Life Science

Does the “Right Brain vs. Left Brain” Spinning Dancer Test Work?

- asks Aki from San Francisco

October 29, 2007
[Credit: Internet Movie Database]
[Credit: Internet Movie Database]

A new “brain test” floating around online shows a spinning dancer and asks whether you see the image rotating clockwise or counterclockwise. If it spins clockwise, you supposedly use more of your right brain. Counterclockwise, and you’re more of a left brain person. The test then lists functions associated with each side of the brain – the left side includes “uses logic” and “facts rule,” while the right side includes “uses feeling” and “imagination rules.”

A good friend complained that the test told her she was a left brain person, even when she knew herself to not be into left brain associations such as “math and science.” A similar discrepancy was discerned by one of the authors of the Freakonomics blog, when he conducted a quick, nonscientific survey of blog readers, which cross referenced college majors and spinning dancer test results.

If the test sounds flawed, that’s not just because one shouldn’t use spinning dancers to characterize their brain strengths. Rather, the test is coming up inaccurate because it provides a crude view of the “lateralization of brain function,” or the concept that each side of the human brain specializes in certain mental activities.

The concept was born in the 1960s, when Roger Sperry studied epilepsy patients who had had a nerve connection between their hemispheres surgically cut. He found that the left brain hemisphere seemed to possess “speech and a rational, intellectual style,” while the right side was “inarticulate, but blessed with special spatial abilities.”

Modern neuroscience studies using brain imaging technology such as fMRI – which shows active areas of the brain while a person is trying to perform a task – have further suggested that language ability tends to be localized in the left hemisphere, while spatial ability tends to be in the right hemisphere.

However, neuroscience-minded blogs like Neurophilosophy point out that doing any complex mental activity requires cooperation from both sides of the brain, although certain processing tasks required for that activity may be concentrated on one side or the other. In other words, saying that “math and science are left brain functions” is an over-generalized statement.

“It’s not that you have a special math module somewhere in your brain, but rather that the brain’s particular functional organization…predisposes it towards the use of high-level imagery and spatial skills, which in turn just happen to be very useful when it comes to doing math reasoning,” said Michael O’Boyle, a psychologist at the University of Melbourne, Australia, in a public statement through the American Psychological Association.

In fact, the best math students don’t even seem to settle for being “left brain” people. A study undertaken by O’Boyle found mathematically gifted students did better than average students on tests that required both halves of the brain to cooperate. This demonstrated that, while the typical person might lean more heavily on one hemisphere or the other to do mental tasks necessary for math calculation, the brightest among us can more fully integrate both hemispheres of the brain.

The idea that emotion processing only occurs in the right brain hemisphere and fact processing in the left is also misleading. Brain imaging studies have showed that people processed emotion using small parts of both brain hemispheres.

“The popular notion of an ‘emotional’ right hemisphere that contrasts sharply with a ‘rational’ left hemisphere is like a crude pencil sketch made before a full-color painting,” noted a 2005 Scientific American Mind article.

Believing in left brain or right brain people also fails to account for the human brain’s mysterious flexibility and plasticity. People who had half their brain removed encounter some problems – like not being able to move or see from one side of their body – but largely retained or relearned mental abilities such as language in their remaining brain hemisphere. All this research clearly points out that while Nobel winner Sperry was onto something with his lateralization research, trying to fully compartmentalize mental activity by brain hemisphere is imprecise.

So what does the spinning dancer tell us? The whole test is more of an optical illusion than anything else, according to Steven Novella, an academic clinical neurologist at Yale University School of Medicine who blogs on NeuroLogica. When our brains process visual images to make some order or sense of the world, they have to make assumptions. The dancer is just a two dimensional image switching back and forth, but our brains process it as a three dimensional spinning object.

Depending on the assumptions made and visual cues picked up, your brain can make the dancer spin either way. When my friend first sent the test to me, I saw it go clockwise…then switch to counterclockwise as I was staring at the screen. What this tells me about my personality and mental abilities is hardly a no-brainer – the brain test connection to our mental strengths and weaknesses is nonexistent.

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Discussion

172 Comments

Wade says:

Apologies I just realised the dancer I saw was a fake. Lol. It literally does turn the other way.

Maynard5 says:

“Stare at her long enough and a magical pole appears.”

On some machines it will, but if not, just press the alt and shift keys both down at the same time, just as her left foot is pointing the furthest down it goes. It will then switch to pole dance mode. Cute!

