More than half a brain

Our services tend to appeal to left-brained thinkers, leaving the right-brained out in the cold. If we designed them for both, everyone would be happier.

Saustin Sampson Mfune is working on a Doctor of Ministry degree at the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary, Andrews University, Berrien Springs, Michigan.

Many psychologists associate different thinking styles with the two hemispheres of the brain, the left brain (LB) and the right brain (RB). 1 Accumulating evidence suggests that when we communicate in such a way as to be understood well only by those who primarily use one hemisphere, we "turn off" those who primarily use the other. For example, our educational system is basically oriented to LB thinkers. Evidence now surfacing suggests that school dropouts are predominately RB thinkers.

Generally, the Adventist style of worship and methods of public evangelism strongly reflect LB strengths (see box). This leads me to wonder whether we haven't narrowed the spectrum of people to whom our services appeal, thus making them less effective than they could be. I also wonder whether this one-sided approach hasn't:

  • retarded the growth of the Adventist Church, especially in industrialized countries.
  • contributed to many RB people leaving the church or becoming inactive.
  • encouraged the development of the predictable format of worship that has in turn resulted in the youth and perhaps many adults viewing the church as meaningless, lifeless, boring, and lacking in warmth and fellowship.
  • impeded the conversion of many.
  • contributed, in some areas, to the birth of an Adventist culture that lacks the motivation for witnessing.
  • contributed to the trend toward secularism.

How the halves function

Barbara Meister Vitale writes that the two hemispheres mirror each other physiologically, yet differ in structure and function.2 She summarizes the functions of the two hemispheres in categories of skills and modes of consciousness. Skillwise, the LB controls handwriting, reading, phonics, locating details and facts, talking and re citing, listening, interpreting symbols, language, auditory association, and following directions. The RB is associated with such skills as haptic awareness (sense of touch), spatial relationships (seeing how parts go together to form a whole and where things are in relation to other things), singing and music, feelings and emotions, shapes and patterns, mathematical computation, color sensitivity, art expression, creativity, and visualization. 3

As for the modes of consciousness that have to do with the processing of information: The LB is verbal (using words to describe, name, define), reality-based, temporal, abstract, linear (thinking in linked ideas leading to a convergent conclusion), symbolic, sequential, and logical in its functions. The RB, on the other hand, is holistic (seeing whole things at once, leading to divergent conclusions), fantasy-oriented, non-temporal (without sense of time), intuitive (making leaps of insight, often based on incomplete patterns, hunches, feelings, or visual images), analogic (seeing likeness between things and understanding metaphoric relation ships), concrete, random, and nonverbal (aware of things, but making minimal connections with words). 4

That the two halves of the brain specialize in different functions, how ever, should not lead us to conclude that they work independently of each other. It has been shown that the two hemispheres function together.5 No one uses only one hemisphere. People use both sides of their brains. They differ as to which side they prefer, as to which side they give dominance.6

Balanced approach more effective

In the second half of the twentieth century, researchers began to direct attention to the importance of the RB. Sperry reported that while the RB is as complex as the LB, the nineteenth-century research that recognized the functions of the LB led the educational system, as well as science in general, to neglect the nonverbal, holistic, and intuitive form of intellect localized in the RB.7 This unbalanced approach resulted in the strengths of RB students not being fully recognized and appreciated. 8

The findings of a study by Piatt seem to support the belief of many researchers that lecturing as a vehicle for imparting information does not work for those with a RB orientation.9 His study showed that a little more than 80 percent of high school dropouts "were either right or 'mixed brain' and only 19 per cent were left-brain dominant.'' 10

In How to Create Effective TV Commercials, Baldwin correlates the above observations with real life. In the first chapter of his book, in which he dis cusses LB and RB television advertising, he concludes that it is whole-brain advertising that is truly effective: "Rarely does a commercial rely entirely on one or the other. Rarely is it all information [LB]. . . . Rarely is it all mood and visual imagery [RB]. . . . Most often, a commercial is a blend of linear and nonlinear elements. The emotional setting helps make the rational message relevant and enjoyable. The copy message gives form and relevance to the imagery. Advertising, to be truly effective, must appeal to both sides of the brain, simultaneously and without conscious distinction. The two should mesh to deliver a single impression." 11

It seems, then, that, in contrast with messages that reach just one hemisphere, information and activities presented so that they stimulate both sides of the brain (1) provide greater enjoyment, (2) make a greater impression, (3) are remembered longer, and (4) are more readily accepted by the total being.

Reaching right-brained worshipers

How then do we involve both hemispheres of the brain in our worship services?

Parables. With only about three years to establish His identity and mission, Jesus must have selected the most effective methods to unveil the plan of redemption. We note that He used parables almost exclusively. 12

Unger wrote that a parable makes truth intelligible because it presents it more vividly to the mind. It brings natural delight to the hearer because it does not appeal "to the understanding [LB] only, but to the feelings [RB] . . . imagination [RB], in short to the whole man, calling all its powers and faculties into pleasurable activity; and all things thus learned with delight are those long est remembered." 13

Drama. When the disciples of John the Baptist asked Jesus if He was the Messiah, instead of giving a descriptive analysis of Himself, Jesus chose to dramatize the truth. He told them to watch what He did (Matt. 11:2-6; Luke 7:19- 22). When He dismissed them, He told them to tell John what they had "seen [RB] and heard [LB and RB]."

