Lateralization of brain function

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Diagram of the human brain.
The human brain is divided into two hemispheres–left and right. Scientists continue to explore how some cognitive functions tend to be dominated by one side or the other; that is, how they are lateralized.

The lateralization of brain function is the tendency for some neural functions or cognitive processes to be more dominant in one hemisphere than the other. The medial longitudinal fissure separates the human brain into two distinct cerebral hemispheres, connected by the corpus callosum. Although the macrostructure of the two hemispheres appears to be almost identical, different composition of neuronal networks allows for specialized function that is different in each hemisphere.[medical citation needed]

Lateralization of brain structures is based on general trends expressed in healthy patients; however, there are numerous counterexamples to each generalization. Each human’s brain develops differently leading to unique lateralization in individuals. This is different from specialization as lateralization refers only to the function of one structure divided between two hemispheres. Specialization is much easier to observe as a trend since it has a stronger anthropological history.[1] The best example of an established lateralization is that of Broca's and Wernicke's areas where both are often found exclusively on the left hemisphere. These areas frequently correspond to handedness, however, meaning that the localization of these areas is regularly found on the hemisphere corresponding to the dominant hand (anatomically on the opposite side). Function lateralization such as semantics, intonation, accentuation, prosody, etc. has since been called into question and largely been found to have a neuronal basis in both hemispheres.[2] Another example is that each hemisphere in the brain tends to represent one side of the body. In the cerebellum this is the same bodyside, but in the forebrain this is predominantly the contralateral side.

History of research on lateralization[edit]

Broca[edit]

One of the first indications of brain function lateralization resulted from the research of French physician Pierre Paul Broca, in 1861. His research involved the male patient nicknamed "Tan", who suffered a speech deficit (aphasia); "tan" was one of the few words he could articulate, hence his nickname. In Tan's autopsy, Broca determined he had a syphilitic lesion in the left cerebral hemisphere. This left frontal lobe brain area (Broca's area) is an important speech production region. The motor aspects of speech production deficits caused by damage to Broca’s area are known as expressive aphasia. In clinical assessment of this aphasia, it is noted that the patient cannot clearly articulate the language being employed.

Wernicke[edit]

German physician Karl Wernicke continued in the vein of Broca's research by studying language deficits unlike expressive aphasia. Wernicke noted that not every deficit was in speech production; some were linguistic. He found that damage to the left posterior, superior temporal gyrus (Wernicke's area) caused language comprehension deficits rather than speech production deficits, a syndrome known as receptive aphasia.

Advance in imaging technique[edit]

These seminal works on hemispheric specialization were done on patients or postmortem brains, raising questions about the potential impact of pathology on the research findings. New methods permit the in vivo comparison of the hemispheres in healthy subjects. Particularly, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and positron emission tomography (PET) are important because of their high spatial resolution and ability to image subcortical brain structures.

Movement and sensation[edit]

In the 1940s, neurosurgeon Wilder Penfield and his neurologist colleague Herbert Jasper developed a technique of brain mapping to help reduce side effects caused by surgery to treat epilepsy. They stimulated motor and somatosensory cortices of the brain with small electrical currents to activate discrete brain regions. They found that stimulation of one hemisphere's motor cortex produces muscle contraction on the opposite side of the body. Furthermore, the functional map of the motor and sensory cortices is fairly consistent from person to person; Penfield and Jasper's famous pictures of the motor and sensory homunculi were the result.

Split-brain patients[edit]

Research by Michael Gazzaniga and Roger Wolcott Sperry in the 1960s on split-brain patients led to an even greater understanding of functional laterality. Split-brain patients are patients who have undergone corpus callosotomy (usually as a treatment for severe epilepsy), a severing of a large part of the corpus callosum. The corpus callosum connects the two hemispheres of the brain and allows them to communicate. When these connections are cut, the two halves of the brain have a reduced capacity to communicate with each other. This led to many interesting behavioral phenomena that allowed Gazzaniga and Sperry to study the contributions of each hemisphere to various cognitive and perceptual processes. One of their main findings was that the right hemisphere was capable of rudimentary language processing, but often has no lexical or grammatical abilities.[3] Eran Zaidel also studied such patients and found some evidence for the right hemisphere having at least some syntactic ability.