Misty says:

I saw this and (despite lack of sleep) I could only see her going clockwise and even asked my dad which way he saw…he said Clockwise as well..As I stared long enough she switched to going counterclockwise but it was never a fullturn before it switched back to clockwise. I was only able to do it once though no matter how much I looked away and only stared at it through the side of my eyes. Trying to make it change directions started giving me a headache though so I was forced to believe that it will only go one way for me..Poor me or lucky me?

jeremiah says:

leaving aside the left/right debate how does it work? I imagine that there are two sequences, one clockwise the other counter-clockwise and appearing on alternate frames. Running like two majic lanterns, one inside the other. But at any one moment either the left side or the right side is dominant. I tried to photograph it but only one image appeared.

8Paradigm8Existence8 says:

Did anyone else get her to do a dance? It was very intriguing; I could make her do a 5 second dance routine. Each routine appeared to have a variation to it. My mind seemed to rapidly change her spinning direction, causing this fascinating movement pattern, and somewhat at my own will. I was already aware of my ability to switch my cognitive perspective, but this strengthens that belief drastically. This gets me interested in taking a more valid, clinical IQ test. If anyone was capable of doing this I’d be interested to know.
Email me if you’d like, if this fascinated you as much it did me.
TheParadigm8Exitence@gmail.com

8Paradigm8Existence8 says:

This comment is directed at Anno.
I find it somewhat laughable that you perceive Wikipedia to be authoritative, and by posting a Wikipedia web page it somehow makes your argument valid.

8Paradigm8Existence8 says:

It seems like pride is getting in the way of some peoples judgment. The people dismissing this as absurd, merely because of their inability to make the spinning lady turn in both directions, does not make this false or you unintelligent.(Although based on the logical approach these people I speak of it appears to be debatable, only because you dismiss this for that particular reason.)
A few weeks ago I was listening to the online MIT lecture on intelligence in the introduction to psychology course. (I would suggest listening to that if your interested in these kinds of things)
The professor talked about people over estimating their abilities, and how people that are depressed frequently do not have these tendencies. Assuming that you are not depressed, this seems to be the case.

Alex says:

I found that if I blink my eyes while quickly turning my head and watching her, that I can make her seem to turn in one direction or the other..

Imhof says:

If there is a Yale study behind all this right brain left brain test: Does anyone have the original reference quoted someplace and if so, would he or she be willing to share it? To be able to read the original research may help the discussion.

Thank you,
Margarete

beth says:

I’m a computer animator and will tell you that the spinning dancer ONLY spins clockwise.
What a silly “test” Try this one:
http://www.wherecreativitygoestoschool.com/vancouver/left_right/rb_test.htm

aisha says:

Well about this spinning dancer test,its funny because i could see the dancer spinning clockwise or anticlockwise,whenever i wanted without any effort.
What this could mean?

Gordo says:

Damn she’s hot for an illusion!! If your right handed she spins on her right foot…

anoy says:

I can get it to reverse, but I get nauseous afterwards.

Earth Angel says:

I CAN’T THANK YOU ENOUGH – THIS ARTICLE HAS CHANGED MY LIFE. I URGE ALL HUMAN BEINGS TO USE THIS VALUABLE INFORMATION AS A LEARNING TOOL IN TEACHING THEMSELVES TO USE BOTH SIDES OF THEIR BRAIN & TRANSFORM THEIR LIFE IN SO MANY NEW WAYS.
IN THE LAST 6 MONTHS I HAVE READ EVERYTHING I COULD ON BOTH SIDES OF THE BRAIN. OUR LEFT SIDE IS OUR INTELLECT, BLACK & WHITE & CRITICAL & THE RIGHT IS OUR EMOTIONS & CREATIVITY & COLOUR – AS WELL AS MANY MORE FUNCTIONS NOT ON YOUR LIST. OUR THOUGHTS & OUR FEELINGS ARE WHAT MAKES US THINK & BEHAVE THE WAY WE DO. IT TOOK ME A FEW MONTHS TO MASTER IT, BUT I CAN NOW SWITCH MY BRAIN FROM EITHER SIDE & NOW SEE & FEEL MANY THINGS SO DIFFERENTLY. e.g I AM LEFT BRAINED & IF I AM BEING CRITICAL OR YELLING AT THE KIDS I CAN STOP MYSELF & SWITCH TO MY RIGHT SIDE & I THINK, SPEAK & FEEL IN A WHOLE NEW POSITVE WAY. USING BOTH SIDES OF THE BRAIN OPENS YOUR MIND UP TO A WHOLE NEW WORLD IN SO MANY DIFFERENT WAYS.
AT 43 YRS OLD I OFTEN THOUGHT I MAY HAVE HAD ADHD ALL MY LIFE DUE TO MY MOOD SWINGS, LACK OF CONCENTRATION & CONTROLLING BEHAVOUR. WHEN I AM THINKING WITH MY RIGHT BRAIN I DON’T HAVE ANY OF THAT, I AM TOO BUSY BEING CALM, HAPPY, CREATIVE, ARTISTIC, MUSICAL & SO MUCH MORE. THIS MAY BE WHAT IS WRONG WITH KIDS WITH ADHD – THEY SHOULD BE TAUGHT HOW TO USE BOTH SIDES. I URGE EVERYONE TO STUDY BOTH BRAIN FUCTIONS MORE. IT CAN BE PUT INTO PRACTISE BUT TAKES TIME, EFFORT & DETERMINATION.THE REWARDS ARE HUGE – IT IS THE GREATEST GIFT YOU COULD EVER GIVE TO YOURSELF.

