Other common L- and R-brain behaviours

Our preference for unbalanced thinking

"Using our thinking skills together with our L-brain helps to fragment the world into individual and seemingly unrelated patterns. Using our thinking skills together with our R-brain helps us to see the interrelationships in all things so that eventually we see the unity or great single pattern of life and the universe."


Other interesting differences between L-brain and R-brain people

There are many other examples we could include here to show the subtle behavioural differences produced by the cerebral hemispheres (and which are made concrete and real by the functions of the frontal cortex, the corpus callosum, and ultimately the rest of the brain and body).

For example, people who are termed 'chatter boxes' or who find it easy to spontaneously talk to someone without hesitation (also known as the 'doers') are often the more L-brain types. People who take their time thinking about what they are going to say first before actually saying it (known simply as the 'thinkers') are often the more R-brain types.

People who are described as introverts are usually more R-brain dominant, whereas people who are described as extroverts are usually more L-brain dominant.

L-brain people often have a large network of friends. R-brain people are either on their own or have closer and more intense ties with a few good friends. As Betty Friedan writes in her book entitled, The Fountain of Age:

"From childhood to retirement, males [the more L-brain types] tend to have an extensive network of relations with others, but females [the more R-brain or balanced types] tend to establish closer, more intensive ties with a smaller number of friends." (1)

A L-brain person who is particularly strong in organising and analysing things will often show a methodical trial-and-error or "testing" approach to learning; whereas a R-brain person who is particularly strong in creative visualisation skills will often take the time to gather information first, visualise the information, and then decide on a right course of action. The mere act of doing something is, therefore, significantly delayed. The opposite is true for L-brain dominant people who rely on (a hopefully accurate) memory and previously established patterns to create an almost immediate (and hopefully appropriate) behaviour in the real world.

L-brain people also find it difficult to be on their own; they almost always need company. Whereas, R-brain people find it difficult to be with others; they almost always need to be on their own.

The older L-brain types are usually quite happy to sleep for 7 hours or less (and probably expect others to do the same as well!). But for older R-brain people, they believe adequate sleep is important (perhaps including a siesta every afternoon) as this helps to develop a stronger and more effective imagination as required to see the better quality and more holistic solutions to many problems.

For R-brain people, they prefer to problem-solve difficult areas of life where little or nothing is known, such as the meaning of birth, life and death, the nature of God, and what happens after death. Such problems help to force R-brain people to rely more on their imagination to create the necessary new visual pictures as the source of possible solutions to the problem(s).

For L-brain people, they prefer to problem-solve those areas of life where there is enough information known (e.g. by way of references and/or established experiments conducted in the past) before they make the effort to find a solution. The more information there is about a given problem, the better it is for L-brain people because this, they believe, helps them to recognise and observe a quality solution in the information.

If R-brain people do not problem-solve enough at a young age, they are more likely to experience phobias in adulthood (e.g. a fear of public speaking or observing at close range certain animals and objects). If L-brain people do not problem-solve enough at a young age, they are more likely to experience a range of social conflicts (e.g. imposing their beliefs on others, changing the environment such as vandalism and theft, and starting wars).

L-brain people tend not to stay in one spot for a long time. Instead, changing jobs, living in different places, travelling the world, or adapting to almost any situation is usually the preferred approach. R-brain people, on the other hand, tend not to move around all the time. They will usually stick to a simple and interesting job they enjoy for a long time, live in one part of the world they feel comfortable, and rarely need to physically travel the world.

L-brain people find it easy to speak in public and often use experiences to highlight important points. R-brain people tend to rely on simplifying the theory behind the experiences and to present the result in a visually interesting way.

When L-brain people sing, they tend to show a lot of facial expression, move/dance around a lot, use less melody, create a repetitive song, emphasise lots of words to tell a story (or repeat the same sets of words over and over again), and by constantly and quickly changing their voice to a higher and lower octave, especially at the end of each note, as if they are trying to put more into the song than is absolutely needed.

When R-brain people sing, they prefer to spend more time creating a quality voice (no need for electronic manipulation), simplify the song to its fundamental basics, use greater melody, use a few expressive and much more meaningful/emotive words to tell a simple story, less instruments to accompany the voice, and by keeping most of the end of each note at a relatively constant level to help show the greater quality, power and simplicity of their voice and story.

Also to a L-brain person, he/she will often say "All is fair in love and war". Such a statement tells us how L-brain people solve their problems by experiencing such extremes. To a R-brain person, creating such a boundary between two extremes are not seen. Through self-control and good thinking, R-brain people can be aware of the consequences of such extremes. Then R-brain people go ahead and practice the right way of doing things by experiencing love and not war. It is not unusual for R-brain people to focus more on the positive things in life.

Also there is the view among L-brain people that a group of people with x, y and z years of experience amounts to x+y+z years of total experience for the group, and that this is better than just one person. But to a R-brain person, the years of experience may amount to only x, or maybe y or z and nothing more. The rest of the years of experience is just duplicated knowledge. What makes the years of experience increase dramatically is the quality of that experience and whether the people themselves can apply their own creativity to look beyond their knowledge and experience.

Finally, reduced time frames for learning in an educational institution emphasise L-brain skills. Longer time frames for learning emphasise R-brain skills.

The behaviour is not restricted to just individuals

This concept of L- and R-brain behaviour extends well beyond the individual. Whole nations and organisations are known to follow a similar trend as well.

For example, a right-wing group (usually consisting of older, rich and powerful men) often thinks in the same L-brain manner as a single L-brain individual as can be seen through many of the group's policies and actions. On the other hand, a left-wing group tend to be broader in its range of members including the more creative types and as such are often termed by psychologists as a more R-brain group (or possibly balanced if the right numbers of individuals with opposite skills and thinking types help to balance the group's overall objectives and actions).

