Let’s take a time machine back to early 2015 when the blue and black dress (or was it white and gold?) took the internet by storm. Twitter users quickly pinned the difference in perception to the commonly held belief to that each of us leans toward being right-brained (creative and emotional) or left-brained (analytical and rational). Now that the goddess Lizzo has recirculated a sneaker with similar color-shifting trickery, the mystery has returned to cyberspace once more.
This time, Matt Johnson, PhD, a professor of neuroscience and founder of neuromarketing blog PopNeuro, wants you to know the cold, hard facts. Whether you see the shoe as green and grey or pink and white has nothing to do with being “left-brained or right-brained.” And, by extension, says zero about how artsy, intellectual, or analytical you are. “There’s a lot of talk about people being right-brained or left-brained,” says Dr. Johnson. “To a neuroscientist, this is second only to ‘we use only 10 percent‘ as the most frustrating colloquial belief about the brain.”
The idea of learning something about your personality from a widespread meme is tempting—no argument there. But, according to Dr. Johnson, it’s nothing short of fantasy.
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“There’s no evidence that certain people use one hemisphere more than the other, or that this reliance relates in any way to their personality type,” he says. “It doesn’t seem to be the case, for example, that people who consider themselves to be more artistic utilize their right hemisphere more, or that mathematicians use their left hemispheres more.” Scientists do have proof that we use both hemispheres for specialized functions.
For example, our ability to use language comes mostly from the Broca’s Area and Wernicke’s Area in the left side of the brain. “The right hemisphere, by contrast, is much more specialized for attention, and knowing where things are within space,” says Dr. Johnson. “We unavoidably use both hemispheres in every millisecond in which we operate.”
Whether or not you see a pink or blue shoe does have to do with your brain (I mean, duh)—but it doesn’t say much about your personality. “[It depends on how the] visual system is compensating for the bad white balance of the photo,” explains the neuroscientist. “The pixels are objectively grey and teal, but this can look very different to us depending on what our visual system uses as a reference point. These differences don’t come down to left brain right brain, but to subtle, individual differences in visual processing.” The same goes for the aforementioned dress.
If you can draw conclusions about who you are based on how your visual system processes pixels, please @ me with your wisdom. Until then though, let’s enjoy the lightning-fast sneaker sensation on the internet and save the existential question of “Who the heck am I?” for The Big Five personality test and in-depth readings of our birth charts.