Many believe that to be good in mathematics you need to be left-brained, or a logical and analytical thinker. Whereas if you’re right-brained, or creative and free-thinking, you are doomed to struggle with the subject. But did you know this notion has been scientifically proven false? It’s true! Different hemispheres don’t necessarily mean different thinking. That’s good news for those of you who don’t think that you can do math because you’re creative!
Math is Creative
The fact is, Mathematical thinking requires creativity. And that means visualization – seeing a problem in a different way, creatively reconceiving it, and even doing drawings to help you find the solution to the problem you’re working through. When you’re working with complex mathematics, sometimes it’s creative thinking that gets you to the logic of math – and vice versa.
Where the Myth Began
So how did the false left-brain/right-brain notion take hold in the first place? Scientist Elizabeth Waters, Associate Director of STEM Outreach at The Cooper Union in New York, did a fun Ted ED video that explored this fallacy and discussed its origins. The idea began with two neurologists from the mid-1800s, after observing patients who had problems communicating due to injuries sustained to the left side of the brain. This was supported by author Robert Louis Stevenson’s idea of a “logical” left hemisphere competing with an “emotional” right hemisphere in his famous characters Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde. The idea gained steam in the 1960s, when psychobiologist and Nobel Prize winner Roger W. Sperry published a study detailing the different activities and behaviors managed by the brain’s left and right sides.
Research Disproves the Theory
This left brain versus right brain concept continued to thrive, even after it was disproved by research with patients who were missing either the right or left hemispheres of their brain yet still exhibited the believed behavior associated with them. And the theory continues to come under fire. Robert H. Shmerling, MD points out in a piece on the Harvard Health Blog that while there are certain personalities and behaviors that are associated with right- and left-brain actions, they’re not necessarily the rule. For example, right-handed children who play tennis can hit from “the other side,” so to speak. While some damage to the brain can help people lose certain kinds of functionality, if you performed a CT scan or MRI on the brain of a mathematician versus the brain of a creative, you wouldn’t see a difference.
According to Shmerling, most telling is the study performed by the University of Utah in 2013. They examined brain scans of thousands of people between ages seven and 29, dividing the brain into 7,000 regions. What did they find? Brain activity is similar on both sides, and there was no evidence of “sidedness.”
Both Sides Work Together
The truth is, the brain uses both sides to make a complete image of the world...
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