The myth of the creative-right vs analytical-left brain: debunked

left brain right brain mythI’m a neuroscientist by training. Popular culture would label me ‘logical, detail-oriented and analytical’. But when I was in high school, I considered applying to art school and pursuing career as a painter.  Had I followed that path in life, would I be considered ‘creative, thoughtful and free-spirited’?

No doubt you’ve heard people say that the left side of the brain is the logical and analytical, whereas the right side of the brain is artistic and creative. Personality or cognitive processes (ways of thinking) are thought to be cultivated on one side of the brain or other giving rise to the rather nifty idea that you are “right-brained” or “left-brained”, creative or analytical … neuroscientist or artist.

Creative vs analytical, ‘right-brained’ vs ‘left-brained’ myth debunked.

This popular myth has once again been debunked by University of Utah neuroscientists who used brain imaging to show there is no evidence that people are ‘right-brained’ or ‘left-brained’. 

Neuroscientists have always known its a myth – but this is some new evidence thats worth exploring here.

University of Utah neuroscientist Dr Jeff Anderson, lead author of the study, says,

It’s absolutely true that some brain functions occur in one or the other side of the brain. Language tends to be on the left, attention more on the right. But people don’t tend to have a stronger left- or right-sided brain network.

The Utah team scanned the brains of 1,011 people between the ages of seven and 29. They used a technique called resting state functional connectivity magnetic resonance imaging (rs-fcMRI)… forget about that mouthful for now. They tested the idea that one half of a person’s brain is more active, more connected and more synchronised than the other.

The team divided each person’s brain into over 7,000 regions and examined each region to see if it showed stronger activity on the left or the right side of the brain. They also looked for connections between regions that were more localised (also called ‘lateralised’) to one hemisphere or the other.

The results of the study might finally change the way people think about the right-brain versus left-brain personalities says Jared Nielsen, a PhD student who worked on the study,

…we just don’t see patterns where the whole left-brain network is more connected or the whole right-brain network is more connected in some people. It may be that personality types have nothing to do with one hemisphere being more active, stronger, or more connected.

How did the left-brain vs right-brain myth come about?

We know the left side of the brain controls movement on the right side of the body and vice-versa.  And some functions of the brain are more likely (but not always!) located on one side of the brain rather than the other.  Speech and language, for example, are  found in the left hemisphere, but not ALL aspects of speech are left-sided, intonation, for example, is found on the right. Also, studies of patients with tumours or stroke show that our sense of our body and limbs in space or ‘spatial perception’ is located to the right hemisphere.

As an interesting aside … language and ‘handed-ness’ are related. Whereas 97% of right-handed people have their speech centre on the left, only 70% of left-handers do.

The two hemispheres of the brain are also slightly different anatomically and microscopically (which means they look a bit different when you look at them with your eyes and down the microscope).  Some neuroscientists theorise that these differences and the brain asymmetries of language, spatial perception and handedness probably led to the prevailing myth that whole brain functions such as personality and styles of thinking are also located to one hemisphere or the other.

What if I AM more creative than analytical?

Everyone has strengths and weaknesses. Everyone has talents, and everyone has skills they need to develop. Recognise and foster your talents. Set goals and develop new skills. Just don’t attribute ‘whole brain’, global functions or personality to one side of the brain or other.

The brain is way more complex (and interesting) than that!

One problem that has arisen from this mythology is the raft of books, tests, apps, workshops and online games that exploit the myth by promising to help you ‘tap into your creative right brain’. Fine if you want to spend your money on them and expand on skills and knowledge that you may not already have, BUT this simplistic right-brained vs left-brained view of how the brain works is not grounded in evidence!

Also, believing that you are ‘creative but not analytical’, or ‘logical and unintuitive’ and that is hard-wired into your brain, is a rather limiting belief and probably becomes self-fulfilling after a while.

Christian Jarrett who writes for Psychology Today sums my thoughts up perfectly:

I suppose the logical left-brain, creative right-brain myth has a seductive simplicity about it. People can ask – which kind of brain have I got? They can buy an app to target their weaker half. They can categorise languages and people as right-brained or left. It’s tricky to combat that belief system by saying the truth is really more complicated. But it’s worth trying, because it would be a shame if the simplistic myth drowned out the more fascinating story of how our brains really work.


Nielsen et al. 2013. An Evaluation of the Left-Brain vs. Right-Brain Hypothesis with Resting State Functional Connectivity Magnetic Resonance Imaging. PLoS ONE.  Costandi M. 2013. 50 ideas you really need to know about the human brain. Quercus Editions. London.   Image credit:


21 Responses to The myth of the creative-right vs analytical-left brain: debunked

  1. Thank you for this interesting information. A while ago, I did a little test to determine/confirm which side of my brain is predominant…According to the result…I was both “right brained” and “left brained”. I repeated the test later ( different versions) with the same result. Well, now I understand why…Thank you.

