How the human brain works
The human brain is an intricate organ. At approximately 3 pounds, it contains about 100 billion neurons and 100 trillion connections. Your brain is command central of all you think, feel, and do.
Your brain is divided into two halves, or hemispheres. Within each half, particular regions control certain functions.
The two sides of your brain look very much alike, but there’s a huge difference in how they process information. Despite their contrasting styles, the two halves of your brain don’t work independently of each other.
Different parts of your brain are connected by nerve fibers. If a brain injury severed the connection between sides, you could still function. But the lack of integration would cause some impairment.
The human brain is constantly reorganizing itself. It’s adaptable to change, whether it’s physical or through life experience. It’s tailor-made for learning.
As scientists continue mapping the brain, we’re gaining more insight into which parts control necessary functions. This information is vital to advancing research into brain diseases and injuries, and how to recover from them.
The left brain/right brain theory
The theory is that people are either left-brained or right-brained, meaning that one side of their brain is dominant. If you’re mostly analytical and methodical in your thinking, you’re said to be left-brained. If you tend to be more creative or artistic, you’re thought to be right-brained.
This theory is based on the fact that the brain’s two hemispheres function differently. This first came to light in the 1960s, thanks to the research of psychobiologist and Nobel Prize winner Roger W. Sperry.
The left brain is more verbal, analytical, and orderly than the right brain. It’s sometimes called the digital brain. It’s better at things like reading, writing, and computations.
According to Sperry’s dated research, the left brain is also connected to:
- linear thinking
- thinking in words
The right brain is more visual and intuitive. It’s sometimes referred to as the analog brain. It has a more creative and less organized way of thinking.
Sperry’s dated research suggests the right brain is also connected to:
- holistic thinking
- nonverbal cues
- feelings visualization
We know the two sides of our brain are different, but does it necessarily follow that we have a dominant brain just as we have a dominant hand?
A team of neuroscientists set out to test this premise. After a two-year analysis, they found no proof that this theory is correct. Magnetic resonance imaging of 1,000 people revealed that the human brain doesn’t actually favor one side over the other. The networks on one side aren’t generally stronger than the networks on the other side.
The two hemispheres are tied together by bundles of nerve fibers, creating an information highway. Although the two sides function differently, they work together and complement each other. You don’t use only one side of your brain at a time.
Whether you’re performing a logical or creative function, you’re receiving input from both sides of your brain. For example, the left brain is credited with language, but the right brain helps you understand context and tone. The left brain handles mathematical equations, but right brain helps out with comparisons and rough estimates.
General personality traits, individual preferences, or learning style don’t translate into the notion that you’re left-brained or right-brained.
Still, it’s a fact that the two sides of your brain are different, and certain areas of your brain do have specialties. The exact areas of some functions can vary a bit from person to person.
Tips for keeping your brain sharp
According to the Alzheimer’s Association, keeping your brain active may help increase vitality and possibly generate new brain cells. They also suggest that a lack of mental stimulation may increase the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.
Here are a few tips to keep your brain stimulated:
Tips and tricks
- Spend some time each day reading, writing, or both.
- Never stop learning. Take a class, go to a lecture, or try to acquire a new skill.
- Tackle challenging crossword and sudoku puzzles.
- Play memory games, board games, card games, or video games.
- Take on a new hobby that requires you to focus.
In addition to thinking exercises, your brain benefits from a good physical workout. Just 120 minutes of aerobic exercise a week can help improve learning and verbal memory.
Avoid junk food and be sure to get all the essential nutrients you need through diet or dietary supplements. And, of course, aim for a full night’s sleep every night.
Tips for boosting creativity
If you’re trying to nourish your creative side, here are a few ways to get started:
Read about and listen to the creative ideas of others. You might discover the seed of an idea you can grow, or set your own imagination free.
Try something new. Take up a creative hobby, such as playing an instrument, drawing, or storytelling. A relaxing hobby can help your mind wander to new places.
Look within. This can help you gain a deeper understanding of yourself and what makes you tick. Why do you gravitate toward certain activities and not others?
Keep it fresh. Break your set patterns and go outside your comfort zone. Take a trip to a place you’ve never been. Immerse yourself in another culture. Take a course in a subject you haven’t studied before.
Tips and tricks
- When you get new ideas, write them down and work on developing them further.
- Brainstorm. When faced with a problem, try to find several ways to get to a solution.
- When doing simple chores, such as washing the dishes, leave the TV off and let your mind wander to new places.
- Rest, relax, and laugh to let your creative juices flow.
Even something as creative as music takes time, patience, and practice. The more you practice any new activity, the more your brain adapts to the new information.
The bottom line
Whether you’re working out a complicated algebraic equation or painting an abstract work of art, both sides of your brain are actively participating and providing input.
You’re not truly left-brained or right-brained, but you can play to your strengths and continue broadening your mental horizons. A normal, healthy brain is capable of lifelong learning and boundless creativity.