Stephanie says:

I am doing a science fair project on right/left brain dominance and right/left handedness and found so much information on this dancer. I found at first [without having previously read anything about it] that she was spinning clockwise, but then a couple of minutes into it she switched directions. I showed it to my mom and sister and after a LOT of concentration, thought, and time my sister was able to get it to switch, but my mom thought we were both crazy because she could not get it to switch. For me, I know I am right handed, but I am a dancer myself and tend to be pretty artistic, which are both right-brained characteristics. However, I am also very good at math and spelling, which are left-brained characteristics. All of the brain dominance tests I have taken have usually been 51%-49% or somewhere around there, with the more dominant side switching everytime. It is weird because physically [right handed, usually use my right side of body but could do either if I tried] I should be left-brained, but emotionally and dancing-wise I should be right-brained. I have found it interesting because at school last year I decided that it would be cool if I could write with my left hand, and although it hasn’t been a breeze, it has been fairly easy to teach myself to write with my left hand. Although it is much slower to write with my left hand, the neatness of it has improved significantly and unsually easy over the past couple of months. I wonder if you can be equally-brained?
I usually see the dancer going clockwise, but can get it to switch when I concentrate enough. However, when it goes counter-clockwise, it seems to be jerkier whereas when she spins clockwise it is very smooth. I also find it strange that her bent arm switches sides? I understand how our brain “fills in lines” for the legs and that determines which way she spins, but how does our brain determine the arms when they are no where near each other? Overall I think this is very interesting and I may include this in my testing.

Jana says:

I thought it was interesting too. It first went counter clockwise for me and then switch over. I was wondering what was going on. It’s pretty cool to observe though.

Taylor says:

staring at the shadow of here foot made it switch from Clockwise to counter-clockwise I can switch it whenever I want when I look at her body it’s stuck at clockwise but if i look down at all at the shadow it goes counter and then i can usually look back up at her and it’s still going counter but then switches back to clockwise

Sahand Elmi says:

It Was Fun!

Panzhexin says:

As I am a PhD student in psychology this test doesn’t exactly determine right or left brain. One fact about the left and right brain theory is it is only statistical not concrete. In simple terms the brain is able to switch abilities to different parts. What most people are describing is lateralization meaning the left side is responsible for so and so and right side is responsible for another ability. That is not exactly factual but theoretical. Interesting optical illusion but it doesn’t determine everyone’s dominate side.

Devon says:

I can make it change directions by blinking when it is in a certain position. I agree with the article. It has little to do with the right/left brained debate. It works the same as optical illusions do by where your focus is aimed.

Morne Lategan says:

Here’s the science behind it….

Your view is hooked up to the left and right side of your brain in the following way: Whatever is “out of focus” to the right is sent to the left side of your brain. Whatever is out of focus to the left, is sent to the right side of your brain.

Now, do this: move the image of the spinning girl to the center of your screen, then focus on the left hand side of your screen (not on the girl). Watch what happens to her out of view. Then move your focus to the other side of the screen again leaving her out of focus. On the one side, she will turn in one direction and on the other side the other direction.

So why does this determine the dominant side of your brain? Do this test: focus on a wall in front of you. Then raise your finger into view between you and the wall. Do not focus on your finger, focus on the wall. Then close only one eye. Then close only the other eye. One eye will cause the finger to move. This is because one side of your brain is more dominant than the other and hence plays a larger role in your vision. If you are a left-brain person, the finger will be in your right side by default and the other way around.

