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Last Updated on February 6, 2020

10 Popular Myths About Right Brain Left Brain Debunked

10 Popular Myths About Right Brain Left Brain Debunked

Want to learn how to master your brain and navigate effortlessly away from the common mix-ups most people have?

Then you’re in the right place.

I’m going to expose the 10 biggest myths about the brain, including ones you hear about being a “right brain or left brain” person.

And for each one, you’ll learn some proven ways to counter them too.

So without further ado, let’s do this!

Myth #1: Believing you’re either a “left or right brain” person

Chances are, once upon a time, during your happy musings on the internet, you came across the idea of the right brain left brain.

This is the myth that you’re either a logical facts driven person (left brain), or you’re a intuitive, arts and imagination type person (right brain).

It’s not true.

Your brain is a very intricate and complex organ. Despite decades of research and study, the brain is something that we still know relatively little about.

Even so, just google “right brain left brain characteristics” and you’re bombarded with pages and pages of results. Each one claiming to tell you which one you are.

This left brain right brain idea originated back in the 1960s, as a result of research done by Roger W. Sperry.[1]

It’s well known that the right and left sides of our brains are different, but can we group people into the left brain people and the right brain people? Is it that simple?

A team of neuroscientists at the University of Utah spent two years testing this out, studying over 1,000 people’s brains to see if it was indeed true. What their research revealed, was that both sides were more or less equal in their activity on average.

“Language tends to be on the left, attention more on the right. But people don’t tend to have a stronger left- or right-sided brain network. It seems to be determined more connection by connection.”  – Dr. Jeff Anderson (lead author)[2]

So be careful when surfing the interwebs. The self proclaimed brain messiah’s aren’t always doing their research, and whilst graphics like above seem cool, they aren’t very accurate. You don’t belong in a box of left brain or right brain.

Lesson:

People aren’t either logical or creative. You can be both.

Don’t limit your thinking and capabilities by believing this myth. You get better at what you work at.

Myth #2: Believing you’re hardwired for happiness

Many people I’ve coached over the years demonstrate this crippling flaw:

We tend to think of our problems, worries, etc. as something unique to us. We mistakenly believe that we are unique in this way.

However, let me reveal something to you having worked with tens of THOUSANDS people from around the world. Something which may surprise you.

Our mental biases and flaws are quite common. We tend to make very similar mistakes.

Instead of personalizing all your problems and over identifying with them. What if you saw the challenges you face as problems created by the brain generally, instead of something you are doing?

Think of it this way:

Imagine you have a faulty mobile phone that can only operate for 2 hours at 100% capacity at a time. Then it needs a short break.

Now, you could view this as a problem with your specific mobile, and get angry and frustrated that you had such bad luck.

Or perhaps, realize the truth.

What if it was just a manufacturing fault? But one you can’t “fix” immediately by going to the Apple Store because it was built two million years ago for a different environment.

Obviously I’m simplifying things a little (Ok, a lot). However the point I’m making is simple:

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Your problems aren’t unique. We all suffer from them. So plan for the common pitfalls so you can avoid them.

“We have a two million-year-old brain that isn’t designed to be happy, but to survive.”  — Tony Robbins

As the above quote so beautifully summarizes, your brain is designed to help you to survive first and foremost. This mechanism is both deep and complex.

In my work, we often identify these subconscious patterns and make sure they’re running in alignment to the specific goal you desire to achieve.

Something which most people are totally unaware or uninterested in discovering, so they are doomed to repeat the same mistakes again and again no matter how hard they try.

These “software faults” are ones we all experience from time to time:

  • Not feeling motivated to go to the gym
  • Not feeling confident about starting a new project or idea
  • Being randomly affected by weird moods or feelings

But the difference between those who succeed, and those who dabble and get frustrated is simple:

Working on our weak areas consistently and planning for them.

Lesson:

Think of your brain like an old computer, full of some common bugs and viruses we all contend with.

Accept these flaws, learn about how they manifest themselves for you in particular, then work on improving them so you can perform better.

Myth #3: Believing your personality traits are fixed

You have personality traits (often from childhood) that (for most) won’t change.

But before you get demoralized and reach for that jar of chocolate chip cookies again, that doesn’t mean that you CAN’T change.

It just takes work.