Language is primarily localized in the left hemisphere. One of the experiments carried out by Gazzaniga involved a split-brain male patient sitting in front of a computer screen while having words and images presented on either side of the screen and the visual stimuli would go to either the right or left visual field, and thus the left or right brain, respectively. It was observed that if the patient was presented with an image to his left visual field (right brain), he would report not seeing anything. If he was able to feel around for certain objects, he could accurately pick out the correct object, despite not having the ability to verbalize what he saw. This led to confirmation that the left brain is localized for language whereas the right brain does not have this capability, and when the corpus callosum is cut, the two hemispheres cannot communicate in order for situation-pertinent speech to be produced.

Pop psychology[edit]

The oversimplification of lateralization in pop psychology. This belief was widely held even in the scientific community for some years.

Some popularizations oversimplify the science about lateralization, by presenting the functional differences between hemispheres as being more absolute than is actually the case.[4]:107[5]

Sex differences[edit]

In the 19th century and to a lesser extent the 20th, it was thought that each side of the brain was associated with a specific gender: the left corresponding with masculinity and the right with femininity and each half could function independently.[6] The right side of the brain was seen as the inferior and thought to be prominent in women, savages, children, criminals, and the insane. A prime example of this in fictional literature can be seen in Robert Louis Stevenson’s Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.[7]

Significant differences between male and female hemispheric rivalry and dominance have been established. Male brains have significantly better global and rivalry efficiency between the hemispheres, whereas female brains possess considerably better local efficiency within the RHS.[medical citation needed]

Lateralized cognitive processes[edit]

For example, structurally, the lateral sulcus generally is longer in the left hemisphere than in the right hemisphere, and functionally, Broca's area and Wernicke's area are located in the left cerebral hemisphere for about 95% of right-handers, but about 70% of left-handers.[8]:69

Language functions such as grammar, vocabulary and literal meaning are typically lateralized to the left hemisphere, especially in right handed individuals.[9] While language production is left-lateralized in up to 90% of right-handed subjects, it is more bilateral, or even right lateralized in approximately 50% of left-handers.[10] In contrast, prosodic language functions, such as intonation and accentuation, often are lateralized to the right hemisphere of the brain.[medical citation needed]

The processing of visual and auditory stimuli, spatial manipulation, facial perception, and artistic ability are represented bilaterally.[10] Numerical estimation, comparison and online calculation depend on bilateral parietal regions[11][12] while exact calculation and fact retrieval are associated with left parietal regions, perhaps due to their ties to linguistic processing.[11][12]

Depression is linked with a hyperactive right hemisphere, with evidence of selective involvement in "processing negative emotions, pessimistic thoughts and unconstructive thinking styles", as well as vigilance, arousal and self-reflection, and a relatively hypoactive left hemisphere, "specifically involved in processing pleasurable experiences" and "relatively more involved in decision-making processes".[13] Additionally, "left hemisphere lesions result in an omissive response bias or error pattern whereas right hemisphere lesions result in a commissive response bias or error pattern."[14] The delusional misidentification syndromes, reduplicative paramnesia and Capgras delusion are also often the result of right hemisphere lesions.[15]

Handedness and language[edit]

Broca's area and Wernicke's area are linked by a white matter fiber tract, the arcuate fasciculus. This axonal tract allows the neurons in the two areas to work together in creating vocal language. In more than 95% of right-handed men, and more than 90% of right-handed women, the left hemisphere is dominant in certain aspects of language and speech processing. Left-handed people may be less lateralized than right-handed people in language function.[medical citation needed]

