Nearly two decades ago I went out on a neurological limb in my book Serving the Ageless Market. I proposed that people tend to draw more on the brain’s right hemisphere in organizing perceptions, thoughts and decisions in later life. Few brain researchers would have made such a claim at the time I wrote the book in the late 1980s. In fact, psychiatrist Louis Kopolow, who wrote the foreword, cautioned me about making such a representation, especially because I was not a brain scientist, but simply a marketer who loved reading about the brain and mind.
Here is the story of how I came to formulate my hypothesis about increased influence of the right brain on perceptions, thoughts and decisions in later life.
In the 1970s, I read about psychobiologist Roger Sperry’s studies of “split brain” patients – patients whose hemispheres had been surgically disconnected after suffering life-threatening seizures.
For the first time, scientists were able to study the brain’s right and left hemisphere independently of each other. While the operation stopped the seizures, Sperry discovered that there were in effect two minds in one brain – one emanating from the brain’s right hemisphere, the other from its left hemisphere.
So astonishing and of such fundamental importance was Sperry’s work with split brain patients that he was a recipient of the 1981 Nobel Prize in medicine.
By now, nearly every one knows that the left hemisphere is the “rational, analytic” side of the brain while the right hemisphere is the “emotional, creative” side of the brain.
The “left brain” parses reality in bits and pieces and sorts them into separate categories. The “right brain” interprets reality in terms of relationships – how what comes to its attention is is connected to the contents of its environment. It is the pattern-seeking side of the brain. The left brain is more comfortable with rules than the right brain, which often looks for untried paths to accomplish something.
Not long after reading about Sperry’s work in brain lateralization, I began delving into the work of Abraham Maslow. To my astonishment I discovered that Maslow’s description of people who had reached the advanced state of psychological development that he called self-actualization somewhat paralleled Sperry and Bogen’s description of right brain specialty functions. Maslow reported that he encountered few people under the age of 60 who had reached a state of self-actualization. Thus, I concluded, there is a correlation of age with the rightward tilt of older brains.
I also concluded that people who were lagging developmentally and operating at lower levels of intellectual expression likely did experienced little if any shift toward the right brain in later life, and thought that this would probably be more commonplace among older people in the lower socioeconomic brackets.
Now, many years after I
postulated the hemispheric shift hypothesis it is being confirmed with the aid
of brain imaging technology. Check out the article by Gene Cohen that talks about this shift in the January 16th issue of Newsweek.
In the next post I will talk about how this rightward shift of the brain's functions is changing the face of marketing.