This study on the right brain frontal lobe as dominant in forming our personality is curiously matched by ancient Chinese theory that the right half of the body is the yin side, i.e. the more contracted personal side.
It also underscores that the traditional strength of western ego, in the left brain language center, is a false center of self. Taoist practice is to cultivate the meeting point between left and right brain to activate the universal brain, the chi field.
Wednesday, May 9, 2001
Researchers studying patients with a rare degenerative brain malady that can trigger dramatic changes in personality said today they have pinpointed a part of the brain that controls a person’s sense of “self.”
An area in the front portion of the brain’s right frontal lobe appears to harbor the sense of self — in other words, personality, beliefs, likes and dislikes, said Dr. Bruce Miller, a neurologist at the University of California-San Francisco.
Miller said he began looking into the anatomy of the self after noticing that several of his patients with frontotemporal dementia, commonly known as Pick’s disease, underwent a stark transformation, changing their religious and political beliefs, and altering their preferences in food and clothing.
Miller and several colleagues examined 72 people with Pick’s disease, which is similar to Alzheimer’s disease. The researchers used advanced brain imaging techniques to determine which areas of the brain had the most severe degeneration. They also evaluated the patients for major changes in personality, values and tastes. Seven patients had undergone a dramatic change of self, the study found. Six of those had their most severe abnormalities in the brain’s right frontal lobe.
Of the 65 patients whose sense of self had been preserved, only one had the most severe damage in the right frontal lobe. Miller said the findings indicate that normal functioning of the right frontal lobe is needed for people to maintain their sense of self. He also said the findings demonstrate that a biological disorder can break down well-established patterns of awareness and self-reflection.
“This is kind of a mysterious area in the brain,” Miller said in an interview. “The question is why in this non-language area do we see a loss of self concepts. And the answer is: We don’t know.”The study was presented during a meeting of the American Academy of Neurology in Philadelphia. One patient involved in the study was a 54-year-old woman described as a charming, dynamic real estate agent who went from wearing expensive designer apparel to choosing cheap clothing and gaudy beads and asking strangers the cost of their clothing. Once a lover of French cuisine, she adopted a love of fast food, particularly Taco Bell.
The concept of self has intrigued philosophers, writers and scientists for centuries, but only recently has the technology been available to study its anatomical basis, the study noted.