Study notes

Biopsychology: Hemispheric Lateralisation & Split Brain Research

  • Levels: A Level
  • Exam boards: AQA, Edexcel, OCR, Eduqas, WJEC

Lateralisation is the idea that the two halves of the brain are functionally different and that each hemisphere has functional specialisations, e.g. the left is dominant for language, and the right excels at visual motor tasks. 

The two hemispheres are connected through nerve fibres called the corpus callosum, which facilitate interhemispheric communication: allowing the left and right hemispheres to ‘talk to’ one another.

Split-Brain Research

Sperry and Gazzaniga (1967) were the first to investigate hemispheric lateralisation with the use of split-brain patients.

Background: Split-brain patients are individuals who have undergone a surgical procedure where the corpus callosum, which connects the two hemispheres, is cut. This procedure, which separates the two hemispheres, was used as a treatment for severe epilepsy.

Aim: The aim of their research was to examine the extent to which the two hemispheres are specialised for certain functions.

Method: An image/word is projected to the patient’s left visual field (which is processed by the right hemisphere) or the right visual field (which is processed by the left hemisphere). When information is presented to one hemisphere in a split-brain patient, the information is not transferred to the other hemisphere (as the corpus callosum is cut).

Sperry and Gazzaniga conducted many different experiments, including describe what you see tasks, tactile tests, and drawing tasks.

In the describe what you see task, a picture was presented to either the left or right visual field and the participant had to simply describe what they saw.

In the tactile test, an object was placed in the patient’s left or right hand and they had to either describe what they felt, or select a similar object from a series of alternate objects.

Finally, in the drawing task, participants were presented with a picture in either their left or right visual field, and they had to simply draw what they saw. 

Conclusion: The findings of Sperry and Gazzaniga’s research highlights a number of key differences between the two hemispheres. Firstly, the left hemisphere is dominant in terms of speech and language. Secondly, the right hemisphere is dominant in terms of visual-motor tasks.

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