The Forest or the Trees?

How you think about things has a lot to do with what you perceive. You’ve undoubtably heard the idiom, “Can’t see the forest for the trees”. It means that you can become so immersed in the details you forget to look at the big picture. It happens to all of us. I’ve learned that some people are more prone to thinking about the details while others are more adept at seeing the big picture. I’ve seen it in business and in athletics. According to cognitive researchers, there is a big difference in how people perceive their world. The difference is called cognitive dominance and is derived from the differences between the function of the right and left hemisphere of the brain.

The right hemisphere is visually based so right brain oriented people are creative, abstract thinkers who visualize ideal, utopian solutions based on big picture views (the forest). Conversely, the left hemisphere is associated with linear, sequential thinking so left brain oriented people are logical and see how parts are related to the whole (the trees). Most people show strong tendencies toward either one hemisphere or the other.

The Center for Cognitive Neuroscience at the University of California Irvine outlined why right brain thinkers see the world differently than left brain thinkers. A chart published by Western Michigan University clearly outlines the differences in cognitive dominance.

Research confirms that left-brain oriented people logically rationalize each step leading to solutions that they can justify and defend while right-brain oriented people often visualize ideal, utopian solutions based on big picture views.

Left-brain thinkers tend to view the present as it relates to the past while right brain thinkers more often view the present as it relates to the future.

Left brain people tend to strive for a single correct answer while right-brain thinkers expect the likelihood of multiple right answers.

Take a minute and see if you are right brain or left brain thinker.  There are no right or wrong answers, only insight into how you deal with the outside world.

When you encounter a situation do you:

Think in words  or think in concepts

Listen carefully  or watch carefully

Begin by looking at the parts  or begin by looking at the whole

Use logical steps  or intuitive steps

Remember names  or remember faces

Read instructions first  or read instructions as a last resort

Start at the beginning  or start at the end

Spell well  or spel porely

Stick with one right answer  or strive for  several right answers

Think about the trees  or think about the forest

Divide to conquer  or combine to conquer

It seemed reasonable to organize the above list with the left dominant response on the left side and the right dominant response on the right side. Therefore, if you favored the first choice you think primarily with the left hemisphere of your brain. Organized systems governed by rules appeal to you because there is a logical approach in which analysis leads to conclusion. You are left brain oriented and look at the information for logic and order and to find the next step. If you favored the latter choices in the above list, you are right brain dominant. Art, music, and design appeal to you because you look at the incoming information for patterns and can leap to a potential conclusion.

Unfortunately, each thinking style has short falls as well as benefits. Individuals who are extreme left brain thinkers have a tendency to over analyze and over manage situations. Right brain extremists appear scattered and unorganized because they float from problem to problem without reaching resolution.

Regardless of your cognitive dominance, understanding how you think will enable you to become more tolerant of those around you who think from a different perspective.

How well do you know who YOU really are?


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