Exploding Egg

A Little Morning Brain Science

Personality schematics, like the Myers Briggs test, and brain studies have always fascinated me — I suppose because I want to know what makes people tick.

One subject I got on a long time ago, and I’m not sure exactly where from, is that people tend to favor one side of their face or the other when they speak or smile or interact. And the notion of being left faced or right faced can actually tell you something about a person.

Physiologically, the right side of the brain is wired to the left side of the body, and the left side is wired to the right side of the body.

Nobel Prize Winner Roger Sperry (1981) did a series of split-brain experiments in which he looked at what each side of the brain actually did, through a series of patients that had parts of their brains removed for one reason or another.

In one of his studies he found that the left brain was good at identifying objects but not at knowing what purpose they served, while the right brain was good at knowing what things were used for but not their names.

Further along, and several qualities were attached to each half, including:

Left Brain: Logic, language, mathematics, calculations, understanding details, fact based, forms strategies, practical.

Right Brain: Emotional, imaginative, intuitive, visual, musical, forward-thinking, understands symbols and philosophy, impetuous, takes risks.

The two sides are cross-linked, of course, and interact with each other. But the wiring varies — and along with many other factors can lead to the array of people out there who are artistic, analytical and everything in between.

So if you look out there at people you know, or at famous people, sometimes you can get an idea of how they think by looking at some images of their faces.

Ray Davies — lead singer of The Kinks and my longtime favorite musician, hero, icon, etc. — is extremely left faced, which you can see in his smile and seems to indicate he favors the creative, emotional and imaginative part of his brain. And you can tell from his work that it seems to be the case.

Ray Davies

If you look around, a lot of musicians, painters, writers and other creative types are also left faced and right brained.

Like Chuck Palahniuk, the writer, for instance.

Chuck Palahniuk

If you look at famous scientists, engineers or physicists, on the other hand, they tend to smile a lot more on the right side of their faces, which seems to indicate that logical, mathematical, fact-oriented type of thinking.

You can see J. Robert Oppenheimer seems to have favored that side of his face:

J. Robert Oppenheimer

So does Albert Einstein:

Albert Einstein

I’m noticing that actors, who I would have quickly lumped into the right brain, left face part of the equation, are actually a lot more varied — which makes me wonder if it has something to do with how they approach their craft.

Jeremy Northam, who I’ve recently been sort of fascinated with, appears to be more left brain, right faced:

Jeremy Northam

But Matt Damon, Boston hometown hero, appears to be more the other way around:

Matt Damon

I have no idea how either of these men approaches a role, but it would be interesting to see if Northam does a sort of analytical study of them first while Damon does more of an emotional approach.

Anyway, as a reporter talking to people I didn’t know I’d sometimes look at the left faced right faced thing to get a take on the best way to talk to somebody. Analytical types respond better to more focused, detailed questions while the artistic types are often better if you ask a less detailed question and let them approach it from a more emotional point of view.

It’s just a guide, of course — scientists can easily be left faced and artistic types can be right faced. But I found it helpful.

Anyway, it’s one of those things I’ve pondered a lot over the years, so I thought I’d share it.

If you’re wondering which way I fall, this image of me in my 20s is pretty telling:


Me in my 20s

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this. Hope you enjoyed it.



April 7, 2010 - Posted by | Musings | , , , , , ,


  1. Absolutely fascinating! I’ve studied how language works in the brain (many moons ago) as well as NLP and also counselling, so all this is of great interest to me: thank you!

    You are right, by the way, about Jeremy Northam: I’ve read interviews where he talks about having a quite a technical, intellectual approach to the craft of acting. He prepares really well for his work, and doesn’t seem to be an “instinctive” actor.

    Comment by henrysmummy2003 | April 7, 2010 | Reply

  2. Has there been a study on how others react to smile that favors the left or right side?

    And as I racked my brain for people who smile evenly, one of the first famous folks who came to mind was Tom Cruise. I did a search at http://bit.ly/9772Rd. He’s pretty even. Is that part of his success? What does it say? It definitely stands out in my mind.

    Another twist: facial paralysis: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/04/06/health/06mind.html

    Comment by Amedeo | April 7, 2010 | Reply

  3. Thanks Gill, cool that it seems to match his approach.

    Haven’t seen any studies about how people react, Deo. It would be interesting to see if like recognizes like when we look at each other, though.

    Cruise is pretty even, although it looks like he’s very slightly right faced. Not sure if it’s a success thing or just maybe indicates he takes a more balanced approach to acting?

    Comment by SueVo | April 7, 2010 | Reply

  4. Here’s a couple other brain stories I did back in my past life as a reporter (some of the links have gathered a little moss, but they’re still readable):




    Comment by SueVo | April 7, 2010 | Reply

  5. […] while ago I tossed up this post on the whole left-brain right-face, right-brain left-face thing — which is sort of a quick […]

    Pingback by Myers Briggs Personality Fun « Exploding Egg | April 16, 2010 | Reply

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