brain. No argument here. I’m sure as you and I – and most designers – know, we indeed use our whole brain. Perhaps I was a little too subtle in the fourth paragraph, where I had aimed to illustrate that fact.

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