New research from UBC Okanagan suggests that some tasks are better performed by one-half of the brain than the other.
The study was recently published in the journal Brain and Cognition and Psychology Professor Barbara Rutherford explains that the findings seem to flip common sense on its head.
“Our study reveals that when the task is simple, performance is best if the half of the brain that is better at the task completes it alone. When the other half of the brain contributes to the task, performance gets worse,” Rutherford said.
The research suggests that the less effective hemisphere actively interferes with task performance and that the cost is managed by the more effective hemisphere. When faced with a task that is complex or difficult, it is better performed by both hemispheres, according to the study. Active interference disappears, and so does lopsided performance between the hemispheres. This suggests that the better hemisphere surrenders control in order to facilitate collaboration.
Rutherford said that the research shows that during complex tasks, there is greater blood flow between the hemispheres in the frontal areas of the brain, those associated with problem-solving. This suggests that these areas are collaborating.
Researchers found that at the same time, there is less blood flow between the hemispheres in more posterior areas, those that are specialized for a task, suggesting that these areas are segregating.
“Our research lines up by showing that collaboration happens at the same time as the surrendering of control by the better hemisphere,” Rutherford said. “The more we can understand how the two hemispheres and the regions of each hemisphere function and interact, the better we will be in designing therapies for people who are dealing with brain injuries or learning disabilities.”
Rutherford designed her study to tap into the different specializations of the hemispheres. While both hemispheres can perform language and spatial tasks, the left hemisphere is usually better at language tasks and the right better at spatial tasks.
According to Rutherford, the next step for researchers will be to move into mathematical problem solving, to make sense of how the brain functions while processing simple and complex equations.