In the same manner, the spinning girl will either be in the left side of your view, or in your right, and hence (referring back to the first experiment of looking to the left and the right of the girl) the side in which she is by default is likely to determine which direction she is moving in.

Thus, the dominant side of your brain determines which side she will most likely be turning to.

I say enough of watching the dancer. Lets get back to work and then chip in to get Earth Angel a newer computer than that clunky old Apple ][ that only writes in ALL CAPS.

Panzhexin says:

Rebuttal to Morne Lategan:

Dominant brain sides is only a theory and is statistical not concrete. As I study psychology at PhD level and biology there really is no one dominant side in all cases. Read the theory of Lateralization, read about the neural pathways, mathematicians who see the dancer spin in the other direction, and read about neuroplasticity. The dancing girl is only an optical illusion. The brain is only putting in the missing lines and that is all. Go to the link in suggestion 16 gives and you will see how it is an optical illusion. Brain dominant side is only a theory and not concrete. Do your own research. What you suggested was only how your optic nerve works on focusing.

Peter says:

Panzhexin, dont use the word theory so causually. You should know, at PhD level, that it means something else in science.

Finally a post that speaks the truth. I hate all those left vs right websites.

Such a mis guided notion, all pedalling it as true.

Panzhexin says:

You are right Peter about how the word theory is seen differently at different levels. But most people believe in folklore, urban legends, and gossip. The spinning girl is nothing more than an optical illusion. It’s hard to get people to understand that the spinning girl has nothing to do with brain dominance. Comment 16 provides a link to show how the brain just puts in lines.

If some people read about lateralization or neuroplasticity they would understand. But many people have small minds and believe everything they hear on the net.

As I had to study biopsychology it revealed to me that the brain is more amazing and complex than just a left and right side thing. All the neuro pathways still are not fully understood.

Camille says:

Hmm, I can change her direction on demand. It doesn’t matter where I look, I just move my hand slightly the way I want her to spin, and she does.
Btw, look here ( http://ofb.net/~whuang/imgs/spin/ ) and it shows a glitch which proves that she is indeed going counterclockwise. You just can’t see it because she’s moving too fast.

Matek says:

Spent about an hour on this page reading through all the comments and checking out the various links. I must say… very cool and interesting stuff! The great thing about this world and life in general is that you never really know what is going on when you know at the BIG picture.

mala says:

I first looked at it and it spin clockwise. Then reading what others are seeing, I wanted to see the same.
So I looked at it again!! this time, when I looked at it I use my Pheriphal vision, which means, I did not look at it but at the corner of my eye, that is when I see her spinning the “other way”- so when I look at it in focus she is counter-clockwise, and when I use my pheriphal vision – I saw her anti_clock-wise. Go figure!.
Seeing her anticlockwise – the trick is to not focus on her, just focus on something outside of the video. and there u have it.

stephanie says:

okay so when you watch the dancer, you either see her spinning clockwise or counter clockwise. If you want to see her the other direction do this:
if you are seeing her clockwise, her right leg should be out. if you are seeing her counter clockwise, her left leg should be out. So whatever way you see her, wait until her leg is pointing directly to the side. and if it is the leg in front, picture it as the leg in back right as it is facing the side. this should make your brain think the other leg is out, and she will switch directions. it may take a few tries. but be looking at her hip/upper leg area when you are trying to switch.
my brain switches her direction every few minutes. i think im right brained because she moves clockwise when i look at first, but i can switch her whenever.

Henry says:

I have a question I hope someone can answer.

Clockwise = right side/creative, etc.

Anti-clockwise = left side/logic, etc.

I am majorly right sided, and after a lot of work got her to spin the other way, the logic, left-brained way. Once I did that, I stopped and walked away.

Here’s my question, can we put ourselves in a more left-brained, or right-brained, oriented state by seeing focusing on a particular direction (say, I chose anti-clockwise and focus on seeing her the left-brained way)?

Once I see her the left-brained way, and don’t flip her back to the right-brained way, will I be more keyed in to m left-brained faculties? Will I be thinking in a more left-brained way, if I focus on her going anti-clockwise, achieve seeing her that way, and then go off to do my math homework?

thanks.

McKenna Carpenter says:

WOah… that is so interesting! At first I could only see it going clockwise and thought for sure “this is rigged”

As a matter of fact, I got quite frustrated with it until I tilted my head to the left (I normally always tilt my head to the right when I think…like a dog) and, just for a moment, I saw it change!!! weird. I really wonder if it works.