Realistically, most people still won’t change their personalities for two reasons:

  • They like the safe, comfortable option of staying the same (let’s face it – it’s quite easy)
  • They don’t know they can change

Fortunately for you, we’ve already dispelled the idea that you cannot change your personality traits. So you’re immediately ahead of most people.

There are so many different theories and ideas about what your personality is, how we can measure it and how it comes to be.

The general consensus is that it’s shaped in the early years of our lives and (generally) stays stable over time.

The most widely accepted is something known as the “Five Factor Model”, stating that there are five basic personality traits that can define us: openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism.

These traits shape and influence how we react to different experiences and events in our lifetime.

But here’s the thing:

Defining events, traumatic experiences can all trigger changes in who we are, and how we are.

One of the latest study integrating 14 longitudinal studies that gathered information about people’s personalities, found that from the Big Five personality traits — all of them showed major fluctuations across individual participants’ lives.[3]

Lesson:

The best way to think of your personality is like a mould of clay. It’s already in a rough shape, hardening over time. But you can work to change and adjust it.

Myth #4: Believing you only use 10% of your brain

This myth is simply not true. If I cut 90% of your brain out, would you still function?

No!

Imagine that what is known about our brains is like the volume inside a balloon.

Imagine that what is unknown is the infinite space outside of the balloon.

The surface of the balloon, the interface between the known and the unknown, represents questions. The larger the volume inside the balloon, the larger the balloon surface.

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The more we know, the more questions we have.

It’s simply not true that we only use 10% of our brains.

What’s more accurate is that we don’t always perform to our maximum mental capacities.

Different factors — motivation, environment, overall health, sleep — all exert different levels of influence on how close to 100% we perform at any given time.

So why does this myth exist? Why is it so appealing?

Probably because of the untapped human potential it implies that we have huge pools of dormant mental powers, which if used, could help us achieve so much more.

Lesson:

We don’t just use 10% of our brains. We use 100% of them.

But not all of us are performing and achieving to our highest standards. Find out what blocks you have and work at improving every day.

Myth #5: Believing that smart people have bigger brains

When it comes to size, we’re obsessed with believing that bigger is better.

The simple fact is that a bigger brain has no ultimate bearing or indication on our intelligence.

A very easy way to debunk this myth is to look at the animal kingdom. A cow has a bigger brain than a chimpanzee. But is it smarter?

A whale or an elephant have a bigger brain than a human. But are they smarter?

Many neuroscientists now agree that it isn’t size, but the complexity of neural connections that truly determine a brain’s capacity and potential.

To translate this, it’s not size that matters most. It’s how efficiently different parts of your brain communicate with each other.

Lesson:

It’s not how big your brain is that matters most, but how well the different parts communicate.

Train your brain to connect different ideas, senses, intelligences together and keep learning everyday.

Myth #6: Believing women and men have different brains

Of all the myths here, this perhaps is one of the most damaging.

It sets you up to behave according to a preconceived idea of how you should or shouldn’t behave based on your sex.

Let’s start with what is true.

Yes, there are some very very minor anatomical differences between male and female brains.

However, this difference has never been linked to a difference in ability. What we do know, is that any distinction which is created is the by product of our own cultural conditioning.

If there is a difference, or inequality, it is one created by our society.

A common misconception is that women do better when you test them accordingly to emotional intelligence and empathy. The anatomy of the brain runs counter to this however.

The hippocampus, associated with memory, is typically larger in women, while the amygdala, involved in emotion, is larger in men, which is quite contrary to the myth.

Lesson:

Your sex does not determine what you are fated to be good or bad at. It’s often the result of our cultural conditioning.

Reflect on your own gender biases and avoid stereotyping yourself or others based on this.

Myth #7: Believing you know what makes you happy

This probably surprised you a little, didn’t it?

Deep breaths. Allow me to explain:

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We commonly believe that we know exactly what will make us happy and unhappy.

The truth however is that this isn’t (totally) true. We massively overestimate how happy we think something will make us feel — gifts, promotions, marriages, divorces — you name it.

Even when it comes to money, countless studies have shown that beyond a certain point (around 77,000USD/year), money doesn’t really make us that much happier.

Conversely, the things that we fear and avoid don’t make us as unhappy as we expect.

The commute on a Monday morning is nowhere near as bad as we think, nor is the awkward conversation with an estranged family member or friend.

The most soul crushing tragedies — breakups, losing a loved one — cause us despair and grief, but don’t last as long as we anticipate.

