• Nick

Divided Brain - Divided Medical Practice - by Dr G

20 years ago, in my GP days, I attended a conference, where the sponsoring pharmaceutical

company ran a personality test. In essence a questionnaire was used to assess whether the

participant was “quantitative”, “qualitative”, or somewhere in between.

The majority of doctors at the conference where heavily in the quantitative mode (rule orientated,

rational thinking, process governed). I was in the minority, being far to the “qualitative” end of the

spectrum (creative, nuanced, distrusting of rules).

There are a myriad of definitions aiming to describe the “qualitative/ qualitative” dichotomy, though

a recent article on Quadrant aims to delineate these differences in terms of left versus right brain



The article references a recent two part volume by psychiatrist Iain McGilvray entitled “The Matter

with Things”. This outlines the divide between the right and left brains in some detail. The left brain

controls short term rational decision making and is largely concerned with reason and language, but

also fantasy and unreason. It is concerned with simple decision making in potentially life-threatening


The right brain is concerned with pattern recognition, “big picture” decisions, and the apprehension

of meaning”. It is the creative part of the brain and seeks patterns in art and music, as well as being

responsible for nuanced analysis of complex issues. The right side of the brain is necessary to

contextualise the short term, survival-based function of the left.

The article suggests that we have, over recent times, developed primacy of the left brain. This is an

obvious conclusion from the “safetyism” prevalent in the Covid response, as well as fear of “climate


As academic sociologist and author, Frank Furedi writes in “How Fear Work”, “. . .in the current era

fearing appears to be such a volatile and directionless activity. It seems as if one threat begets

another, only to be contradicted by yet another newly discovered target of fear.”

With a populace gripped by fear, perpetuated by self-interested media and especially social media as

well as authoritarian leaders, it is little wonder that a majority of people “switch off” the right brain

and rely on the left hemisphere to simply follow rules and “The Science”.

In the medical context, and further to the left brain/ right brain personality, with the left brain likely

to dominate in general medical practitioners, we can also consider the five factor model of

personality, and its impact on medical practice, especially during Covid. The five factors are:

extroversion (positive emotion), neuroticism (negative emotion), agreeableness (compassion versus

aggression), conscientiousness, and openness (interest in ideas and creativity).

Many studies have shown women to score higher than men on agreeableness, aspects of

conscientiousness (order, dutifulness and self-discipline) as well as neuroticism.

Gender Differences in Personality across the Ten Aspects of the Big Five (Yanna J. Weisberg, 1  Colin G.DeYoung, 2,*  and Jacob B. Hirsh 3 Front Psychol. 2011; 2: 178.) Although figures are difficult to find, there are now more female than male GP’s in Australia.

Given the preponderance of trait agreeableness and neuroticism, allied with left brain tendencies throughout society and certainly in the medical profession, it is not unreasonable to suggest that this

may lead to a compliant workforce during the pandemic, eager to follow public health guidelines

and rules (masks, vaccine mandates, Covid testing and isolation), in the belief that this will lead to

the best outcomes.

Conversely, it may be argued that a short term left brain approach may not lead to optimum health

outcomes when considering the “big picture”. This can be seen in higher death rates from other

conditions (cancer, Alzheimer’s Disease, diabetes) during the last 2 years, when treatment of those

conditions has been delayed whilst focusing purely on reducing Covid case numbers.

It is also counterintuitive to suppress the evolved right brain’s role in moderating and providing

context for the left brain’s short term goal orientated function.

These arguments can be applied to many of today’s political and social dilemmas and certainly

provide an understanding of crowd behaviour over the last 2 tumultuous years.

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