If you’ve ever done a google search on psychology related subjects, you may have at some point stumbled upon the image below. It’s creative, colorful, intriguing, and packs a load of information into a single image. It immediately provokes introspection. When I first saw the image, it left me questioning my own cognitive processes. Am I more logical or creative? I’ve never been good at math, yet language-oriented subjects have always come intuitively to me. I have difficulty drawing and creating something spectacular from imagination, yet in my years of crocheting, I’ve built upon my skills to create things that are considered unique and impressive.
Once you start to reflect upon your own thinking, behavioral and learning processes, you may find that things aren’t as straight forward as they seem. Perhaps you’re creative, yet logical. You can make wonderful music, but you’re also a math whiz. You’re a visual-spatial learner, yet you process things sequentially. You may see how the two hemispheres play equal roles in your cognitive operations. On the other hand, you may be able to identify that either the right or left hemisphere clearly dominates your way of processing.
The Human Brain
According to Gyarmathy, the two hemispheres of the human brain are significantly different in their functioning and everyone is capable of both types of functioning. The processing within each hemisphere is never isolated, and the coordination of the two is essential. “The two types of information processing are needed to a different extent for the processing of different stimuli, the accomplishment of different tasks and the solution of different problems. The link is made by the corpus callosum. If it functions efficiently, information is accessible to both types of processing.”
“The left hemisphere is characterized by sequential, step-by-step processing. It can handle sequences, relations and parts. It is associated with functions in which seriality and sequentially is essential: speech, writing, reading, counting and logical analysis all require correctly assembling and joining up smaller parts of an informational whole.”
“The right hemisphere functions in a different way. It processes information holistically and simultaneously. This is why this hemisphere is associated with visuality, spatial abilities, understanding and enjoying music, imagination, emotions and humour. Everything that we grasp as a whole. We do not recognize a face bit by bit: instead, we simply perceive at once whom we see. The right hemisphere processes spatial-visual stimuli without analysis or taking relations into account.”
Atypical Dominance in Dyslexia
Gyarmathy writes that atypical dominance plays a significant role in dyslexia. The reason for this can be traced back to pre-natal development. Brain cells compete for survival during development and the winners are generally the brain cells of the left hemisphere. This is why the majority of the population is characterized by left hemisphere dominance. The brain cells of the right hemisphere prevail in dyslexics, thus resulting in an atypical dominance that processes things differently than the majority of people. For example, their brain is much more suited to process simultaneously present stimuli and images, rather than linking together sequential letters or words.
Another result of the stronger right-hemisphere dominance is that a dyslexic brain analyzes less details. There is room for imagination to fill the gaps. “For these individuals who form an image holistically, treat relations only roughly and take only a limited amount of detail into account, the letter “d” can appear to be a “b” or a “p”, or even a “q”, since they only see a line and a circle, but their brains are not sensitive to minute analysis. A long word with something sticking out here and there, could be “grandpa” as much as “spaceship.”
The benefits to right-hemisphere dominance are many, and they should not be undermined by tendencies of academia and society to favor logic and analysis. Dyslexics can inherently see things in alternative ways, while seeing the big picture first then filling in the details later. Numerous studies show that the right-hemisphere dominance characteristic of dyslexics can be a root of creative thinking (Aliotti, 1981; Sheng-Ying Lii, 1986; West, 1991; Shaw 1992). New York Times recently mentioned a study in which “dyslexia is much more common among small-business owners than even the experts had thought.”
Individuals with dyslexia are often referred to as “visual spatial learners”. This means that they primarily store and access information in picture form, words and wrote memory are secondary sources at best. Hands-on learning experiences can he highly beneficial too. A field trip to the grocery store can help integrate a lesson on nutrition. A hands-on experiment on a scientific concept or formula will not only show to the learner how it works in real life, but create a long-lasting memory of that knowledge.
For visual-spatial learners who need more imagery in their lessons, things like picture-based presentations, such as with sight words, and hands-on learning are essential to their success. These students need lots of imagery in their lessons, and something as simple as transforming a word into a photo can finally turn on that light-bulb in their minds.
Understanding the various roles of right and left hemisphere can help teachers become more aware of how it relates to differing learning processes, and can shed some light onto the challenges that come along with working with this atypical yet incredibly brilliant minority in the classroom.
Georgia is a tutor at Brainspring Learning Center in Shelby Township.
Eva Gyarmathy (2014) Dyslexia in the Digital Age: Difference, not Disability