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The cerebral hemispheres are anatomically and neurophysiologically asymmetrical. The evolutionary basis for these differences remains uncertain. There are, however, highly consistent differences between the hemispheres, evident in reptiles, birds, and mammals, as well as in humans, in the nature of the attention each applies to the environment. This permits the simultaneous application of precisely focused, but narrow, attention, needed for grasping food or prey, with broad, open, and uncommitted attention, needed to watch out for predators and to interpret the intentions of conspecifics. These different modes of attention can account for a very wide range of repeated observations relating to hemisphere specialization, and suggest that hemisphere differences lie not in discrete functional domains as such, but distinct modes of functioning within any one domain. These modes of attention are mutually incompatible, and their application depends on inhibitory transmission in the corpus callosum. There is also an asymmetry of interaction between the hemispheres at the phenomenological level.


Iain McGilchrist. Reciprocal organization of the cerebral hemispheres. Dialogues in clinical neuroscience. 2010;12(4):503-15

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PMID: 21319495

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