Its all about balance
The brain is divided into two hemispheres: left and right. Each side has its own function and structure. Learn how to boost your brain power.
The brain is divided into two cerebral hemispheres: left and right. Although each side looks like a mirror image of the other, they do in fact differ in their function and structure. This is called brain lateralization.
Historically, the left side of the brain is believed to control language and the most often dominant right hand. In addition, it controls the ability to classify and sort information, focusing on fine details. The right hemisphere, on the other hand, is said to control emotional responses, spatial organization, and facial recognition. In addition, when recalling psychological trauma, a person’s right brain is more activated.
This may all seem quite straightforward; however, as with most things in the body, there’s a bit more to it.
Rick Bradshaw, PhD, RPsych, and clinical manager at the Swingle Clinic in Vancouver, BC, elaborates: “As with most broad statements, there is a lot of truth in the original left brain-right brain paradigm. There are also lots of exceptions and extensions to that basic information.
“For starters,” he says, “some people are hemispherically reversed (their right brain hemispheres perform the functions associated with typical left brain-dominant individuals). Usually, language is lateralized to the left brain, but in about 25 percent of left-handers, it is lateralized to the right.”
Advantages of brain lateralization
Until quite recently it wasn’t clear as to whether brain lateralization was in any way beneficial to our cognitive function. However, recent animal research suggests that lateralization contributes to our ability to multitask and react to different stimuli simultaneously.
Of course, there are also disadvantages to brain lateralization for humans, as well as for other vertebrates. For instance, a species’ predictable behaviour caused by brain lateralization could be noted and exploited by a predator. However, these disadvantages are more apparent in the wild.
Deficiencies in the brain
Psychological trauma as well as physical trauma, such as having a stroke, may cause the brain to become imbalanced. According to Bradshaw, “Having either deficient or excessive brainwaves has been linked to psychological symptoms.” Such symptoms include addiction, sleep disruption, difficulty calming oneself, poor distress tolerance, rumination and worry, stubbornness, obsessive compulsive symptoms, anger, depression, anxiety, difficulty concentrating, and mental fatigue.
Balancing the right and the left sides of the brain will solve many of these issues, says Bradshaw, and there are several therapies available to those who wish to explore them.
When symptoms of brain imbalance are negatively affecting a person’s day-to-day life, it may signal the need to see a professional, such as a neurotherapist. A neurotherapist may be able to offer clinically proven therapies that have been shown to positively impact a variety of conditions and correct imbalances caused by psychological or physical trauma.
According to Bradshaw, “Both eyes have connections to both halves of the brain.” In observed and experiential integration (OEI) therapy, created by Bradshaw and partner, Audrey Cook, OEI practitioners use these connections to heal past traumas. Clients are asked to alternate covering and uncovering each eye during therapy as they observe the physical sensations and emotions that arise.
Practitioners also observe changes in their client’s posture, body language, and other cues, and adjust the pace and direction of OEI techniques. Eventually, treatment will result in integration, in which clients process past traumatic experiences that were otherwise repressed.
Constraint-induced movement therapy
A stroke can occur in one of four sections of the brain: the left or right hemispheres, the brain stem, or the cerebellum (a small but important section of the brain located above the brain stem). When a stroke occurs in one of the hemispheres, it often results in some degree of paralysis on the opposite side of the body.
Constraint-induced movement therapy has been shown to stimulate the affected side through repeated implementation. For example, the unaffected arm is restrained by a sling or mitt in order to encourage the patient to use the affected limb. Doing so may not only help rehabilitate the affected arm but also improve brain function in the affected hemisphere.
Brain imbalance does not always occur because of some extreme psychological or physical trauma. Sometimes imbalance occurs simply from underuse, such as our preference for always using our dominant hand. The following exercises may help to stimulate the different hemispheres.
In a recent study 30 healthy volunteers were asked to use their nondominant hand in either 25 minutes of shaping exercises (such as putting rubber bands around an oval can) or 25 minutes of general activity (such as setting a table for four). Those who participated in the shaping activities improved their dexterity by strengthening the motor area in their nondominant hemisphere.
Try using your nondominant hand to put coins through a slot or turn 10 playing cards over in a row to stimulate your nondominant hemisphere.
Since the left hand is most often controlled by the right hemisphere (the “artistic” hemisphere) we could give our right brain a boost by drawing with our left hand.
In a 2006 study an amateur ambidextrous artist was asked to sketch a series of 3D objects and realistic objects. Twenty-eight subjects were then asked to rate the drawings. The drawings made by the artist’s left hand were preferred over the ones made with the right, suggesting that drawing with the left hand is an ideal way to tap into the sometimes underused right brain. a
Supplements that support the brain
In addition to the at-home brain-boosting activities provided, a little supplementation may help support the brain’s many functions in the body.
EPA omega-3 fatty acid
In a 2011 double-blind crossover study of 22 healthy participants, those who took a fish oil supplement rich in eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) displayed quicker reaction times, suggesting that a diet rich in EPA is ideal for neural performance.
A recent mouse model study demonstrated the neuroprotective effects of vitamin C when the mice, having been subjected to chronic stress, experienced a reduction in oxidative brain damage after being given ascorbic acid.
A 2011 study from the Journal of Neuroscience showed that when magnesium levels in rats were raised, their memory, learning ability, and overall synaptic plasticity were enhanced.
Music therapy has been administered for a variety of conditions, including stroke recovery. In a 2008 study
60 participants with either right or left hemisphere middle cerebral artery stroke listened to music, books on tape, or nothing at all. Those in the music group showed significant cognitive improvements over those who were in the language and control groups, suggesting music’s ability to stimulate healing in the brain.
Living in a left-brain dominant world
In a society focused on the bottom line, annual budgets, schedules, and ladder climbing, it’s safe to say we’re living in a left-brain dependent world.
More often than not, a salesperson or a person in a management position—jobs which are more left-brain dependant—are paid more than their right-brain dependant counterparts: visual artists, dancers, photographers. According to Bradshaw, “This division has increased as our society has left behind multigenerational agrarian and craft occupations in favour of industrial and information-based pursuits.”
Men’s health across the life course
Theodore D. Cosco, PhD (Cantab) CPsychol