Home Winsights
No. 62 (September 2002)

Put your best foot forward —

An Adventure in Brain Dominance
and The Cause of Mid-Life Crisis

by Win Wenger, Ph.D.


o   I think we may have found the cause.

o   Indeed, a very simple and innocent cause.

o   Indeed, I think we found it a third of a century ago.

Indeed, as with so many other things, this appears to be an original observation, for nowhere else have I spotted anyone saying it anywhere in the literature. So here we go.


Matter of Brain-Dominance

In recent years there have been many studies showing that the old left-vs.-right model of brain functions was somewhat simpler than the reality. This has been shown especially as regards music and the arts. Nonetheless, there was and is a certain degree of validity to the idea that the left side of the cerebral cortex pretty much pursues its functions and preferences with one style while the right side pretty much pursues another very distinctive style. Generally, what you've heard about "left-brained behavior" and "right-brained behavior" is mostly true.

Especially when I first was examining this matter thirty-five years ago, at the time teaching full-time at a small college, I was able to make some observations among the captive audience I had then, my students. Before I was done on the issue, I also got to make observations on eight bona-fide geniuses, leaders in academic and scientific professions who were already recognized as the main movers and shakers of their respective fields.

I found very interesting results.

My ordinary, "B," students, nearly all had straight cerebral dominance. That is, their sensory functions all lined up on one side or on the other side, not a mixture of both. They were either right-eyed, right-eared, right-handed and right-footed, or left-eyed/eared/handed and -footed.

All my worst students (at the time we didn't have the teaching methods that I now have!), as expected, had mixed cerebral dominance — some sensory functions favored on one side and some on the other in a mixture, or - in a number of instances - no clear preference for one or more of those functions.

This was of great interest to me since it had already been established that, where brain functions are not clearly sorted out, confusion and brain dysfunctions result — "I'll t-t-take the b-b-b-ball/n-n-no, I'll t-t-take the b'b'ball," back and forth instead of a clean direct function. Hence the basis of many coordination problems, many instances of dyslexia, dysgraphia, learning problems, etc. My observations on this point certainly appeared to be confirming the more usual theory as regards learning-related dysfunctions. However, there was something else of very startling interest:

All my best students — the ones who really understood and did things to the information being taught to them, instead of just smoothly memorizing it for the short time necessary to spit it back on tests — all my best students ALSO had mixed cerebral dominance!

Hey, what was this? Instead of being messed up, muddled, confused, these mixed-dominant students had brains that were performing brilliantly!

And within two years of the time I had started this study, I also had opportunity to assess the neurology — at least the brain dominance — of those eight outstanding geniuses in various academic and scientific fields.

And every one of those eight ALSO had mixed cerebral dominance!


What these surprising results indicated

Obviously, these were too small a population upon which to make a fully scientific statement — even if I had not had to keep identities confidential — but these results were singular enough to be hard to ignore. What they demonstrated was:

  1. The issue in the functionally challenged students was not so much dominance as it was a matter of sorting out communications within the brain. With communications sorted out, as it was in the brightest students and in those geniuses, there were no dysfunctions. Their brains were performing brilliantly.

  2. The straight-dominant students were performing so-so because they only had essentially one side of their brain engaged in what was going on.

  3. In mixed-dominants, both sides of the brain are at least somewhat engaged in what's going on, and both sides contribute to what's happening. Where intra-brain communications are good enough that dominance functions to whichever sides are well-sorted out, the results of mixed-cerebral dominance are brilliant — as was the case with my most brilliant students, and with those eight geniuses. Each had more of his brain involved, each was able to draw on more of his brain than could the straight-dominants.

One other thing this outcome showed me was — apart from whatever factor(s) may keep a mixed-dominant individual from sorting out his brain preferences and intra-brain communications — that if that sorting-out can be accomplished without suppressing the functions of one side (as was popular at that time), and if those intra-brain communications could be improved, many or most individuals now suffering various dysfunctions could instead become brilliant. Once sorted out and with good communications within the brain, mixed-cerebral dominance appears to be a huge advantage!


A Simple Test for Brain Dominance
  1. Take a sheet of paper, roll it into a tube, sight through it at some distant object.

    The eye you hold the tube to, and/or are most comfortable using to look through the tube, is your dominant eye.

  2. Which ear do you hold your phone to most of the time?

  3. I think you already know your handedness.

  4. Climb up to stand on the seat of a (sturdy) chair. Which foot did you go up with first? Which foot do you start up a flight of stairs with? Which do you usually use to step up on a curb? That is your dominant leg and foot.

    Step down from that chair. The foot you lead with stepping down is your sub-dominant foot; the other is your dominant foot.

Really simple stuff, but it gives you a pretty good read-out on which functions are dominant for you, and indeed whether you are largely straight-dominant or mixed-dominant. The late Ned Herrmann, at Lake Lure, North Carolina, had a much more sophisticated system for sorting out brain preferences, but the above will do for most purposes.

And if you are one of the people reading this who has undergone "mid-life crisis," chances are that a year or so before that crisis began, you suffered some sort of injury or problem to your dominant foot or ankle or knee or leg. (!!!)


A Cause of Mid-Life Crisis

If your preferred foot should, by injury or disease or whatever circumstance, become less preferred, and you start therefore using your other foot in the dominant role, this eventually would change at least some aspects of your brain dominance and the way your brain is organized. Thus would come a time when new interests would start to occur to you, and some of your previous interests and goals lose meaning for you. That sounds like just about every description I've heard of mid-life crisis since the condition became popular forty-some years ago.

It doesn't happen to everyone. It's probably just a matter of chance whether your dominant foot or your subdominant is the one which suffers setback first. If it were your subdominant side that got hit, you'd probably not undergo mid-life crisis. If it's your dominant side that goes first, though, that's when new goals begin to displace old ones and life starts needing major redefinition.

Also, there are bound to be other causes of at least some cases of mid-life crisis, including some of the 101 elaborately psychological causes which have been cited for that condition.

Also, if foot dominance was never very strong while other dominances were quite strong, a change in foot dominance might not be enough to dislodge this basic pattern of life.

It seems likely, however, that many or most cases of mid-life crisis were caused by a change in foot dominance. As people age, the saying is that "the legs go first"; and in a great many instances, even if only by chance, it would be the dominant side to "go first," resulting in the change in dominance.

Put your best foot forward!


Meanwhile, back to the issue of brilliance...

As important as the cause of mid-life crisis might be to those undergoing that condition, much greater importance appears to pertain to the issue of getting both sides of the brain turned on and engaged in those who are now "straight dominant." Possibly even more important is improving the sort-out and within-the-brain communications for people who now suffer dyslexia, dysgraphia, or some other dyscoordinative brain-based impairment. Some of our weakest and more problematic citizens could become among society's major contributors. Improving within-the-brain communications is a good thing to do in any case, and there are literally hundreds of ways to do so — leading off with Image-Streaming.

[Complete instructions for how to Image-Stream are provided self-taught in our free online ebook, You Are Brighter Than You Think!"]


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