The Dual Brain Theory in Sports: Myth or Reality

Illustration showcasing the left and right hemispheric functions in athletes.

After a brief hiatus, our team at SportsBrain is recharged and ready to dive into an intriguing topic for the new season. Does our brain function with two distinct hemispheres, or is it more unified than we think?

Read more: The Dual Brain Theory in Sports: Myth or Reality

Understanding the Dual Brain Theory

During my vacation, I delved deep into various books and articles about the human brain and its connection to sports. Roger Sperry, a Nobel laureate, brought to light the theory that our brain operates with two unique hemispheres, each processing information in its own distinct way. Many writings have described the ‘left’ and ‘right’ brain thinking. Commonly, the left hemisphere is associated with analytical processes (Verbal and Analytical), while the right is linked to creativity. However, some experts suggest that the left hemisphere excels in detailed processing of information, and the right hemisphere focuses on more broad, general concepts. An interesting depiction in the book “Dyslexia as a Chance” stated that the left hemisphere focuses on the “trees” and the right on the “forest”. Building on this, there’s the thumb metaphor: If you clasp your hands without thinking, which thumb is on top? Allegedly, if your left thumb is on top, your right hemisphere dominates, and vice versa.

Challenging the Dual Brain Theory

With this knowledge, I was eager to apply these theories to real-world sports scenarios. However, a substantial group of researchers argue against this dichotomy of the brain. A study in 2013 by researcher Nielsen and his team, involving 1000 subjects and an fMRI (functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging), demonstrated no specific active brain area during a ‘resting’ state. While some individuals might naturally be more creative or analytical, this isn’t strictly due to one brain hemisphere. Jurriaan Witteman from the University of Leiden, echoing this sentiment, stated, “Many assume that the left hemisphere is rational and language-centric, while the right is emotional and creative. Our study, however, shows that the distinction is more nuanced.”

Practical Implications of Brain Theories

I had to revisit and revise this topic multiple times due to its evolving nature. The Action theory, advocated by Jan Hijbers and Peter Murphy, posits that the human brain consists of different parts. Many coaches lean heavily on this belief, supported mainly by empirical evidence. Schools often focus on ‘left-brain’ tasks, promoting verbal, analytical, and rational thinking. In contrast, creativity, relational reasoning, and visual learning methods like mind mapping often take a backseat. While there might be a grain of truth here, recent studies show that it’s not strictly a left or right issue; both hemispheres play a part. As a coach, one might use the simple thumb test to adapt their training style to the individual, even if it seems overly simplistic, given the Action Type and other available learning styles.


We’ll delve deeper into the Action Type and the brain in upcoming posts. For now, it’s essential to remain open to evolving knowledge, understanding that our brain’s functioning might be more intricate and interconnected than previously believed.

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