Pathology[edit]

Hemisphere damage[edit]

Damage to either the right or left hemisphere, and its resulting deficits provide insight into the function of the damaged area. Right hemisphere damage has many effects on language production and perception. Damage or lesions to the right hemisphere can result in a lack of emotional prosody or intonation when speaking. Right hemisphere damage also has monumental effects on understanding discourse. People with damage to the right hemisphere have a reduced ability to generate inferences, comprehend and produce main concepts and a reduced ability to manage alternative meanings. Furthermore, when engaging in discourse people with right hemisphere damage, their discourse is often abrupt and perfunctory or verbose and excessive. They can also have pragmatic deficits in situations of turn taking, topic maintenance and shared knowledge.[medical citation needed]

Lateral brain damage can also have effects on spatial frequency. People with left hemisphere damage are only able to see low frequency, or big picture, parts of an image. Right hemisphere damage causes damage to low spatial frequency, so people with right hemisphere damage can only see the details of an image, or the high frequency parts of an image.[medical citation needed]

Plasticity[edit]

If a specific region of the brain, or even an entire hemisphere, is injured or destroyed, its functions can sometimes be assumed by a neighboring region in the same hemisphere or the corresponding region in the other hemisphere, depending upon the area damaged and the patient's age.[16] When injury interferes with pathways from one area to another, alternative (indirect) connections may develop to communicate information with detached areas, despite the inefficiencies.

Broca's aphasia[edit]

Broca’s aphasia is a specific type of expressive aphasia and is so named due to the aphasia that results from damage or lesions to the Broca’s area of the brain, that exists most commonly in the left inferior frontal hemisphere. Thus, the aphasia that develops from the lack of functioning of the Broca’s area is an expressive and non-fluent aphasia. It is called ‘non-fluent’ due the issues that arise because Broca’s area is critical for language pronunciation and production. The area controls some motor aspects of speech production and articulation of thoughts to words and as such lesions to the area result in the specific non-fluent aphasia.[17]

Wernicke's aphasia[edit]

Wernicke’s aphasia is the result of damage to the area of the brain that is commonly in the left hemisphere above the sylvian fissure. Damage to this area causes primarily a deficit in language comprehension. While the ability to speak fluently with normal melodic intonation is spared, the language produced by a person with Wernicke’s aphasia is riddled with semantic errors, and may sound nonsensical to the listener. Wernicke's aphasia is characterized by phonemic paraphasias, neologism or jargon. Another characteristic of a person with Wernicke’s aphasia is that they are unconcerned by the mistakes that they are making.[medical citation needed]

Misapplication of concept[edit]

Terence Hines states that the research on brain lateralization is valid as a research program, though commercial promoters have applied it to promote subjects and products far outside the implications of the research.[18] For example, the implications of the research have no bearing on psychological interventions such as EMDR and neurolinguistic programming,[19] brain-training equipment, or management training.[20]

Advantages of brain lateralization[edit]

The widespread lateralization of many vertebrate animals indicates an evolutionary advantage associated with the specialization of each hemisphere.[1]

