MY BOOK


After 20 years of research and writing, my book, In Their Right Minds: The Lives and Shared Practices of Poetic Geniuses (2015) Exeter, UK: Imprint Academic, is available from the publisher in a very well-made paperback edition. Initially a #1 Hot New Release in Neuropsychology and Poetry/Literary Criticism on Amazon.com, it can be acquired on Amazon in most countries, either in print, a Kindle edition, or both. If you are interested in consciousness, creativity, poetry, psychology, and/or the paranormal, I think you will find it an illuminating read.

The Eye of the Beholder


In 1976, Princeton psychologist Julian Jaynes attributed the voices of the gods to the right hemisphere in pre-literate civilizations, claiming that a residual dissociative effect could be found in poets, prophets, musicians, the hypnotized and schizophrenics of the modern age. In his book, he included drawings of faces with lop-sided smiles, mirror images of each other, that he had presented to 1,000 people in a test.

                                            A                              B


Jaynes wanted to test which hemisphere was judging the facial expression. Reading direction, apparently, is independent of reading a facial expression. In 1976, as today, research has shown that recognizing facial expressions is primarily a right-hemispheric function.* Jaynes found that 80% of right-handers chose B, while 55% of left-handers chose A, showing that more than half of the latter were using their left hemispheres to read the facial expression. He also thought that if you were completely left-lateralized, left-handed in every way, you would be even more likely to chose A.

I found this curious because I am left-handed in every way, plus left eye and foot dominant, yet I chose B without hesitation. It seems to me that Jaynes was not taking into account atypical lateralization. He may have been assuming that if you are left-handed your hemispheric functions would be switched so that your language was on the right and visuo-spatial functions, including recognition of faces and facial expressions, were on the left. In fact, we now know that there can be a number of different configurations for brain functions, including both language and visuo-spatial functions on the right. So, an extremely left-side lateralized person, like I am, could still chose B.

When I posted these images on Facebook, I had just read an article in the Jan/Feb 2012 issue of Scientific American Mind. The author, Richard Wiseman, was saying that we are ALL in some sense “Wired for Weird,” ready to believe in ghosts or see facial images where there are none, using our natural pattern recognition, agency-detection and facial recognition abilities. However, people with a highly active right hemisphere are more likely to claim they are clairvoyant, telepathic, have dream precognition or see faces in unlikely places. Beginning in the late 1990’s, Wiseman reported, neuropsychologist Peter Brugger has been finding that right-hemisphere dominant people, judged by a variety of means, are indeed more likely to believe in and/or have experienced paranormal events. Other researchers have also come to this same conclusion.

As it must be pretty clear by now, I’m very interested in the creative abilities and special skills of people who are right-hemisphere dominant for language. When I first presented this test to My Left-handed Facebook Friends** and general Facebook Friends, 16 people responded and many more since then. In the initial test, the responses split right down the middle. Eight people chose A and 8 people chose B. Six lefties chose A, as Jaynes had predicted, using their right hemisphere. The lefties and right-handers who chose B would have been judging the smile from the right. The right-handers who chose A were atypical, using their left hemisphere to judge the facial expression.

As the facial expression test isn't really testing for over-all dominance, I would like people who have taken it, and any others who would like to join in, to take it one step further. If you report your results in the comment section, please let me know as well if you are left- right- or mixed-handed. Here are 4 simple things to do:





  1. Cross your arms across your chest. Which hand is up?
  2. If you play a sport, do you use your left or right hand/foot?Walk up stairs. Which foot do you place up first?
  3. Make a triangle with your index fingers and thumbs together in front of your face. Look at an object in the distance closing each eye alternately. Which eye makes the object appear in the center of the triangle.
  4. When you write, is your hand position facing up or do you curl in your hand? For example,  President Obama sharply curls in his left hand; Clinton writes straight up. How about when you eat? Do you curl in your hand? Sometimes right-handers curl in their hands also, so they are probably right dominant for language. One of my sons, who benefits from my left-handed genes, curls in his right hand when he writes and eats.
Thanks to any and all who take part in my test! Please also let me know if you believe in or have ever experienced any paranormal events, like telepathy or precognition.




* [R]ecent research suggests that the right hemisphere may be best at processing patterns like voice contour, facial expression, aspects of size and quantity, gestalt aspects of the world which, from a developmental perspective, represent the way children begin to learn about cognitive areas like music, art, mathematics or language. This quote is from a great up-to-date article.
** Now a Facebook page called "Right Mind Matters" for all people with enhanced right dominance, whether left-, right-, or mixed handed.

Born That Way

In my last blog, What's Right for You May not be Right for Others, I introduced Iain McGilchrist's notion of the 5% of the worldwide population who have atypical lateralization for language. Whereas his book, The Master and His Emissary, is so inclusive in describing left/right hemispheric differences within the brain and in successive generational proclivities, from my point of view, he left out the best bit about the highly creative minority of right-hemisphere or mixed-dominant individuals. 

In this post, I'm going to discuss handedness and atypical lateralization for language, a predisposing factor for psychosis. The information is based on the newest research articles found in the medical textbook, Language Lateralization and Psychosis (2009), edited by Iris E. C. Sommer and René S. Kahn. The other names that appear below are contributing chapter authors or researchers they cite in this text. 



First of all, left-right asymmetry, whether in the brain (cerebral) or in the body (visceral), happens during the baby's development in the womb. The leftward asymmetry (greater than right size) that produces left-hemispheric dominance for language occurs between weeks 29  and 31 of gestation. The bodily effects are evident later on. Your feet, for instance, are probably different in size, the right is the larger foot in males, and the left in females. My left hand is much longer than my right. Typical left-hemispheric cerebral dominance is not just found in humans: it is in animals too, stretching back phylogenetically several hundred million years. 

