Tag Archive for 'bologna'

Neuroimaging data do not validate left- vs. -right-brain types

If you believe in learning styles, personalities, and so forth, skip this entry. It just reports that another of those balloons has been popped. However, it you’re into understanding the fascinating nature of humans’ thinking, there are a couple of morsels here.

Unless you’ve been putting your thumbs in your ears and wiggling your fingers while loudly saying, “Yadda, yadda, yadda. I’m not listening to you. I can’t hear a word you’re saying,” you’ve probably heard some educator talking about left-bained or right-brained learners, schools as catering to left-brained learners, girls as better at left-brained tasks and therefore better in schools, and so forth. (Think I’m kidding? Try this example from the widely circulated magazine, Scholastic or check on the sales of Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain.)

Fortunately, some folks have called “bologna” on this already. See, for examples:

Well, if that’s not enough (and it should be), a group of neuroscientists at the University of Utah (abstract and source follows) studied images showing the neural connections in the brain hemispheres of over 1000 people ranging from seven to 29 years of age. Although they found that there were functionally separate areas in the brain (e.g., language regions or hubs), these connections consistently showed lateralization between the major “hubs,” not a general individual type. They said that their

…analyses suggest that an individual brain is not “left-brained” or “right-brained” as a global property, but that asymmetric lateralization is a property of individual nodes or local subnetworks, and that different aspects of the left-dominant network and right-dominant network may show relatively greater or lesser lateralization within an individual.

Before you get carried away with interpreting that statement, please read the article. It’s available for free!

Nielsen, J. A., Zielinski, B. A., Ferguson M. A., Lainhart J. E., & Anderson J. S. (2013) An evaluation of the left-brain vs. right-brain hypothesis with resting state functional connectivity magnetic resonance imaging. PLoS ONE 8(8): e71275. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0071275


Lateralized brain regions subserve functions such as language and visuospatial processing. It has been conjectured that individuals may be left-brain dominant or right-brain dominant based on personality and cognitive style, but neuroimaging data has not provided clear evidence whether such phenotypic differences in the strength of left-dominant or right-dominant networks exist. We evaluated whether strongly lateralized connections covaried within the same individuals. Data were analyzed from publicly available resting state scans for 1011 individuals between the ages of 7 and 29. For each subject, functional lateralization was measured for each pair of 7266 regions covering the gray matter at 5-mm resolution as a difference in correlation before and after inverting images across the midsagittal plane. The difference in gray matter density between homotopic coordinates was used as a regressor to reduce the effect of structural asymmetries on functional lateralization. Nine left- and 11 right-lateralized hubs were identified as peaks in the degree map from the graph of significantly lateralized connections. The left-lateralized hubs included regions from the default mode network (medial prefrontal cortex, posterior cingulate cortex, and temporoparietal junction) and language regions (e.g., Broca Area and Wernicke Area), whereas the right-lateralized hubs included regions from the attention control network (e.g., lateral intraparietal sulcus, anterior insula, area MT, and frontal eye fields). Left- and right-lateralized hubs formed two separable networks of mutually lateralized regions. Connections involving only left- or only right-lateralized hubs showed positive correlation across subjects, but only for connections sharing a node. Lateralization of brain connections appears to be a local rather than global property of brain networks, and our data are not consistent with a whole-brain phenotype of greater “left-brained” or greater “right-brained” network strength across individuals. Small increases in lateralization with age were seen, but no differences in gender were observed.

So, can the bunk. Quit blaming kids’ outcomes on irrelevant factors and let’s get to thinking about what matters: The things we can do to alter the teaching environment to improve those outcomes. Let’s see, we could start with having more light in the classrooms. O.K., how about adjusting the temperature up or down one degree? What? You think it would be more important to change the teaching?

Well, I agree.

Learning styles goes public (radio)

“Think You’re An Auditory Or Visual Learner? Scientists Say It’s Unlikely.” That was the headline that Patti Neighmond used in reporting on the popular myth of learning styles for US National Public Radio’s Morning Edition. One of the experts she interviewed for the segment that aired 29 August 2011 was friend of Teach Effectively, Dan Willingham.

The coverage by Ms. Neighmond is brief (4+ mins), but it includes solid content. In addition to Professor Willingham’s comments, she has sound from Doug Rohrer, one of the authors of the thorough examination of the evidence about learning styles published by Psychological Science in the Public Interest in 2008.

