the emotional and social intelligence of the right hemisphere
The right hemisphere of the brain, when observing the actions of another, is the hemisphere that understands motivation, the why of an action. The left hemisphere in contrast is good at identifying the what of an action but is in the dark as to the why.
Children with autism recognise readily enough what another individual is doing, but frequently fail to understand why the individual is doing it... ‘unlike the left hemisphere, the right hemisphere, in our view, places a premium on the truth’… a comment by Julian Keenan and colleagues: ‘The right hemisphere, in fact, truly interprets the mental state not only of its own brain, but the brains (and minds) of others.’ More that that, in the words of Jaak Panksepp, and acknowledged authority on ‘affective neuroscience’, ‘in short, our left hemisphere - the one that typically speaks to others - may be more adept at lying and constructing a social masquerade…’ (McGilchrist, 2021, p. 203)
In fact the left hemisphere, if left to its own devices, is remarkably good at making things up to explain a situation. Often it will not make any sense to an outside observer, but to the left hemisphere it seems totally rational and the only reasonable explanation. I’ve covered this in a previous post…
In general, a huge body of evidence confirms that the right hemisphere is much superior to the left in receiving, interpreting, recalling or understanding anything that involves emotion. This is pretty much the whole of the human realm (and more broadly the realm of the animate), especially the social realm - how we relate to one another; and there is an equivalently large literature supporting the superiority of the right hemisphere in all aspects of social perception. The superiority of the right hemisphere extends to the emotional aspects of verbal language, and a general capacity for emotional memory, as much as to body language or the language of the human face. (McGilchrist, 2021, p. 203)
So what does this say about those in public office, large corporations, or powerful NGOs, who have an overly biased cognition coming from the left hemisphere? They can be good at identifying and implementing the pragmatic what of an action, but may be a little less attuned to the social/emotional aspects. And as we have been canvasing in other posts, if these left-hemispheric-biased individuals also are on a psychopathic spectrum, all the more they can implement their schemes without the slightest social/emotional considerations. Great at manipulating things for utilities sake - not so great at caring for people for humanities sake (even if that’s their companies purpose statement).
If it’s true that the right hemisphere “places a premium on the truth” and the left is “more adept at lying and constructing a social masquerade,” then we had better become adept at discerning the hemispheric bias of those in power. Certainly there are those who demonstrate “the superiority of the right hemisphere in emotional aspects of verbal language, and a general capacity for emotional memory,” in honesty, integrity and truth. However there are many in places of power who have ‘the gift of the gab', so to speak, who operate more from the left hemisphere, who can run circles around most of us with sophisticated language and logical argument savvy - but still remain cold, calculating and heartless. They can construct a social masquerade well enough, a façade of emotional understanding, but ultimately hollow.
But how do we tell?
Watch closely, don’t just hear the words or the well timed masquerade, but the heart of the person. What’s their history? Do they “walk the talk”? Can they respond with empathy? Are they emotionally attuned (not ‘are they emotional’ but can they receive, interpret, and understand emotion in a mature and consistent manner)? When they don’t know do they just make stuff up (confabulate) or are they honest about what they don’t know? They may not be the greatest orator but you feel their heart1 and an intuition that they are genuine, or they may be a superstar orator yet you don’t feel they are heartfelt and honest.
What do you think? How do you discern who’s being true and who’s being false? Do you know people who have the gift of the gab but their emotional processing is wanting? And reciprocally, those who are not so articulate but are expert at understanding and responding to emotions?
This whole thing about ‘feeling their heart’ or having an intuition about their ‘heart attitude’ is more than metaphorical prose, and I may get into this at a later time but there is a lot going on with the heart that gives away a lot of who we are (there’s stuff we can’t fake that’s broadcast from our hearts) - it’s a facinating science… I’ll talk about it in a future post.