Recruiting the Left and Right Brains

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“..Both the left and the right hemisphere may be conscious simultaneously in different, even in mutually conflicting, mental experiences that run along in parallel”—Dr.Roger Wolcott Sperry, 1981 Nobel Laureate and pioneer in split-brain research

It may look like one brain, but it needs to be courted as two

1=2/Image: Michael Moffa

Whenever you recruit someone, pop psychology and some interpretations of some serious research, such as Dr. Roger Perry’s pioneering split-brain research, suggest you are recruiting two people. Perry found that patients with otherwise untreatable epilepsy could be treated by severing the corpus callosum, a thick brain “cable” connecting the left and right lobes of the brain. He also found that, as a result, the two lobes came to function in surprisingly independent and contradictory ways.

Although residing in the same body and integrated in myriad ways that suggest a single owner, the left and right lobes of human brains have been described as employing different criteria and methods of noticing, focusing on, comprehending, processing, prioritizing, evaluating, retaining, comparing, reconstructing and retaining the information you present—to name but a few of the tasks they do perform and are alleged to perform differently.

If this is true, it stands to reason that, to increase your odds of recruiting the whole person, you should take steps to recruit both lobes of the candidate’s brain, with particular emphasis on engaging or catering to his or her “dominant” lobe, if there is one.

Pop-culture characterizations of the right-brain/left-brain difference are as numerous as they are often vague, mutually incompatible, incomplete, exaggerated or simply at odds with the facts of physiology. Many suggest a complete and specific functional independence of the left and right lobes that doesn’t exist or they cite differences without being clear about how big or small these differences are, where in the brain—if anywhere—they are located, and whether they are large enough to make any practical difference in performance.

Function, Function, Function—Not “Location, Location, Location”

For example, the human brain has been functionally cleaved into pairs of tasks, such as “practical” vs. “spiritual”, “scientific” vs. “artistic”, “logical” vs. “intuitive”, “part-learning” vs. “whole-learning”, “analytical” vs. “synthetic”, “specific” vs. “general”, “precise” vs. “approximate”, “rational” vs. “emotional” or “ “simultaneous” vs. “sequential”—each correctly encapsulating an important distinction between tasks and functions of the brain.

Where most of these claims fall short is in the details about whether these functions are uniquely located in one lobe or the other; are wholly or partially located in both; otherwise distributed more diffusely throughout the brain, like holographic information in a hologram; situated elsewhere in the body, e.g., the brain stem, or—most interestingly (and my personal favorite)—are, along with our experiences, not in the brain or the body at all!—instead perhaps surrounding our bodies in the way a magnetic field surrounds its host magnet.

For a recruiter, these physiological and philosophical issues are largely irrelevant. However, the concepts are not.

The good news for recruiters is that “location, location, location”—the hoary real estate mantra is irrelevant to your needs.  It doesn’t matter where these brain-dependent functions are located. What matters is their relevance to the processes and stages of recruitment. What should be of interest and value to a recruiter is not where or whether these functions are localized (leaving that to the neurophysiologists) but, instead, what practical role they can and should play in

  • Attracting candidates
  • Informing candidates
  • Understanding candidates
  • Motivating Candidates
  • Assessing and prioritizing candidates
  • Training candidates (yes, sometimes doing any or all of the above incorporates training)

Applying “Split-Brain Recruiting Techniques”

To make this analysis readably short, and to illustrate the main idea, it will be limited to what I shall call the “split-brain recruiting technique” of attracting candidates—with the understanding that “split-brain” is only a handy metaphor for describing useful functional—not structural—dichotomies. Additional articles will explore applications of the right-left dichotomies to other aspects of recruiting.

Attracting candidates: Without having to know where image and text (or sequential listening) processing reside in the brain, you should know how important it is to trigger both of these kinds of brain processes in your advertising for or other engagement of applicants and candidates. That’s because all of us respond to both sequentially and simultaneously presented information, often with a clear preference for one, e.g., because of issues involving sequential listening or with text—issues which some dyslexic applicants may have (an issue I will explore in a follow-up article).