Lesson:

Things are never as bad as they first seem, or as good as they first seem. You’re not that good at predicting how you will feel, or felt about the future or the past.

Myth #8: Believing you lose mental power over time

When we’re young, it’s easier to take risks and try new things to some degree. But as we age, we seek our comfort and routines.

Until eventually, those same patterns and routines become shackles.

Maybe that’s why you haven’t:

  • Stuck to that workout or yoga routine you want to get better at.
  • Finished the book you say you want to write and publish.
  • Started that business idea you’re thinking and talking about so often.

Many people fall into this trap of believing they “lose it” over time, and this mental error quickly sends them on a downward spiral of stagnation and mediocrity.

I want you to realize something:

Your brain and intelligence can get better with age.

So be excited, not demoralized!

It’s well known in business circles for example, that you get better as an entrepreneur as you age. The same is true in so many other fields too.

Of course there are some cognitive skills which decline in efficiency as you age – learning new languages, memorising a list of random words, counting backward by sevens.

But who cares?

Vocabulary, judgement of character, social wisdom, conflict resolution, emotional regulation and finding purpose – these are all skills that matter, which we are proven to get better at over time.

Sounds exciting, doesn’t it?

Well, let me take you a step further.

Not only can you get smarter over time, you can even continue (literally) growing your brain.

A brain which is active, for example learning new languages, trying new skills and hobbies, develops a richer connected network of brain cells. Taking it further, this “brain growth” also helps to prevent dementia and other diseases.

So no, it is not true that your mental decline is inevitable. Quite the opposite, the effects can be stopped and even reversed through mental exercise. The best part is you don’t even need to do it for that long.

In a study of more than 3,000 people aged 65 and over, just 10 hours training over several weeks in memory, problem-solving and decision-making resulted in significant and prolonged increases in cognitive ability.

Lesson:

Spend 10 to 15 minutes daily working on your memory, problem solving and decision making.

One of my favourites (which is a lot of fun) is to play Chess puzzles for free on lichess.com.

Myth #9: Believing there are 5 senses & one measure of intelligence

What if I told you that you don’t have just 5 senses? And school only tested you on one measure of intelligence?

Would you believe me?

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A commonly held belief that most of us have is that we have 5 senses and one type of intelligence.

It’s not your fault either, our entire paradigm of education only ever tests us on one “type” of intelligence” – via exams and essays. When in actuality, there are eight types of intelligence.

Just think:

There’s probably a type of intelligence that you may be a genius in, that you were never even tested on in school.

A comforting thought for those of us who didn’t ace every math or english test.

Additionally, there are not just 5 senses. But six more:

  1. Equilibrioception: A sense of balance, otherwise known as your internal GPS.
  2. Proprioception: A sense of where your body parts are and what they’re doing.
  3. Nociception: A sense of pain.
  4. Thermo(re)ception: A sense of temperature.
  5. Chronoception: A sense of the passage of time.
  6. Interoception: A sense of your internal needs, like hunger, thirst, needing to use the bathroom, etc.

The most fascinating part is that when we contrast this to other species, there are so many more senses we don’t have. Bats and dolphins can use sonar to find prey, sharks can sense electrical fields, and birds and turtles can even orient to the earth’s magnetic fields.

If anything, this displays how much more there is to know that we cannot even comprehend.

Here’s a philosophical quote that builds on this idea, from one of my favourite wise men, Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev:

“You are seeking the infinite through the physical. Can the physical ever become infinite? The physical is finite, always within a finite boundary, it can never be infinite. It’s like you are riding a bullock cart but your destination is the moon, and somebody is saying buy yourself a new whip. If your destination is the moon, you need an appropriate vehicle. So through the physical if you are seeking the infinite, there will only be frustration.”

Lesson:

You are more intelligent than you may know. You have more senses than you know. But equally, there are vast oceans of unknowns too that you can’t comprehend.

Keep expanding and learning constantly, don’t rest on the knowledge you have. Strive to unlearn and learn simultaneously. Stay humble.

Myth #10: Believing your memories are accurate

This last myth is quite mind blowing.

What if I told you that your memories are not real? And that each time you access them, the more distorted they become?

If we just take a glance of the various types of biases that the brain has – there are at least 20!

There’re so many different ways in which the brain we have, has small errors or faults built into it.

