Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Right and left-brain personality types?

[Fourth in a series on Daniel Kahnemann’s Thinking Fast and Slow]

Kahnemann doesn’t use the terms left and right-brain. His terms--“System 1” (for the intuitive brain systems) and “System 2” (for the rational ones)--nonetheless demarcate some of what I (and others) casually associate, respectively, with the vernacular terms “left” vs. “right” brain. Furthermore, in his discussion of which factors affect which system is dominant, Kahnemann implicitly suggests why some of the additional personality traits commonly lumped together under “right brain” or “left brain” might, in fact, tend to co-occur. Someone with a relatively dominant System 1, more intuition-driven, is more impulsive. Impulsivity (as Gladwell discusses in The Tipping Point) is part of what people perceive as cool (in the social sense). Thus, System 1-ers tend, other things being equal, to be more popular than System 2-ers. Popularity and spending time with others is associated with being happy; being happy, Kahnemann reports, is associated with System 2 laziness, and, thus, with greater System 1 influence. Being less (or more) rational thus feeds back and forth with being more (or less) sociable.

In other words, the intuitions underlying the terms “right brain” and “left brain” may have a rational justification.

Are “right brainers” happier than left brainers? What I’ve written here would seem to suggest yes. But don’t forget all the fallacies that System 1 is capable of. A more rational person is less likely to stress out about remote threats, be manipulated by savvy vendors, and make plans that unexpectedly fall through. On the other hand, a more rational person is more likely to detect the randomness and the statistical flukes that govern many of what we’d all prefer to believe are purposeful, human-driven narratives.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I think most of these efforts to categorize are silly. My husband is more creative, more impulsive, but he argues for rationality, for reason, and how important it is. He seems to be generally happier than I am. I am not "creative" in an artistic way, I think logical in my thinking, I can anyway see where I am illogical, but I can be impulsive in relationships because I am lonely. He is social, I am in introvert, and hard to fit in to this increasingly social world with all this social media - when I read about schools making kids interact through social media, special face book like sites, etc, I cringe. Everybody just has to love those things, right? So many people using them, let's make it a requirement and our students will be happier. Is there any connection between extroverts and introverts and right brain and left brain and happiness? What about optimism vs pessimism. I am a pessimist and worrier. Is that because I look to the future and he lives in the present? Is it rational to always be afraid of the future and what it will bring. Is it creative to think of all the negative possibilities. Maybe I am creating scenarios. Is that right brain? Why do we always want to stick people into categories? System 1 vs System 2, but it does not really work because there are crossovers.