It is no accident that so much advertising vividly juxtaposes images and text/spoken dialogue. The text  or speech engages linear, step-by-step “sequential data processing” functions while the image engages holistic, all-at-once “simultaneous/parallel data processing” functions. This should be clear from the most rudimentary consideration of how images and text/speech are perceived: A photo of a Nike running shoe is not scanned in a linear way, grommet by grommet, stitch by stitch. No, instead it is perceived and recognized instantaneously, although perhaps chunked into whole-zones, e.g., heel, toe, sole, each as a complete “gestalt”. If the shoe is scanned linearly, e.g., the way cathode-ray screens are scanned, the scanning must be so rapid as to be virtually instantaneous, and therefore “simultaneous”.

The home-page images here at are the same: perceived as simultaneously presented wholes, unlike the linearly presented accompanying text which is, for the most part, stepwise, sequentially processed by reading in a straight line. It’s like gazing at your sweetheart: If you are listening at all, you are taking in his or her spoken words one or several at a time—sequentially, while riveted on most of his or her face—simultaneously, while you formulate your own next words—sequentially.(It may be that very short printed words are perceived by many as a single image, rather than as a sequence of letters, e.g., with the word “love” being not so different from the image “?” (“ai”), which means the same thing in Chinese. But the flow in listening is clearly linear in a way that the gaze usually is not.)

To really grasp this difference, just tap your fingers on your desk one tip at a time. That creates sequential awareness. Now, plant all five finger tips at once on the table. Your awareness of those finger tips is now simultaneous, not linear/sequential.

Kindergarten Techniques for Recruiters

To attract and engage an applicant through advertising (or with in-house reports, a prospectus, organizational structural outlines, graphs, charts, etc.) you should present your information in both “sequential” and “simultaneous” formats, such as a flow-chart with explanatory text/spoken commentary or a vivid ad image with a great slogan.

This can be critical to the extent that reinforcing the candidate’s understanding of what you are presenting can increase the attractiveness of your message, if it’s inherently a good message. That’s because boredom is the typical response to information that is not grasped.

Why are kindergarten kids exposed to gigantic over-sized letters of the alphabet while learning them? I believe that a gigantic letter “A” or “R”, for example, makes the letter a large image (comparable to a painting), to be processed instantaneously, not sequentially, as it would if handwritten. This imaging of “A” reinforces the role it plays as a component to be read—at least initially, one at a time, as in “a-p-p-l-e”.  This “right + left” engagement is more interesting for the children than either alone.

That’s kindergarten technique of processing the same content, e.g., the letter “R”, in the two divergent simultaneous and sequential ways is one strategy that recruiters can use to attract and sustain candidate interest!

The implication for recruiters is that the most powerful recruiting format may be one in which one element is both a “right-brain” image and “left-brain”  speech or text, e.g., a huge billboard that not only has Uncle Sam pointing at you, but also has “I Want You!” in letters large enough to be seen as a single powerful second image, and not just as text. That may be the method par excellence of assuring that the recruit not only “gets the picture”, but also “gets the big picture”.

Recruiting with Descartes

I used to teach mathematics—including relatively abstract topics such as “Taylor series expansions with Lagrangian remainders” and “Markov chains”, to very bright Chinese students. One day, to make a point about apparently lateralized brain functions and their importance to overall performance, I asked those who had averages above 90 to raise their hands. About 4 in the large class did. I then asked the class members to raise their hands if they usually visualized equations as they learned them. Pretty much the same four hands shot up—The students who were the most successful, most motivated by the information and who best understood what was being presented to them were utilizing both holistic simultaneous/instantaneous and linear/sequential processing.

Those students discovered what Rene Descartes invented and what you, if you are a recruiter, should do. Descartes created the field of analytic geometry in which an equation like y=mx + b is graphed as a straight line, y=ax2 + bx + c is graphed as a “U”-shaped parabola, etc. The key point is that the outstanding students and Descartes integrated information in a way that made it more engaging and better remembered, because I had presented it and they had absorbed it in both the “left”-sequential and “right”-simultaneous formats.

Learning from Nike

To maximize the effectiveness of recruiting efforts to attract candidates—whether it be through hard-copy or online advertising, office or seminar presentations, on-campus job fairs, or video—always plan to include the “split-brain recruiting technique” of presenting both simultaneously and sequentially formatted information.

To be sure you have completed both these tasks…

…make a check list, and then, “Just do it!”…

Read more in Recruitment Strategies

Michael Moffa, writer for, is a former editor and writer with China Daily News, Hong Kong edition and Editor-in-chief, Business Insight Japan Magazine, Tokyo; he has also been a columnist with one of Japan’s national newspapers, The Daily Yomiuri, and a university lecturer (critical thinking and philosophy).