Behavioral and Brain Sciences

Target Articles

The nature of hemispheric specialization in man

J. L. Bradshawa1 and N. C. Nettletona2

a1 Department of Psychology, Monash University, Clayton, Victoria 3168, Australia

a2 Faculty of Education, Monash University, Clayton, Victoria 3168, Australia


The traditional verbal/nonverbal dichotomy is inadequate for completely describing cerebral lateralization. Musical functions are not necessarily mediated by the right hemisphere; evidence for a specialist left-hemisphere mechanism dedicated to the encoded speech signal is weakening, and the right hemisphere possesses considerable comprehensional powers. Right-hemisphere processing is often said to be characterized by holistic or gestalt apprehension, and face recognition may be mediated by this hemisphere partly because of these powers, partly because of the right hemisphere's involvement in emotional affect, and possibly through the hypothesized existence of a specialist face processor or processors in the right. The latter hypothesis may, however, suffer the same fate as the one relating to a specialist encodedness processor for speech in the left. Verbal processing is largely the province of the left because of this hemisphere's possession of sequential, analytic, time-dependent mechanisms. Other distinctions (e.g., focal/diffuse and serial/parallel) are special cases of an analytic/holistic dichotomy. More fundamentally, however, the left hemisphere is characterized by its mediation of discriminations involving duration, temporal order, sequencing, and rhythm, at the sensory (tactual, visual, and, above all, auditory) level, and especially at the motor level (for fingers, limbs, and, above all, the speech apparatus). Spatial aspects characterize the right, the mapping of exteroceptive body space, and the positions of fingers, limbs, and perhaps articulators, with respect to actual and target positions. Thus there is a continuum of function between the hemispheres, rather than a rigid dichotomy, the differences being quantitative rather than qualitative, of degree rather than of kind.