I cant get it to spin anti clock for more than 2 or 3 turns…and when it changes back I cant fathom how it changed…

but the right brain description does match me better… o well. thanks for the interesting article :)

tibipop says:

trick.
covers the upper with your hand and close the eyes 2 seconds.
open yours eyes and you see the legs rotating in clockwise,
after you remove your hand the whole body dancer arm will rotate in that sense.

Clare says:

initially when I look it goes clockwise then it starts to flip from right to left and doesnt turn around at all. She just flips like a page being turned back and forward! its very mesmerising.
I think looking at the shadow and the foot raising and lowering helps to make it flip like this.
I love optical illusions!! :O)

Julia says:

after awhile i was able to control it on a dime-it may just be an optical illusion, but it may have something to it because i’m a lefty and each time, when i click on it, it initally always looks like its going clockwise

amy says:

I believe the dancer to be a complete fraud.

To test my theory, I left the window open and simply randomly looked up every few minutes, while doing nothing else.

One time she was going left. One time she was going right.

And then, to make it easier for me to prove my theory, my internet connection suddenly slowed down and I was privy to witness the image actually BOUNCE as it changed directions.

So, everyone…sorry to tell you, but this is simple a flash image that is programmed to change randomly.

It’s not real.

Josh Quinn says:

She is obviously spinning clockwise!!

Jessica Yang says:

I can see double.it turns when i close and open my eyes.It’s amazing.

keith says:

when i blink my eyes, it will change direction..lol. i have done test that says that i use my left and right brain equally..

MFinelli says:

Contrary to what some think, she is not programmed to switch directions. It’s just an optical illusion. That’s like saying the black and white illusion where you can either see 2 black silouettes facing each other or a white vase in the negative space between the faces is programmed to switch from face to vase.

How do I know, because by concentrating on and visualizing what leg she is using as her axis, left then right then left then right and so on…I can make her appear to never fully spin around. She just swings her leg and arm out in front of her 180 degrees from the left side to the right then back again. I can make her spin all the way around in either direction if I choose to as well but that’s kind of boring. It’s more fun to play with it. I know it doesn’t say much about left brain v. right brain, but it’s a fun mental challenge to master the control of her spinning direction.

Amanda says:

Hey i can get her spinning different ways each time her arm(that is reached out), comes passed infront of her. Also i printed off the picture and seen that it doesnt move on paper. It gave me a thought that maybe it is indeed whether you use your left on right side to visualise it, just as if any one is left handed or right handed. A standard picture but the brain sees it in whatever way/angle it is functioning in.

Lois says:

Is there a similar exercise showing a dancing man rather than a naked lady? I want to show it to some very conservative people who will find the lady offensive Thank you

Mike says:

I agree with Beth, I am convinced that it only spins clockwise. If you stare at it long enough you can begin to trick your visual-spatial perception though. I work for a brain fitness company (HAPPYneuron – http://www.happy-neuron.com) and we have a few different visual-spatial games that really work the brain. If Beth is right and it is truly spinning clockwise (which is what I see) then what does that say about the people that are tricked into seeing the image go in reverse (my left-brained friends)?

Davidson says:

I don’t know about testing my left or right brain, but all I know that she was hot.

Darrell says:

wow, this thing has been going on for a long time.

I first got this in an email a couple months ago and thought it was pretty neat.

Though I knew that there was no way that it could accurately determine the level of my I.Q., it sure made me smile at the veeeeeeeeeeerrrrrrrrry slim possibility..

I can watch her spin, and can make her change directions at will. The best way to do it is to focus on the 3 O’clock and 9 O’clock positions.

tis says:

hahahaa.whats the most amazing is, that website is clocking up traffic by lying and no people notice it. its the picture itself that switch direction. not your brain. oh please.

kitten says:

super weird! at first she was just spinning clockwise, but i was able to get her to switch. but after that oddly enough i started using my left hand without realizing! is this because i’m attempting to access the other side of my brain?

bmac says:

the lady does change clockwise to unti clockwise, purposefully

enrico says:

What about if it doesn’t spin at all for me while somebody beside me looking at the same screen sees that it is spinning? Am I brain dead???????????? My IQ is quite low somewhere between 69 and 75. heheheheh, I am serious.

aasdf says:

This test is crap,what about the person which can turn it both ways at his will.This test tells me that neither i am right brained nor left brained because i can turn it both ways so does that mean that i don’t use my brain?

Zach says:

I can see it going back and forth clock and counter fairly easily. Pretty neat stuff.

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