Children of two left-handed parents have a 50% chance of becoming left-handed, while for children of right-handed parents it's less than 10%. The language lateralization of the parents also determines to a large extent that of their children. I may be an anomaly with two right-handed parents and the only left-handed child amongst six siblings; but I'd say two of my sisters are right- or mixed-dominant despite their handedness. In furtherance of this scenario, I recently had dinner with a good friend and her teenage son. Both were right-handed. But, when I asked them to fold their arms across their chests, they both put the left hand up, showing some mixed-dominance. My friend is an actress and a singer and her son's father is left-handed; so, this makes sense for both mother and son. In fact, enhanced right-brain dominant folk seem to find each other as a quick tally of my friends attests. 

Great apes are typically right-handed and the parts of the brain used in human language, Broca's and Wernicke's areas, are associated with tool use in chimpanzees. So, grasping with the hand was probably the precursor for "grasping" an idea using language. Even birds use their feet preferentially: the right foot exerts strong force and the left uses fine manipulations. There is evidence that in preindustrial societies right-handedness only became apparent to researchers when analyzing the inhabitants' fine manipulations. Handedness specialist I. C. McManus says that “8% -10% of the population has been left-handed for at least the past 200,000 years or so.” This percentage has remained constant. Again, there are gender differences: men are 25% more likely to be left-handed than women. Compared to the 5% to 6% of right-handers who show RH language dominance, 30% to 35% of left-handers do.

Visuospatial functions are normally assigned to the right hemisphere. Birds too show right-eye (LH) superiority for discriminating visual patterns, left-eye (RH) for spatial tasks. It's well known that men have better visuospatial ability than women and this is because men are generally more left-brain dominant for language than women, whose language functions are more spread out, leaving less room for the visuospatial. But all combinations of language vs. visuospatial functions can occur: L/L, L/R, R/R. In women who are R/R like me,  their language function can practically eclipse their visuospatial ability. I have no map reading ability and am generally lost in environmental space. Forget the old adage that left-handers die sooner than righties. New research shows that “the very oldest respondents have a higher rate of left-handedness than those who are somewhat younger,” according to McManus.




Whereas an intolerance for left-handedness arose with the industrial revolution, as fine work needed to be done and equipment and writing pens were designed for right-handers, a French study by Faurie and Raymond (2004) showed that the rate of left-handedness has not actually changed since the Upper Paleolithic. France has been antipathetic to left-handedness, historically tying the left hand behind the back to force right-handedness. There are no left-handers in China, as it is forbidden. My European friends might be interested in the fact that the highest rates of left-handedness are in Britain, the Netherlands, and Belgium, I assume because of more tolerance. Yet, even if forced to write with the right hand, the bearer of the left-handed gene will carry it over to their own children while continuing to use the left for other non-writing functions.

                              
In this History of Left-handers, note that Eve is picking the apple 
    with her left (evil) hand

What about language lateralization and psychosis? 

Quoting Somers, Sommer and Kahn, "non-right-handed subjects, but not strong left-handers, had higher scores on schizotypy questionnaires than right-handed subjects. Mixed-handers showed a trend towards high schizotypy in comparison to left-handers." So, it's safer to be extremely left-handed than mixed, because the major language function is segregated to the right, not just increased language activity in the frontal and temporal areas of the right hemisphere that can account for hemispheric indecision and a predisposition to psychosis of the schizophrenic or bipolar variety. The authors state further that "bilateral language representation facilitates magical and delusional ideas by means of the more diffuse semantic activation to the right hemisphere compared to the left." Bilateral language representation is also associated with autism, dyslexia and ADHD.

In fMRI studies, right-handed thought-disordered patients showed activation in the right-hemisphere homolog of Wernicke’s area during speech production, while controls performing the same task showed left-lateralized activity, supporting Julian Jaynes's viewDiederen and Sommer studied 24 psychotic patients who actually experienced auditory verbal hallucinations (AVH) in the scanner. All were strongly right-handed and continued to experience AVH frequently despite using antipsychotic medication. The results showed increased activity in the right homolog of Broca's area, which the researchers connected to negative emotion and compared to inappropriate "release" language following damage or surgery to the left hemisphere. 

Overall, the studies indicate that decreased language activation on the left and increased activity on the right are associated with auditory hallucinations, while extreme left-handers are not prone to psychosis. Timothy Crow goes so far as to say that “schizophrenia is the price Homo sapiens pays for language (Crow, 1997a).” It's the lack of complete dominance, the failure to inhibit the non-dominant hemisphere that is problematic. Patients with the most severe hallucinations were the least leftward lateralized.

The final chapter by Clyde Francks lays the genetic blame on dad rather than mom. He claims that the same paternally inherited LRRTM1 gene associated with mixed/left-handedness, which suppresses the maternal gene, was also over-transmitted to schizophrenic patients in a large family study. Interestingly, he found the same father-child enhanced (roughly five times the mother's) genetic transmission in dyslexics.

These studies, of course,  do not paint the whole picture. The genetics are well described, but no mention is made of the traumatic incidents needed to trigger psychotic and/or dissociative episodes in those predisposed. The creative influence of increased right-hemispheric input is touched upon, especially as an argument for sustaining the genetic transfer of sometimes disabling mental illness, but not nearly enough. But then their lack is an opening for the kind of study I am doing on the genetics, early traumas and environmental influences on the minds of great poets, prophets and mediums whose voices have brought great art, guidance and shifting paradigms of consciousness to a general population less endowed for hearing them.