And here is just one of them:

Every time you access memories, you project your current feelings and mindset onto that memory. As a result, your memory itself changes.

Mind blowing, right?

But how does this help you?

Well each time you look back on an experience, you are changing it. This means you can’t accurately predict or recall how things really were.

Knowing this, how much more important are those seemingly menial things like:

  • Creating a daily journal of what you are thinking, feeling and planning to look back on later.
  • Keeping clear and up to date records of your workout progression.
  • Tracking your to do lists, goals and plans throughly to keep yourself focused.

Lesson:

You aren’t able to recall things as accurately as you might think. So take diligent notes always in everything you do.

From your feelings, hopes and dreams to your day to day budgeting, to-do lists and more. These written records will help you remember things more accurately!

Have you found yourself understand a lot more about your brain? The most popular myths about left brain and right brain are now busted. It’s your turn to really develop your brain’s potential and don’t get restricted by those myths!

More Tips for Boosting Brain Power

Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

Reference

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Keshav Bhatt

Writer, Social Entrepreneur, Accredited Life Coach & NLP Practitioner

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Published on May 21, 2020

How Cognitive Bias Influences Our Decision Making

How Cognitive Bias Influences Our Decision Making

Cognitive biases are dangerous judgment errors that can devastate our health and wellbeing, our relationships, careers and businesses, and other areas of our lives.

To protect yourself against these mental blind spots, you need to know what they are, where they come from, and what you can do about them. That’s what this article is about.

Cognitive Biases on the Road

For an example of cognitive bias, imagine you are driving on autopilot, as we all do much of the time.

Let’s be clear, it’s a good idea to let your automatic response be in the driver’s seat when you are doing tasks that don’t require your full focus and attention. In ordinary driving situations – without inclement weather or start-and-stop traffic – you don’t need to use up your mental resources by turning your full focus on driving.

Now imagine that, as you are driving, the car in front of you unexpectedly cuts you off!

What do you do?

Well, you have to slam on your brakes to avoid a crash. Maybe you flash your lights or honk your horn. You feel scared and angry.

Your sympathetic nervous system activates, shooting cortisol throughout your body. Your heart beats faster, your palms start to sweat, a wave of heat goes through your body. [1]

What’s your gut feeling about the other driver? Probably your first impression is that the driver is rude and obnoxious.

Now imagine a different situation. You’re driving on autopilot, minding your own business, and you suddenly realize you need to turn right at the next intersection. You quickly switch lanes and suddenly hear someone behind you honking their horn.

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You now realize that there was someone in your blind spot but you forgot to check it in the rush to switch lanes, so you cut them off pretty badly.

Do you think that you are a rude driver? The vast majority of us would not. After all, we did not deliberately cut off the other driver; we just failed to see their car.

Let’s imagine another situation: your friend hurt herself and you’re rushing her to the emergency room. You’re driving aggressively and cutting in front of other cars.

Are you a rude driver? You’d probably say you are not; you’re merely doing the right thing for this situation.

Misattributing Blame Due to Cognitive Biases

Why do we give ourselves a pass while assigning an obnoxious status to other people? Why do our guts always make ourselves the good guys and other people the bad guys?

There is clearly a disconnect between our gut reactions and reality. This pattern is not a coincidence

Our immediate gut reaction attributes the behavior of other people to their personality and not to the situation in which the behavior occurs. The scientific name for this type of cognitive bias is the fundamental attribution error.[2]

This judgment error results in the following: if we see someone behaving rudely, we immediately and intuitively feel that this person is rude. We don’t stop to consider whether an unusual situation may cause the individual to act that way.

With the example of the driver, maybe the person who cut you off did not see you. Maybe they were driving their friend to the emergency room. But that’s not what our gut reaction tells us.

On the other hand, we attribute our own behavior to the situation, and not our personality. Much of the time we believe that we have valid and fully justifiable explanations for our actions.

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Are Cognitive Biases Really So Bad?

Don’t believe that such negative snap judgments about others can be harmful?

It may not seem very important whether you think wrongly that other drivers are jerks. Sorry to disappoint you, but this mental pattern posed a grave threat to your relationships.

As an example, what would you think of a potential business colleague if you saw her yelling at someone on her smartphone?

ou would probably have a negative reaction toward her and may not be likely to do business with her. Well, what if you found out she was yelling because she had her father on the other line who just misplaced his hearing aid and she was making plans to come to his house to help him look for it?

