The Left Brain – Right Brain Split Theory proposes that the left hemisphere of human brain is responsible for the linear and logical processing, or so-called cold logic, while the right hemisphere is more emotional, intuitive and holistic, involving the evaluation of the whole picture instead of taking things one at a time. This theory may be taken as one useful basis but should not be taken as the ultimate solid foundation in the field of education or learning, because it is still only a theory that is up to these days being debated on. Its impact on learning, therefore, is not yet firmly established as there are two opposing opinions and thoughts about it.
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The Left Side – Right Side Brain Theory has a good number of psychologists, researchers and experts believing in it. It was first proposed by Roger Sperry, a Nobel Prize winner, who was curious about and eventually initiated the study of the relationship between the left and right hemispheres of the brain (Parsons & Osgersib, 2001). In the abovementioned study, Sperry found distinct differences between the two hemispheres: the left tends to function by processing information in an analytical, rational, logical and sequential way, while the right tends to function by recognizing relationships, integrating and synthesizing information and by arriving at intuitive insights. Sperry thereby concluded that the left hemisphere of the brain deals with a situation primarily by collecting data, analyzing the same and processing said analysis through rational thinking process towards a logical conclusion. The right hemisphere, Sperry concluded, approaches the same problem differently by making intuitive leaps to answers that are purely based on insights and perceptions (ibid.).
Further enhancing Sperry’s research, Ned Hermann of the General Electric Management Development Institute developed a brain-dominance profile instrument, which was intended to help people assess their manner of using their brains (Parsons & Osgersib, 2001). Such research suggested that people in various professions tend to be either left-brain or right-brain oriented as evidenced by managers who tend to be left-brained and are focused on organizing, structuring and controlling situations compared to social workers who tend to be right-brained and are drawing on their ability to relate to emotions to achieve insights about situations (ibid.).
Another believer in the Left Brain- Right Brain Theory, Dr. John Robert Dew, in his article in Quality Progress Magazine in April 1996 (pp. 91-93), claims that left brain - right brain dominance has a significant bearing on quality, or in the achievement or non-achievement of quality. In the article, Dew states that the concept of quality is envisioned or perceived differently by different people primarily because people process information and conceptualize situations in varied ways as influenced by the dominance of one of the two hemispheres in the brain. Dew explains his claim by comparing the attitudes and mindsets between left brain-dominant and right brain-dominant quality professionals, citing that left-brain quality professionals might become exasperated with their right-brain counterparts who seem to lack an appreciation for the careful use of date. On the other hand, right-brain professionals might also be irritated with their left-brain colleagues for being too rigid in their thinking or on seemingly slow ability to grasp the causes of problems.
Having recognized these distinct differences, Dew developed a right brain – left brain quality parameters that cover the whole range of quality issues including approaches to solving quality-related problems with all approaches based heavily on patterns of thinking and processing of information that depend on brain dominance. As an example, Dew mentions two methods which are commonly used to perform root-cause analysis: 1. A left-brain approach that employs a pre-established set of questions which, in turn, forces the investigator to use one of the pre-established root-cause categories typifying a left-brain thinking process that puts value on order and systematic steps in developing a solution to a problem; and, 2. A right-brain approach that first tries the 5 whys method, using barrier analysis or any other tool that provides a visual image of solution in order to see into where a barrier existed.
On the other hand, there are also oppositions to the use of Left Brain – Right Brain Theory as a solid basis in the learning process. According to Ryo (2012), although the two brain hemispheres are different, they should not be thought of as two radically different processors since studies suggest that although these two hemispheres have subtly distinct processing styles, both share mental processes and do not really function exclusive of the other. To reinforce such, Hines (2012) agrees by stating that the Left Brain - Right Brain Theory is somewhat exaggerated and quite discriminating. Hines (ibid.) emphasizes on his research review on the subject that said theory is nothing but a hemispheric mythology contradicted by research regarding the nature of the hemispheres’ differences.
Ryo (2012) continues that to cite learning language, for instance, Chinese, Japanese and English speakers have totally different neural experiences upon engaging in conversations primarily because they have highly varied languages. Chinese Mandarin, for example, is full of tonal distinctions that are not found in the English language. This, of course, gives another dimension to the already complex brain activity. Ryo states further that the Japanese and Chinese speakers may have more visual or pictorially-related neural activity in the right side of the brain borne of their written languages’ more illustrative aspects, but they are not necessarily more creative than English speakers or others whose language is not that illustrative.
On the other hand, Jensen (1998) claims that in learning, it is not the right or the left hemispheres of the brain that must be considered but the learner’s multiple senses and intelligences. According to the results of Jensen’s 6-day Brain Compatible Learning Workshop, every brain is unique, and learning takes place most effectively through brain-compatible lessons that appeal to as many senses as there can be and can be given by using movement, visuals, music and some props. Such may even include humor, novelty, rituals, celebration and even moderately challenging material as well as immediate feedback. It was further found out from Jensen experiment that the activities and stimuli to senses help in the release of chemicals that enhance well-being (serotonin), action (adrenalin), celebration (dopamine) and healthy concern (cortisol), which directly control the learners’ state.
Further, Jensen (1998) claims that his team’s research validates that learning involves total physical response and not based merely on the right brain or the left brain dominance in a learner. He explains that, foremost, a significant pathway for memory retrieval is through the physical body known as procedural memory. This can be experienced when a person is able to recall what something is or what wanted to do by the simple action of getting up and moving about. Secondly, according to Jensen, areas in the brain that are responsible in activating movement, which are the frontal lobes, cerebellum, basal ganglia and motor cortex among others, are also well-connected to the pleasure centers in the brain as motion facilitates the emotion, thus making movement an important stimulating factor in the engagement of positive feelings and better retrieval. And, finally, Jensen concludes that the peptide molecules that help store information become distributed throughout the body, which consequently means that almost all movements or motions can activate feelings and memories.
Given both views with relatively strong evidences in their claims, it will be helpful to remember that the brain’s dichotomized nature might indeed have an influence on the learning process, but is not necessarily the sole basis for it considering that human beings are more than just brains.
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