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Surprising Science

Carl Zimmer Pours Gasoline on the Left Brain-Right Brain Debate

The new brain sciences are upon us. There’s neuroeconomics to analyze how we make financial decisions. There’s neuromarketing to sell our brains stuff. There’s Ray Kurzweil to explain how our brains will deal with virtual reality. But what about the cerebral matrimony between our left and right brains?

Brain guru Carl Zimmer recently went, um, head to head at Discover Mag to explore his cranium’s halves, and the left and right brains are not created equal.

For example, humans tend to prefer their right over their left side in an instance of favoritism known as lateralization. It’s on the right that we have centers for processing the emotional components of language, a crucial zone for letting us know if someone is happy or sad, snarky or serious, frustrated or content. As all primates do, we put a neurological premium on emotion over raw information. But like a dutiful partner, the left plays an important role in processing the mechanics of language for the right to glean the correct emotional messages.

Professor of Neurology at Columbia Oliver Sacks challenged the right brain’s dominance when he spoke to Big Think saying the left half–that dynamo of logic and analysis–really gets the preference in the end.


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