There can be many innocent explanations for someone yelling on the phone, but we are tempted to assume the worst.

In a related example, I was coaching a CEO of a company that had staff who worked from home due to COVID-19.

He told me about a recent incident with an employee who was having a heated Skype discussion over a conflict with an HR manager. The Skype call disconnected and the HR manager told the CEO the employee hung up on her. The CEO fired the employee on the spot.

Later, he learned that the employee thought the HR manager hung up on her. The call simply disconnected. Unfortunately, it was too late to take back the termination, even though the CEO regretted his heated decision.

This unfair firing situation really demoralized the rest of the staff, resulting in a growing disconnect between the CEO and other staff. It eventually contributed to the CEO leaving the organization.

Why Do We Suffer Cognitive Biases?

Intuitively, our mind feels like a cohesive whole. We perceive ourselves as intentional and rational thinkers. Yet cognitive science research shows that in reality, the intentional part of our mind is like a little rider on top of a huge elephant of emotions and intuitions.[3]

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Roughly speaking, we have two thinking systems, which neuroscientists call System 1 and 2. But it’s easier to think of them as the “autopilot system” and “intentional system.”

The autopilot system corresponds to our emotions and intuitions. Its cognitive processes take place mainly in the amygdala and other parts of the brain that developed early in our evolution.

This system guides our daily habits, helps us make snap decisions, and reacts instantly to dangerous life-and-death situations, like saber-toothed tigers through the freeze, fight, or flight stress response.

While helping our survival in the past, the fight-or-flight response is not a great fit for modern life. We have many small stresses that are not life-threatening, but the autopilot system treats them as tigers, producing an unnecessarily stressful everyday life experience that undermines our mental and physical wellbeing.

Moreover, while the snap judgments resulting from intuitions and emotions usually feel “true” because they are fast and powerful, they sometimes lead us wrongly in systemic and predictable ways.

The intentional system reflects our rational thinking and centers around the prefrontal cortex – the part of the brain that evolved more recently.

This thinking system helps us handle more complex mental activities, such as managing individual and group relationships, logical reasoning, probabilistic thinking, and learning new information and patterns of thinking and behavior. It can also lead to occasional decision-making errors, but it’s right much more often than the autopilot system.[4]

Train Your Intentional System to Address Cognitive Biases

While the automatic system requires no conscious effort to function, the intentional system takes deliberate effort to turn on and is mentally tiring.

Fortunately, with enough motivation and appropriate training, the intentional system can turn on in situations where we are prone to making systematic decision-making errors. Scholars use the term “cognitive biases” to refer to these errors.

The autopilot system is like an elephant. It’s by far the more powerful and predominant of the two systems. Our emotions can often overwhelm our rational thinking.

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Moreover, our intuitions and habits determine the large majority of our life, which we spend in autopilot mode. And that’s not a bad thing at all – it would be mentally exhausting to think intentionally about our every action and decision.

The intentional system is like the elephant rider. It can guide the elephant deliberately to go in a direction that matches our actual goals.

Certainly, the elephant part of the brain is huge and unwieldy, slow to turn and change, and stampedes at threats. But we can train the elephant. Your rider can be an elephant whisperer.

Over time, you can use the intentional system to change your automatic thinking, feeling, and behavior patterns, and become much better at making the best decisions.

That’s why you should never go with your gut, and instead check with your head on any decision you don’t want to get wrong.[5]

Conclusion

Let’s go back to the fundamental attribution error. Now that we know what cognitive biases are and where they come from, how can we explain this cognitive bias?

From an evolutionary perspective, in the ancestral savanna, it was valuable for the survival of our ancestors to make quick decisions and to assume the worst, regardless of the accuracy of this assumption. Those who failed to do so did not survive to pass on their genes.

In the modern world where our survival is not immediately threatened by others and where we have long-term interactions with strangers, such judgments are dangerous for our long-term goals. We have to address this and other mental blindspots to make good decisions, whether about our relationships or other areas in our life.[6]

So, take a few minutes right now to think about where in recent weeks you might have misattributed blame. Given the stress associated with the pandemic, it’s easy to do.

Take the time to reach out to those you wrongly blamed and apologize. Doing so can be the start of your life-long journey to recognize and defeat cognitive biases and make the best decisions.

More on Cognitive Bias

Featured photo credit: Evan Dennis via unsplash.com

Reference

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