Split Brain

Probably the best known research on the brain and creativity is that of Roger Sperry. He was awarded the Nobel prize for his research with individuals who had commisurotomies (i.e., the corpus callosum is cut, thereby functionally disconnecting the two hemispheres of the brain). Sperry did not administer any tests of creativity per se to the commisurotomy patients, but his research is very relevant because he found that certain important alogical and simultaneous processes tended to be controlled by the right hemisphere. Logical and linguistic processes seemed to be controlled by the left hemisphere. This is quite telling, although we must be careful not to make the mistake that is made in the popular press.

Sperry studied more than two dozen individuals, and not all of them demonstrated the dramatic differences between the right and left hemispheres. Additionally, Sperry worked with epileptic individuals who had the surgery because of this disease. It was an attempt to reduce the number of grand mal seizures. Surely epileptic persons have atypical nervous systems. They also had commissurotomies, further precluding generalizations from Sperry's research. Finally, it is simplistic and inappropriate to view creativity as a solely right hemisphere function. Clearly, individuals cannot use one hemisphere or the other. None of us can do that, unless of course you are one of Sperry's patients and have had a commis-surotomy. Nor should we try to rely on one hemisphere: Creativity involves both logic and imagination, divergent and convergent thinking.

Sperry's patients have been studied many times. Klaus Hoppe, for example, reported what may be some of the most relevant findings about individuals with split brains—namely, that they often have trouble understanding their own emotional reactions, if they have them. In "Dual Brain, Creativity, and Health,'' he and Neville Kyle referred to this as alexithymia. It is especially significant because creativity so often involves enthusiasm, excitement, and the like.

Hoppe and Kyle's interpretation focuses on the corpus callosum. They described how commisurotomy patients, in comparison with normal controls, use significantly fewer affect laden words, a higher percentage of auxiliary verbs, and applied adjectives sparsely revealing a speech that was dull, uninvolved, flat, and lacking color and expressiveness. ... Commissurotomy patients tended not to fantasize about, imagine, or interpret the symbols, and they tended to describe the circumstances surrounding events, as opposed to describing their own feelings about these events. . Commisurotomy patients, in comparison with normal controls, symbolized in a discursive, logically articulate structure, using mainly a secondary process, as opposed to a presentational structure as an expression of a predominantly prominent process. They also showed a concrete-ness of symbolization, emphasizing low rather than creative capacity... showed a relatively impoverish fantasy life, and tended not to be able and convey symbolic meanings.

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