As Ms. Neighmond noted, there is big money in learning styles. Do you think the folks who have a stake in this unproven, thin-sliced bologna will accept this report without response? I doubt it. It’ll be intriguing to watch the comments in Ms. Neighmond’s story. There’ll be some shameless appeals to intuition and personal experience, some references to shoddy studies, and more. Watch the fun!

For those of us who have for many years been noting that the learning styles hypothesis is bogus, it’s very nice to have the message reach the general public. Thanks to Ms. Neighmond for that.

Read the print version of “Think You’re An Auditory Or Visual Learner? Scientists Say It’s Unlikely” (or go there to listen to the audio version or download an MP3 of it). Read other posts about learning styles that have appeared on Teach Effectively.


Kavale, K. A., & Forness, S. R. (1987). Substance over style: A quantitative synthesis assessing the efficacy of modality testing and teaching. Exceptional Children, 54, 228-234.

Lloyd, J. W. (1984). How shall we individualize instruction-or should we? Remedial and Special Education, 5(1), 7-15.

Pashler, H., McDaniel, M., Rohrer, D., & Bjork, R. (2008). Learning styles: Concepts and evidence. Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 9, 106-119.

Willingham on neuropsych bunkum

If you’re interested in understanding why “most of what you see advertised as educational advice rooted in neuroscience is bunkum,” slip on over to LD Blog and catch up with a post about Dan Willingham’s recent entry explaining what educators need to know about brains.

Left AND right brain

Teach Effectively pal Dan Willingham’s entry for this week at the Washington Post is about the myth of the left-brain-vs-right-brain dichotomy. He drives a very large convoy of vehicles through the gaping hole in the putative theory, a hole that was reopened by a report published by Arne Dietrich and Riam Kanso in a prestigious Psychological Bulletin article entitled “A Review of EEG, ERP, and Neuroimaging Studies of Creativity and Insight.”

Professors Dietrich and Kanso examined a shipload of studies that used multiple methods to examine the relationships between neurological functions and structures and creative thinking. What they found does not accord with the Pop-Ed views one is likely to hear in what passes as professional development sessions provided by at least some—if not many—schools and teacher education programs.
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Mixed example, same bologna

Over on Bright Hub, Linda Neas has a post entitled “Coping with Multiple Intelligences in the Classroom” in which she suggests how to employ understanding of MI to adapt instruction. “When educators are able to identify the various learning styles of their students, they are better able to teach in a manner supporting success for all students. A learning style chart is an invaluable tool when developing classroom management techniques.”

After opening with a paragraph about Howard Gardner’s concept of multiple intelligences, Ms. Neas indicates that standardized testing runs counter to assessing learners’ performance. How to teach, she asks? “Perhaps the answer is as simple as the classroom management technique of identifying the various intelligences within the classroom!”
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Socrates questions educators

Over on Zig Site, Siegfried Engelmann has a new series of articles in which Socrates questions fictitious educators about educational concepts. In the first, Socrates engages one Dr. Gibbs, a “prominent professor of education.” Here’s an excerpt:

Dr. Gibbs: Learning is extremely complicated and influenced by a host of factors, including motivation and parental attitudes. The point I try to make to my students is that every child is an individual who learns according to his or her time table, and in his or her unique way.

Socrates: You give us a lot to think about. But is there some fact or rule that describes all learning?

Dr. Gibbs. Of course not. The learner is what the learner does and what the learner has inherited. Learning is not some kind of cut-and-dried process. The most specific thing one could confidently say about all learning is that it occurs in a series of predictable stages, which have been described by Piaget and others.

Just imagine the hash that Socrates makes of such bologna!

In another, Socrates and Dr. Baram Rosenthal, an “educational guru,” discuss reading instruction. Catch ’em at Zig Site. Look in the left rail.

More DW on LS

Teach Effectively pal Dan Willingham has another treatment of the learning-styles myth at the Washington Post. In a guest entry for Valerie Strauss’ “The Answer Sheet,” Professor Willingham mentions the recent scientific review of research that debunked the myth (yet again) and provides responses to some of the pro-myth arguments that he’s encountered. Here’s a link to “Willingham: No evidence exists for learning style theories.”

DCPS goes for learning styles bunk

A sad note sounded in a document that has many otherwise valuable suggestions: The Teaching and Learning Framework of the Washington (DC, US) Public Schools (DCPS) recommends incorporating learning styles into instruction. Why the developers of this document included the rather-thoroughly debunked learning styles idea eludes me, but it is very clearly there, appearing on the front cover and receiving three pages of coverage starting on page 24 (see image at right).
Continue reading ‘DCPS goes for learning styles bunk’

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