Maybe you're "right-brained": creative, artistic, an open-minded thinker who perceives things in subjective terms. Or perhaps you're more of a "left-brained" person, where you're analytical, good at tasks that require attention to detail, and more logically minded.
It turns out, though, that this idea of "brained-ness" might be more of a figure of speech than anything, as researchers have found that these personality traits may not have anything to do with which side of the brain you use more.
Researchers from the University of Utah found with brain imaging that people don't use the right sides of their brains any more than the left sides of their brains, or vice versa.
"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. It seems to be determined more connection by connection," study researcher Jeff Anderson, M.D., Ph.D., said in a statement.
Anderson and his colleagues, who published their new study in the journal PLOS ONE, looked at brain scans from 1,011 people between ages 7 and 29. All the study participants were part of the International Neuroimaging Data-Sharing Initiative, and they had their brain scans taken with a functional connectivity MRI while their brains were in a resting state for five to 10 minutes.
Researchers looked for something called "lateralization," which is the idea that certain mental processes occur mainly in either the right or left hemisphere of the brain. They divvied up the brain into 7,000 regions, to see if any brain connections between regions were left-lateralized or right-lateralized.
"Everyone should understand the personality types associated with the terminology 'left-brained' and 'right-brained' and how they relate to him or her personally; however, 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," study researcher Jared Nielsen, a graduate student in neuroscience at the university, said in the statement. "It may be that personality types have nothing to do with one hemisphere being more active, stronger, or more connected."
Correction: A previous version of this article said the participants underwent MRI brain scanning. They actually underwent functional connectivity MRI.
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In their 2012 book "<a href="http://www.amazon.com/Longevity-Project-Surprising-Discoveries-Eight-Decade/dp/0452297702" target="_hplink">The Longevity Project</a>," which looked at research over the course of 80 years, authors Howard S. Friedman and Leslie R. Martin identified an association between being conscientious and a longer life span. "Conscientiousness, which was the best predictor of longevity when measured in childhood, also turned out to be the best personality predictor of long life when measured in adulthood," <a href="http://www.amazon.com/Longevity-Project-Surprising-Discoveries-Eight-Decade/dp/0452297702" target="_hplink">the authors wrote in their book</a>. "The young adults who were thrifty, persistent, detail oriented, and responsible lived the longest." Why do more prudent people tend to live longer? According to the authors, this group is more likely to take care of their health and avoid risks, and they also develop healthier relationships, whether it be romantic, friendly or work-related. "That's right, conscientious people create healthy, long-life pathways for themselves," Friedman and Martin wrote. And finally, the researchers point out that some people seem to have a biological predisposition toward a more careful personality. "While we are not yet sure of the precise physiological reasons," they write, "it appears that conscientious and un- conscientious people have different levels of certain chemicals in their brains, including serotonin." For more on the phenomenon, and other insights into longevity, <a href="http://www.amazon.com/Longevity-Project-Surprising-Discoveries-Eight-Decade/dp/0452297702" target="_hplink">check out "The Longevity Project" here</a>.
Easy To Laugh
In a study published this past May in the journal <em>Aging</em>, researchers from Albert Einstein College of Medicine and Yeshiva University pinpointed several personality traits linked to a longer lifespan. Among the list? Frequent laughter, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/05/29/optimism-longer-life-longevity-genes-personality_n_1553967.html" target="_hplink">HuffPost reported when the findings were released</a>. "When I started working with centenarians, I thought we'd find that they survived so long in part because they were mean and ornery," study researcher Dr. Nir Barzilai, M.D., director of Einstein's Institute for Aging Research, <a href="http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2012-05/aeco-gm052412.php" target="_hplink">said in a statement</a>. "But when we assessed the personalities of these 243 centenarians, we found qualities that clearly reflect a positive attitude towards life."
Thank your family and friends for this one: a 2010 study published in the journal <em>PloS Medicine</em> found that <a href="http://www.plosmedicine.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pmed.1000316" target="_hplink">strong social relationships</a> can boost survival odds by 50 percent. The Brigham Young University and University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill researchers evaluated 148 studies. "We take relationships for granted as humans -- we're like fish that don't notice the water," BYU's Timothy Smith <a href="http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/07/100727174909.htm" target="_hplink">said in a statement about the findings</a>. "That constant interaction is not only beneficial psychologically but directly to our physical health."
The same 2012 <em>Aging</em> study that identified frequent laughter as a boost to longevity also found that optimism might tack on years to your life. Out of the 243 centenarians evaluated in the research, most were optimistic and easygoing, study researcher Dr. Nir Barzilai, M.D., director of Einstein's Institute for Aging Research, <a href="http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2012-05/aeco-gm052412.php" target="_hplink">said in a statement</a>. "Some evidence indicates that personality can change between the ages of 70 and 100, so we don't know whether our centenarians have maintained their personality traits across their entire lifespans," <a href="http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2012-05/aeco-gm052412.php" target="_hplink">he said in the release</a>. "Nevertheless, our findings suggest that centenarians share particular personality traits and that genetically-based aspects of personality may play an important role in achieving both good health and exceptional longevity."
Don't worry, be happy, live longer? A study published last year in the journal <em>Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences</em> found that older people who report being happy have a 35 percent decreased risk of dying over five years, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/11/01/happiness-long-life-_n_1068209.html" target="_hplink">HuffPost reported when the findings were released</a>. The researchers evaluated more than 3,000 people by monitoring their happiness throughout the day -- they then followed up five years later to see how many had died. "I was a bit surprised that the happiness effect was so strong, even among people who had chronic diseases," study author Andrew Steptoe, a professor at University College, London, <a href="http://vitals.msnbc.msn.com/_news/2011/10/31/8565511-want-to-live-longer-get-happy-study-says?ocid=twitter" target="_hplink">told MSNBC</a>.
<a href="http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1532-5415.2009.02189.x/abstract" target="_hplink">A 2009 study published in the <em>Journal of the American Geriatrics Society</em></a> looked at the offspring of centenarians (other research has found <a href="http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/04/090403114823.htm" target="_hplink">exceptional longevity tends to run in families</a>) -- the volunteers were typically in the high range for extroversion (and in the low range for neuroticism). "It's likely that the low neuroticism and higher extroversion will confer health benefits for these subjects," study author Thomas Perls, M.D., MPH, director of the New England Centenarian Study, <a href="http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/04/090403114823.htm" target="_hplink">said in a statement </a>when the findings were released. "For example, people who are lower in neuroticism are able to manage or regulate stressful situations more effectively than those with higher neuroticism levels. Similarly, high extroversion levels have been associated with establishing friendships and looking after yourself." The women evaluated in the study also scored high for agreeableness.