  2. Really enjoyed your article in Mind Body Green today. It lead me to your site that has
    a lot of interesting information for example: debunking the right brain left brain.
    I’ll keep reading….

  3. Great article. I believe too that the danger here is a self fulfilling prophecy (in young people especially).

    Take this blog for example:

    Now, what is written over there is clearly wrong and there are several other websites which present similar ideas.

    For me, I have a degree in Fine Art, studied art composition, the golden ratio and am acutely aware that visual art is a mathematical endeavor as well as a creative one.

    I just can not believe that people continue to perpetuate a concept (left brain/right brain) that is clearly incorrect.The contradictions are so obvious even when looked at casually.

    • YES yes yes!! The idea is pervasive! I think its fine to have analogies about how we ‘think’, but it’s NOT based on how the brain works.
      Nice to have you round these parts.

  4. Thanks for this article, Sarah.

    The very pervasive left/right brain myth has long been one of my pet peeves.

    The mass media seem to have a great predilection for pseudo-science, even in purportedly “science” TV programs..

    Another issue sure to raise my hackles is the mantra that nature is “fractal”. Which it very clearly ain’t.


  5. The way I see it there is a difference between common usage as a figure of speech vs scientific fact. I know what scientifically the notion of a left and right brained divide to simplify creative vs analytical though is ridiculous. However, I still do use the term “left brained” vs “right brained” to describe people. It is shorter to say “right brained” vs “someone who’s strengths are creative, intuitive, and artisitc thought processes”. I look at these terms as useful metaphorical figures of speech rather than scientific fact. Similar to telling someone they are as blind as a bat. Obviously not all bats are blind and some have a very keen sense of vision but the statement was used as a figure of speech vs accurate scientific fact.

    • I agree to a certain extent. And if fact I used the term ‘left-brain thinking’ the other day as short-hand for analytical. There is always a place for a short-hand phrase, the problem arises when we treat that phrase as scientific fact. With the brain it gets pretty easy to do that as it’s so complex!

  6. Hi Sarah, I have been reading with interest the neuroscience evidence on debunking the left/right hand brain myth. I have read that neuroscientists believe that neurological connections can be made right into adulthood and I am wondering what the impact of this is on teachings that you should play to your strengths and not focus on your weaknesses? I would love to have your view on this. Many thanks.

  7. Thank you Sarah. It’s very interesting and one I hope to explore further. From the development world a lot of the teachings over the past 15 years have been about focusing only on strengths. With the newer research from neuroscience I think it is worth exploring further. As I work in the field of coaching and leadership development I would love to be able to apply the research from neuroscience into practice and ensure we are not upholding any urban myths. Thanks again.

  8. My belief is that the brain operating from its left & right hemispheres is in fact the Masculine brain…the control centre for the human, mortal body, which takes its info from the Nervous System (the system of fear…it’s very nervous). This is a process of duality (left and right sides) that employs the spinal canal for its means of delivery. The creative Feminine brain, which is increasing its presence, operates through the middle channel of the brain when we’ve overcome duality. This is a process of unity that employs a central energetic spinal channel that delivers pure energy. Evolution is diminishing our fears, and thus dissolving the dual nature of our bodies. The left and right hemispheres are moving into communion. The fearful Masculine brain supports chemical reactivity, dis-ease, aging and death…destruction. The loving Feminine brain supports ease, youth and immortality…creation. And this is happening within our bodies NOW! It only requires a shift in perception to see it.

  9. Ok then have you read “My Stroke of Insight” by Jill Bolte Taylor PhD
    a trained brain scientist had a stroke and records what went on following the stroke and during her recovery.. Her “left brain” was broken (no speech, understanding of speech, sound etc) but her right brain functioned… maybe read it???

  10. Hi Sarah, loved your article … came upon it as I was researching horizontal integration of left & right brain and vertical integration, from primitive responses to ‘mature’. Im a 3rd year education student and am looking at how this information impacts on the way we teach and learn. The lecture was on Brain Theory and Neuroplasticity. (a very basic one) What is the scope of ‘integration of left & right brain’ would this be referring to the myth you are debunking? or different functions of left and right? Thanks

  11. Fascinating article, Sarah, thank you. After 16 years of doctoral and masters studies and teaching in higher education, I’ve started a digital SLR camera course, only to find that I understand but can’t adequately translate the classroom lessons into photos that reflect what I learned. I thought it was the left/right brain issue, but perhaps it’s simply because I’ve tended to “live in my head” rather than engage in practical activities requiring coordination between the mental and practical.
    Are there any neurological explanations for this conundrum? Thanks, Anna

Leave a reply

ten − 9 =