Monday, May 17, 2010

Thinking With Your Whole Brain, For the Most Part

I am most definitely a right-brain person, or so I have always thought. But then I took a Right Brain vs. Left Brain Creativity test sponsored by the Art Institute of Vancouver, and it turns out I am 52% right brained and 48% left. That's almost 50/50, as I see it, but then since I don't handle numbers and percentages well, I like to round up.

The test results go into detail about how a person with these percentages operates. Here is the general description for someone like me:

"You are more right-brained than left-brained. The right side of your brain controls the left side of your body. In addition to being known as right-brained, you are also known as a creative thinker who uses feeling and intuition to gather information. You retain this information through the use of images and patterns. You are able to visualize the "whole" picture first, and then work backwards to put the pieces together to create the "whole" picture. Your thought process can appear quite illogical and meandering. The problem-solving techniques that you use involve free association, which is often very innovative and creative. The routes taken to arrive at your conclusions are completely opposite to what a left-brained person would be accustomed. You probably find it easy to express yourself using art, dance, or music."

To repeat: "Your thought process can appear quite illogical and meandering." This may be true, but I'd like to point out that this leads to innovative and creative results. So... with this in mind, here is my opinion piece in today's newspaper:

The month of May, like most months, has been designated the time frame to be more aware of all sorts of issues and causes, like the American wetlands, mental health and foster care. Someone has even decided we should spend these few weeks focusing on barbeque, eggs and hamburgers. But the designation that interests me most is one established years ago by Christina Bergenholtz of Grafton, Mass.—Creative Beginnings Month.

The title “Creative Beginnings” could be interpreted to mean we should all gather to learn scrap booking or to write poetry or to knit a new scarf design. I have enough yarn in my stash that I could host that party all by myself. But I see this focus as so much more—creativity goes far beyond picking up new hobbies and is of far greater importance than whether or not we can glue or form stanzas or knit two purl two.

To think and act creatively is to make use of both sides of our brains in equal measure, and we develop this ability as children when we are granted a thorough education, a creative beginning that includes a comprehensive study of the arts. When we are taught to use the right side of the brain in tandem with the left, we know what it is to be fully human; but when our education lacks that fair balance, we fall short of our full potential.

There was a time when people believed we thought with our hearts. Then physicians and philosophers began exploring the human body and discovered it is actually the brain that generates thoughts and controls actions. Unfortunately, they believed it was the left side that did the job, and the right side was nothing more than a parasite, a stunted blob.

We’ve since learned that both sides operate together. While the left side of the brain reads the text, the right side puts the words into context and gives them meaning. The left side takes in details, and the right side places those details into the bigger picture. The left side processes in sequence with linear order, and the right side is less orderly with its processing but processes just the same.

Because neither side can function without the other, both sides need equal focus and training, a fact we often forget when teaching our children. We fill their left brains with facts to memorize and then test them on their memorization skills, but we don’t put nearly as much effort in developing their right brains with art programs and creative thinking exercises.

Dr. Robert Sternberg of Tufts University, in devising more comprehensive ways of evaluating the abilities of prospective college students, has based his project on what he calls the theory of successful intelligence. “The basic idea,” he said, “is that people in almost any walk of life need creativity to generate new and exciting ideas, analytical intelligence to evaluate whether their (and others’) ideas are good ideas, and practical intelligence to execute their ideas and to persuade others of their value.”

It’s the right side of the brain that allows us to generate and analyze these new ideas—without it, we’re left with nothing but data. A strong arts emphasis in our schools, and in our individual homes, can develop this essential right-brain function, which is to say that arts programs cannot be seen as luxuries or frivolous expenditures. They are a necessary part of a complete education, the route to successful intelligence.

This month, whether we explore an artistic hobby or think in larger terms, let’s focus on developing our creative abilities with a renewed appreciation of their value. And let’s determine to give our children the benefit of an education that strengthens both sides of their brains, teaching them the discipline of creative thought with as much gusto as we teach them mathematical equations and scientific theories.

Let’s give the arts sufficient weight in our schools and in our culture, beginning early on, so children can grow up to be wholly creative. I, for one, would like our future to be filled with right-brain inspired beauty and expressions of the highest ideals of humanity. And I would like our future leaders to be able to put all those memorized facts to good use.


dive said...

Yay for more arts in schools, Robyn!
As for the left brain / right brain thing: I've never understood that; being a man, my brain is simply something comfortable to sit on.

MmeBenaut said...

I learned that I'm a sequential thinker, likely to get stymied if the logic doesn't fit!!
Just more proof that my creativity is seriously restricted.

Great article Robyn.