Are Your Unique Strengths Determined By Brain Dominance?

Are our strengths determined by brain dominance?  A question that’s quite frankly got me into a bit of a tizz.

A better question to ask might be, does our biological makeup determine whether we are good at something or not?

I’m going to come right out and say it – I hate being categorised.  Seriously it’s one of the things that I genuinely hate.

The idea that we’re put into easily describable boxes that sum up whether we are:

  • Confident v timid
  • Creative v non-creative
  • Mathematically minded, or away with the fairies

Perhaps deep down, it reveals a massive resistance to being told what I’m like.  I’m also not a fan of being told what to do either!

As humans, we are complex beings made up of an alphabet soup of:

  • Likes
  • Dislikes
  • Dreams and desires

So recently, I’ve been questioning the different ways that society is determined to label us.

And today, I want to explore the idea that our strengths and weaknesses are determined according to whether we have a dominant left or right-handed brain.

are strengths determined by brain dominance, here's the science

Let's crack open the book on the science

Here’s The Science Bit

Our brains have two sides or hemispheres. Each side has regions that are responsible for all sorts of functions in the body, including our:

  • Thinking
  • Senses
  • movement, and
  • behaviour.

Our brains also fully integrate with the systems in our body like our:

  • Beating heart
  • Temperature regulation
  • Blood flow

We’re really rather clever that a lot of this is done automatically without any real thought at all.

So, we biologically have two sides of the brain that focus on different functions. 

The psychobiologist Roger W Sperry in the 1960s put forward a theory that because the two hemispheres in our brain function differently, one is more dominant than the other.  And depending which side of the brain was dominant, our strengths and weaknesses would be determined.

So Sperry proposed that strengths determined by brain dominance, is a natural follow on.

Dominant Brain Theory – more belief than science

Most people are familiar with hand dominance. Humans tend to have one hand that is dominant and performs fine motor skills better than the other.

Left or right-handedness is nearly universal, but let’s not forget that some people are ambidextrous.

Hand dominance begins in early childhood and is determined by the time we are 7 or thereabouts.  This then becomes a permanent preference throughout life.

Dominant brain theory suggests that in the same way people develop a dominant hand, they may also have a dominant side of the brain.

Dominant brain theory focuses on the unique characteristics of each side of the brain. Our dominant side influences our strengths and indicates we’ll have an easier time with activities that occur in our dominant side of the brain.

So, let’s have a look at each side according to the theory and whether it's true that your unique strengths determined by brain dominance.

strengths determined on brain dominance

The characteristics relating to each side of the brain

Right Brain Dominance Characteristics

Right brain dominance is characterised by being creative. It’s typically more intuitive and visual. Sometimes called the analogue brain, its dominance is characterised by-

  • Imagination
  • Intuition
  • Rhythm
  • Artistry
  • Holistic thinking
  • Reading non-verbal clues
  • Daydreaming

Left Brain Dominance Characteristics

Left brain dominance is characterised by logic. It’s typically more verbal and analytical. Sometimes called the digital brain, left brain dominance is characterised by-

  • Verbal skills
  • Language
  • Mathematics
  • Science
  • Critical thinking
  • Quick thinking
  • Sequencing

Two Halves Of The Brain Become One

I’ve just amused myself with the fact that the subheading is like a Spice Girls song – little things amuse me!

So, although the brain is divided into two parts biologically speaking, the parts rely on one another for complete functioning.  What this means is we aren’t entirely operating in our right brain or left brain.

Female scientist

Science relies on proof, not conjecture

Back To The Science

What blew my mind was how the right-brain/left-brain theory is not scientifically proven.  For years I’ve assumed that the preferences were a scientific fact.  How somehow our biology determines what our strengths and weaknesses are.

As part of my nerding out on the subject, I came across an interesting experiment.  1011 people were analysed with the benefit of new imaging techniques.  What this study revealed is that there is no proof that the dominant brain theory exists.

 (if you also want to nerd out, you can access the report here, but I must confess that some of the terminologies went right over my head!).

This directly contradicts the idea that strengths determined by brain dominance.

What Does This Mean For Your Strengths And Weaknesses?

So, if there is no scientific proof for dominant brain theory, what does this mean?  So glad you asked…

The theory relies purely on anecdotal evidence that people may have a dominant side of the brain. For example, if you find it easier to be creative than analytical, you could be considered right-brained.  Or, if you love solving complex problems or working in structured ways, you may be left-brain dominant.

Hah!  This is where I now have a problem. 

Many people on the internet highlight that brain dominance theory can help determine strengths and weaknesses and identify the activities and skill sets that come easily for you.

There’s also a belief that knowing your brain dominance can help you choose a career and even friendships and love interests.

suggestion that brain dominance determines your career choice

Suitable Careers

Currently, it’s believed that right-brain dominant people tend to do well in careers like acting, where empathy, creativity, and connecting emotionally are essential. And therapists are often right-brain dominant because they have keen discernment and intuition that help them connect and serve their clients.

Left brain dominant people tend to do well in math and science careers. Computer programmers tend to be detail-oriented and able to solve complex problems. Police Officers have mastery over their emotions and are great investigators.

But, if it’s now scientifically proven that there is no such thing as brain dominance, I started to question whether this is all just a whole hotpot of nonsense.

A Different View

I don’t believe that our brain determines whether we have a strength in one type of activity over another.

So in answer to the question are your unique strengths determined by brain dominance, I would say no.

I do believe that we have preferences.

For example, I love talking to people and learning things about them, especially what makes them tick, but I really, really dislike networking.  I get tongue-tied and worry too much about what is coming out of my mouth.

Here’s another one.

I don’t like doing what I call maths-related problems.  But, I will happily sit down and work through a spreadsheet of numbers and try to make sense of them if they are related to my website analytics.

Or, yet another one

I love having the freedom to do what I want when I want, I don’t like to be tied down.  Yet, I love having my routines when it comes to getting things done.  I’d be lost without my morning routine – without it, I would still be in my jim-jams at bedtime!

So, my view is that we are all on a great continuum.  We are not easily catalogued as one thing or another.  But during the day (and our lives), we have different preferences that support how we want to live.

This further supports my view that you can’t describe yourself as confident or unconfident – by the way, I also believe this applies to being an extrovert or introvert.  There are too many variables.  For example, it depends upon

  • how you feel at the time
  • the situation you are in and
  • who you are with.
a final thought on strengths and brain dominance

A final thought…

Your strengths and weaknesses make you unique.  They’re neither right nor wrong. The idea that strengths determined by brain dominance is in my view wrong.  I explore this issue further in Nobody’s Good At Everything, and you should absolutely celebrate your unique strengths and weaknesses.

But, the great thing is, whatever your weaknesses are, you can overcome them.

The question is, do you want to?

About the author Alison

A qualified UK based coach with 30 years of experience in personal development.

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