Silencing the left brain

Last week’s post on the ‘Upstairs & Downstairs Brain’ attracted considerable attention, and elicited a number of responses – some favourable, some challenging. It appears that the implications of neuroplasticity are still very much at the early stage of consideration for many people, and, just how the new knowledge being generated can be put to use by coaches is not yet clear.

Last week, I spoke about the limbic system (or old brain) as being ‘downstairs’, and the pre-frontal cortex (or new brain) as being ‘upstairs’. Today, let’s look at the brain from a different perspective – left and right.

It has long been known that the left & right hemispheres of the human brain specialise in different areas of cognition, memory and reasoning. Put simplistically, the left side of the brain tends to be associated with more logical and analytical thinking, while the right hemisphere is linked to more creative pursuits and expressions of emotion, for example, through art and music.


Furthermore, Dr. Jordan Grafman, of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), puts forward evidence that the left-frontal lobe in a normal brain is specialized in storing of individual events, while the right-frontal lobe draws out themes and connections. People who have suffered damage or lesions to their right-frontal area often find it difficult to understand the point of a story, or a movie that they watch, and find the use of metaphor and simile extremely challenging. They understand the words spoken, and can make literal sense of things, but they lose the ability to interpret, extrapolate, find abstract meaning and so on.

But, from studying these unfortunate cases of people who have suffered brain damage, neuroscience has also discovered something fascinating about the way the hemispheres of the brain operate together. Some people who suffer damage or wastage in the left side of their brain, thereby losing their ability to understand the meaning of words, have been known to almost spontaneously develop unusual artistic and musical skills. In other words, skills that are typically processed in the right side of the brain. What is going on here?  Well, Dr. Bruce Miller, a neurology professor at UC, San Francisco, argues that the left hemisphere would normally Continue reading