Visual aids. To answer His disciples who had been arguing about who was the greatest in God's kingdom, Jesus, instead of giving a scholarly treatise, chose to use a child as a visual aid to imprint in His disciples' minds the importance of humility (Matt. 18:1-6).

Much of the rest of Jesus' communication was also highly illustrative in nature.

Music. The suggestions that music is a universal language and that it is an avenue to the soul are more than just conventional expressions. Music has the unique quality of generating different reactions in each half of the brain simultaneously. 14 And Leno cites a study that showed that music affects similarly the moods of people of different backgrounds. 15

Research has shown that people have no choice but to respond to music. 16Sometimes it seems that the devil under stands this better than does the church.

Musical dramas. Combining music and drama can be very effective in activating both hemispheres of the brain, and so can be used very effectively in imparting the desired messages.

Public speaking. It is interesting to note that Wonder and Donovan list preaching as an activity that leans heavily to the LB, while listing public speaking as activating both hemispheres. 17 Unfortunately, they don't indicate why they consider these two activities different. Perhaps using one's voice artistically and creating the right images in the listener's mind can stimulate both hemispheres of the brain.

Responsive activities. Activities that allow people to respond emotionally and physically as well as intellectually during the service make worship more meaningful and effective.

The RB is primarily associated with feelings, emotions, visualization, dreams, relationships, the nonverbal (meditation), etc. This fact indicates that of the two hemispheres, the RB is more inclined to accommodate spiritual activities. If this is true, is the traditional Adventist slant of liturgy, which shows a LB focus, contributing to the develo ment of a secular society?

May many SDA churches help their members to praise their Lord with their whole beings!

1 Researchers differ on certain details. However,
clear-cut evidence confirmed by neurological
research indicates that the LB and RB specialize
in different activities.

2 Barbara Meister Vitale, Unicorns Are Real:
A Right-Brained Approach to Learning (New
York: Warner Books, 1982), p. 1. On the
physiological differences, see also Jacquelyn Wonder
and Priscilla Donovan, Whole-Brain Thinking
(New York: Ballantine Books, 1984), p. 62; and
John L. Creswell, Claire Gifford, and Debbie
Huffman, "Implications of Right/Left Brain
Research for Mathematics Educators," School
Science and Mathematics, February 1988, p. 118.

3 Vitale, p. 12.

4 Ibid., p. 15. Macdonald Critchley and R. A.
Henson (Music and the Brain [London: William
Heinemann Medical Books, 1980], pp. 7-9)
observe that of the different types of stimuli given to
patients, music is peculiarly able to generate
reactions in the two halves of the brain. They
suggest that music can achieve this wide spectrum
of response because its recognition depends on
several factors, such as melody, rhythm, dynamics,
harmony, meter, and words. Research shows
that the left ear (RB) perceives melody and the
right ear (LB) identifies words.

5 Neurological evidence points out that this
interchange takes place through the "corpus cal
losum and other elements," which connect the
two hemispheres "integrating whatever pro
cesses take place in them" (ibid). The corpus
callosum makes it possible for the "right hand to
know what the left hand is doing" (Wonder and
Donovan, p. 4).

6 Creswell, Gifford, and Huffman, p. 120.

7 Creswell, Gifford, and Huffman, p. 121,
citing R. W. Sperry, "Lateral Specialization in
Surgically Separated Hemispheres," Schmitt and
Worden, eds., Neurosciences: Third Study Pro
gram (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press), pp. 5-19.

8 Ibid., p. 122.

9 J. Piatt, "Hemisphericity and Divergent
Youth: A Study of Right-brained Students, Their
School Problems, and Personality Traits" (Ph.D
dissertation, Brigham Young University, Provo,
Utah, 1979). Cited in Clifford H. Edwards,
"Brain Function: Implications for Schooling,"
Contemporary Education, November 1982, p. 59.

10 Creswell, Gifford, and Huffman, p. 122. The
term mixed brain appeared only once in the article
and was not defined. The context would seem to
suggest that it refers to students who were
predominantly RB but had a relatively high LB function
also.


11  Huntley Baldwin, How to Create Effective
TV Commercials (Lincolnwood, 111.: NTC Busi
ness Books, 1989), p. 39.


12 Jesus also used allegories, similes, and
metaphors but these function much as do
parables.

13 Merrill F. Unger, Unger's Bible Dictionary
(Chicago: Moody Press, 1960), p. 825.

14 See endnote 4.

15 H. Lloyd Leno, "Psychological and Physiological
Effects of Music," Review and Herald,
Feb. 12, 1976, p. 164.


16 William W. Sears, "A Study of Some Efffects
of Music Upon Muscle Tension as Evidenced
by Electromyographic Recordings" (Ph.D
dissertation, University of Kansas, 1960), pp. 11-14.

17 Wonder and Donovan, pp. 268, 269.


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Saustin Sampson Mfune is working on a Doctor of Ministry degree at the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary, Andrews University, Berrien Springs, Michigan.

October 1991

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