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Why we are all built to make connections

What do you see when you look at this painting below?

Vertumnus by Giuseppe Arcimboldo

Fruit? Some vegetables? A face?

Though this work of art is from the late 1500’s, it’s a powerful example of how our brains are built to make connections and see patterns.

When we look at this painting, we are able to process details of visible objects (the individual fruits, vegetables and flowers) at the same time as overall shape (the face). The result is that we can see both simultaneously.

We may take this for granted but split-brain patients (it sounds gory, but people who’ve had their ‘corpus callosum’ severed – a band of neural tissue that connects the left and right hemispheres) can only see one or the other!

So, what does this mean? Well it’s time to bust some common myths and misconceptions about how our brains work…

No doubt you’ve come across the theory of being ‘right-brained’ or ‘left-brained’? Well, you’re neither.

Contrary to popular belief, we are not pre-disposed to being ‘left-brained’ or ‘right-brained’ in how we relate to the world; whereby left-brainers are more logical, detail-oriented and analytical (often labelled as the data ones) and right-brainers are more artistic and imaginative (often labelled as the creative ones).

Split-brain research is largely where the foundations of these common misconceptions originate. In the 1960’s, Nobel-laureate neuroscientist Roger Walcott Sperry carried out a small series of operations on split-brain patients which revealed that when the two hemispheres are unable to communicate, they respond differently to stimuli and therefore function differently.

Unfortunately, these findings quickly became misinterpreted and applied to different personality types, and the ‘right-brain, left-brain’ theory started to dominant popular culture.

However, modern developments in neuroscience have moved on from thinking about the brain in two distinct halves. To reveal new truths.

The two sides of the brain may differ in how they process, but not in what they process. They always work together. And, crucially, we don’t have a ‘dominant’ hemisphere.

“The neuroscience community has never accepted the idea of ‘left-dominant’ or ‘right-dominant’ personality types. Lesion studies don’t support it, and the truth is that it would be highly inefficient for one half of the brain to consistently be more active than the other”, Jeff Anderson, Professor of Neuroradiology

A single thought can spark in both sides of the brain to draw on analytical and creative functions at the same time. We are fundamentally built to make connections across our brain.

We should not underestimate our abilities based on a simplistic myth. Everyone has strengths and weaknesses, but to realise our full potential we shouldn’t pigeon hole ourselves as either creative or analytical. To recognise that we’re built to do both.

The growing understanding of the human brain will have significant impacts on how leaders of today and tomorrow will respond to today’s world of rapid change, contradiction and complexity. By combining breakthroughs in cognitive science with the increasing power of AI and big data, we will be better able to react to new challenges and uncertain futures.

Thinkfully holds analytical and intuitive thinking strategies together, by thinking AND rather than EITHER/OR – as we are built to do.