Similarly a country like the US is known to place a great value on spontaneously getting together, being constantly talkative, mass-producing more efficient technology, getting more materialistically richer, fighting wars (especially while right-wing leaders such as US President George W. Bush are running the country) etc. Hence we can see how the US may be described as generally a more L-brain culture (or is generally perceived as expressing a L-brain view).

In European nations, there is more emphasis on the R-brain skills such as the arts, creating new ideas and the ability to express them without restriction or ridicule. There is a greater open acceptance of such creative individuals as well as rational groups in this part of the world. Compared to the US, we would have to describe countries like Italy, France and other European nations at different moments in history as being more R-brain or balanced.

Even all living creatures in the animal kingdom will tend to develop a similar behavioural approach. For example, some animals will take on behavioural characteristics consistent of L-brain types (including having the same general appearance and actions) when constantly pushed to survive within a harsher environment (e.g. the drier savannas and desert areas found in places like Africa) compared to the quieter, more peaceful and creative types surviving easily in environments where food is highly abundant (e.g. the rainforests).

Should we consider L-brain and R-brain thinking in our workplace?

Yes. Apart from the cultural differences of people working in an organisation which may determine how R-brain or L-brain we may likely to think, gender is another crucial part.

Women are more likely to apply a R-brain or more balanced approach to solving problems in the workplace. Men, however, prefer the L-brain approach. As a result, organisations can potentially flourish and be extremely successful in the business world when people within the organisation learn to understand each other and help to apply the L- and R-brain skills of everyone to the best advantage, or it can create tremendous internal conflict.

The gender difference in the way we think is supported by US psychologist Bruce Christopher. In a visit to Sydney in August 2005, Christopher said:

"Men and women do think and speak differently. That affects how we interact at work and that can be a problem.

'Men think compartmentally, that is, they tend to think in boxes. I like to think of it as a file drawer system a man opens and closes based upon the need of the moment. Women are a little more global; they see the connections that men tend to lose. There are inherent strengths in both styles, but sometimes when we get together in the office that can create tension." (Thomson, Owen. Double talk: The Sydney Morning Herald (My Career supplement). 13-14 August 2005, p.1.)

Christopher gives an example:

"If there's an issue going on [at] 5.30 [when it's time] to go home and it's not resolved, a man just closes that file drawer and it's done for him, whereas a woman goes home and stews about it. The first thing she wants to do the next day is revisit the issue. She approaches him and says, "Can we talk about the issue?" He says, "What issue?" Men often interpret that [to mean] women can't let go." (Thomson, Owen. Double talk: The Sydney Morning Herald (My Career supplement). 13-14 August 2005, p.1.)

As another example, Christopher mentions how a female manager may say to a male worker: "If you don't mind and when you've got some time, can you finish that project?"

To the female manager, it means the project probably has to be done and soon. But she acknowledges that her workers are doing other work. Therefore she frames the task that needs to be done more as a question. This helps to minimise conflict and gives the male worker the opportunity to say if he can complete the other project or not depending on where he is at in his current project.

But some strong L-brain male workers may interpret this question as more like, "This doesn't sound too important is she is asking a question, and because I have a lot of things to do to complete this current project I am working on I'll consider it as a low priority and/or something that I may or may not have to do."

Therefore the male worker can quickly and easily file away the project in his mind and forget about it until such time as he has nothing else to do.

But when the female manager sees the project hasn't been done on time or as quickly as she would like, she thinks the male worker hasn't listened or may be trying to undermine her authority.

However, if the female manager had approached the whole situation differently by first working out what the worker's current demands are at the time, decide whether this other project is important to complete and if so, whether it should be done by the male worker, or else ask "Is this a good time to talk about this other project?", then it may be possible to solve the communication problem. So if the male worker says he is ready to move onto the next project, it becomes easier for her to introduce the project and do it in a more direct fashion by explaining the importance of the project and when it should be done.

Men prefer to work on one task at a time, to do it properly, and then move on to the next. And they often like to know what is important to get done. Female workers are different in that they prefer to juggle around a whole lot of different tasks at once, all having different priorities. Which ones are the high priorities is up to women to decide for themselves.

If the more direct approach had been taken with the male worker, it is likely the female manager would have got a more favourable outcome which would have met her expectations.

And vice versa the reverse approach is true for male managers working with female workers.

Critics believe gender isn't the only factor in determining how people think and behave. Professor Carla Lipsig-Mumme of Monash University makes a valid point that interactions between men and women are influenced by a range of other factors. For a start, the type of work people do will influence the thinking of men and women. There is evidence to support this when we see how some men have become R-brain thinkers if their job is in the arts or religion whereas women in managerial and technical positions surrounded by L-brain men are likely to develop L-brain skills in this environment. As Lipsig-Mumme said:

"Take the example of a female heavy machinery operator. Her behaviour is going to be shaped by interaction with the 99.9 per cent of males who surround her. She will decide what the best strategy is to be accepted into that group. Her subsequent behaviour is not going to be necessarily different from her male colleagues, but it will be different from women in other work situations where the gender mix and skills are different." (Thomson, Owen. Double talk: The Sydney Morning Herald (My Career supplement). 13-14 August 2005, p.1.)

Similarly, women forced into competitive environments are more likely to develop L-brain skills whereas men in collaborative environments are more likely to develop R-brain skills.

But if one looks more critically and beyond the superficial differences, we see that such behavioural differences can be accounted for in terms of the way our brain prefers to shuttle information from L-brain to R-brain or vice versa when problem solving and developing behaviour.

It isn't just gender, cultural or other external differences. We have to look deeper into our minds and how our brain works to understand why people actually think and behave differently.