Additional images[edit]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b Halpern ME, Güntürkün O, Hopkins WD, Rogers LJ (2005). "Lateralization of the Vertebrate Brain: Taking the Side of Model Systems". The Journal of Neuroscience. 25 (45): 10351–10357. doi:10.1523/JNEUROSCI.3439-05.2005. PMC 2654579Freely accessible. PMID 16280571. 
  2. ^ Riès, SK; Dronkers, NF; Knight, RT (April 2016). "Choosing words: left hemisphere, right hemisphere, or both? Perspective on the lateralization of word retrieval". Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences. 1369 (1): 111–31. doi:10.1111/nyas.12993. PMC 4874870Freely accessible. PMID 26766393. 
  3. ^ Kandel E, Schwartz J, Jessel T. Principles of Neural Science. 4th ed. p1182. New York: McGraw–Hill; 2000. ISBN 0-8385-7701-6
  4. ^ Westen, Drew; Burton, Lorelle; Kowalski, Kowalski (2006). Psychology : Australian and New Zealand edition. Milton, Qld.: John Wiley & Sons. ISBN 9780470805527. 
  5. ^ Toga AW, Thompson PM (2003). "Mapping brain asymmetry". Nature Reviews Neuroscience. 4 (1): 37–48. doi:10.1038/nrn1009. PMID 12511860. 
  6. ^ Harrington, Anne (1989-01-01). Medicine, Mind, and the Double Brain: A Study in Nineteenth-Century Thought. Princeton University Press. pp. 87–90. ISBN 0691024227. 
  7. ^ Stiles, Anne (2006). "Robert Louis Stevenson's "Jekyll and Hyde" and the Double Brain". Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900. 46 (4): 879–900. doi:10.2307/4127513. JSTOR 4127513. 
  8. ^ Griggs, Richard A. (2012). Psychology : a concise introduction (3rd ed.). New York, NY: Worth Publishers. ISBN 978-1429261555. 
  9. ^ Taylor, I.; Taylor, M. M. (1990). Psycholinguistics: Learning and using Language. Pearson. ISBN 978-0-13-733817-7.  p. 367
  10. ^ a b Beaumont, J.G. (2008). Introduction to Neuropsychology, Second Edition. The Guilford Press. ISBN 978-1-59385-068-5.  Chapter 7
  11. ^ a b Dehaene S, Spelke E, Pinel P, Stanescu R, Tsivkin S (May 1999). "Sources of mathematical thinking: behavioral and brain-imaging evidence" (PDF). Science. 284 (5416): 970–4. doi:10.1126/science.284.5416.970. PMID 10320379. 
  12. ^ a b Dehaene S, Piazza M, Pinel P, Cohen L (2003). "Three parietal circuits for number processing" (PDF). Cognitive Neuropsychology. 20 (3–6): 487–506. doi:10.1080/02643290244000239. PMID 20957581. 
  13. ^ Hecht D (October 2010). "Depression and the hyperactive right-hemisphere". Neurosci. Res. 68 (2): 77–87. doi:10.1016/j.neures.2010.06.013. PMID 20603163. 
  14. ^ Braun CM, Delisle J, Guimond A, Daigneault R (March 2009). "Post unilateral lesion response biases modulate memory: crossed double dissociation of hemispheric specialisations". Laterality. 14 (2): 122–64. doi:10.1080/13576500802328613. PMID 18991140. 
  15. ^ Devinsky O (January 2009). "Delusional misidentifications and duplications: right brain lesions, left brain delusions". Neurology. 72 (1): 80–7. doi:10.1212/01.wnl.0000338625.47892.74. PMID 19122035. 
  16. ^ Pulsifer MB, Brandt J, Salorio CF, Vining EP, Carson BS, Freeman JM (2004). "The cognitive outcome of hemispherectomy in 71 children". Epilepsia. 45 (3): 243–254. doi:10.1111/j.0013-9580.2004.15303.x. PMID 15009226. 
  17. ^ Biopsychology (8th edition), by John J.P. Pinel Pearson 2011
  18. ^ Hines, Terence (1987). "Left Brain/Right Brain Mythology and Implications for Management and Training". The Academy of Management Review. 12 (4): 600–606. doi:10.2307/258066. JSTOR 258066. 
  19. ^ Drenth JD (2003). "Growing anti-intellectualism in Europe; a menace to science". Studia Psychologica. 45 (1): 5–13. , available in ALLEA Annual Report 2003, pp. 61–72
  20. ^ Della Sala, Sergio (1999). Mind Myths: Exploring Popular Assumptions about the Mind and Brain. New York: Wiley. ISBN 0-471-98303-9. 

Further reading[edit]