A Matter of Degree: Strength of Brain Asymmetry and Behaviour
Received: 29 March 2017 / Revised: 11 April 2017 / Accepted: 11 April 2017 / Published: 18 April 2017
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Research on a growing number of vertebrate species has shown that the left and right sides of the brain process information in different ways and that lateralized brain function is expressed in both specific and broad aspects of behaviour. This paper reviews the
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Research on a growing number of vertebrate species has shown that the left and right sides of the brain process information in different ways and that lateralized brain function is expressed in both specific and broad aspects of behaviour. This paper reviews the available evidence relating strength
of lateralization to behavioural/cognitive performance. It begins by considering the relationship between limb preference and behaviour in humans and primates from the perspectives of direction and strength of lateralization. In birds, eye preference is used as a reflection of brain asymmetry and the strength of this asymmetry is associated with behaviour important for survival (e.g., visual discrimination of food from non-food and performance of two tasks in parallel). The same applies to studies on aquatic species, mainly fish but also tadpoles, in which strength of lateralization has been assessed as eye preferences or turning biases. Overall, the empirical evidence across vertebrate species points to the conclusion that stronger lateralization is advantageous in a wide range of contexts. Brief discussion of interhemispheric communication follows together with discussion of experiments that examined the effects of sectioning pathways connecting the left and right sides of the brain, or of preventing the development of these left-right connections. The conclusion reached is that degree of functional lateralization affects behaviour in quite similar ways across vertebrate species. Although the direction of lateralization is also important, in many situations strength of lateralization matters more. Finally, possible interactions between asymmetry in different sensory modalities is considered.