Right Brain, Left Brain? Scientists Debunk Popular Theory

08/19/2013 08:20 am ET | Updated Aug 20, 2013

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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