If your child is struggling with reading, is disorganised, has trouble focusing, has a poor concept of time and struggles to recall sequences, Melanie West may know why – you have a ‘right-brained’ child.The Educational Psychologist is of the seemingly popular opinion that the right side of the brain is better equipped for creative and expressive tasks whereas the left side is better at logic, language, reasoning and critical thinking (West, 2010). West believes that traditional teaching doesn’t cater for these ‘right brained thinkers’ and this left hemisphere bias ultimately means that a child’s educational needs are not met. West’s claims and consequently her proposed solutions to the issue appear to provide a simple explanation to a difficulty bound to cause concern to any doting parent. And this is one of the many reasons why this theory, along with many like it, has been ardently challenged.
The concept of left and right brain thinking isn’t new. Based on “split-brain” work by neuropsychologists Robert Sperry (1961) and Michael Gazzinga, it was found that when two sides of the brain were incapable of communicating with each other, they responded differently to stimuli. These findings have accelerated what Bryn and Allard (1981) called “Dichotomania” (as cited by Lindell & Kidd, 2011) where assigning various functions to each hemisphere of the brain has become somewhat favourable. Saying that, the theory has also attracted some derision., even by Sperry (1982) himself who noted that “the left-right dichotomy…is an idea which is easy to run wild” (p.
1225) (as cited by Lindell & Kidd (2011)).Whilst West (2010) suggests that any inconsistencies in ability and behaviour is due to this lack of an alliance between the left and right brain, but other schools of thought are reluctant to invest in a view which perceives the human brain as anything less than being intrinsically connected. Lindell & Kidd (2011) state ‘All people, from the most logical and analytic to the most emotional and creative, use both hemispheres of the brain simultaneously when performing any task’. Lindell and Kidd (2011), amongst other examples, evidenced this theory by noting that during a creative task, Carlsson, Wendt and Risberg (2000) discovered that highly creative people utilised both hemispheres of the brain when compared to their less creative counterparts.West states that she realises “…that the human brain has an amazing ability to adapt and grow…”, and we see this to be the case interestingly not in any evidence provided by West, but other sources – coincidentally all sources which undermine the left/right concept of thinking.Lindell (2006) goes into great efforts to disapprove this populist theory, with a heavy focus on language.
West’s primary concern appears to be with regards to the learning and processing of language for ‘right-brained’ children in an educational environment (2010). Lindell (2006) indicates there to be a host of evidence to suggest that the right side of the brain is in fact an active participant in language-based activity, such as in language articulation and even in support mode, should areas normally attributed to language activity within children, are damaged. Melanie West is certainly not alone in her claims suggesting that left and right brained children need to be taught in different ways.
Therein lies another issue for some. Whilst there appears to be a wealth of information, evidence and theories which negates this claim, a plethora of educational tools and methods have been created and devised to fulfil this approach…and this doesn’t appear to be slowing down anytime soon. Lindell and Kidd (2011) may have their concerns, including that on the lack of neuroscientific research around these left/right brain claims, but West, like many who share similar approaches, appear to have found a firm footing within in tale of two halves.