Top Brain, Bottom Brain, Part 3 – The Theory of Cognitive Modes




Lateral aspect gross brain

Continued from Part 2.A side view of the brain reveals the top and bottom parts, which are demarcated largely by the Sylvian fissure, the large crease named for Franciscus Sylvanus, the 17th-century Dutch anatomist who first described it. The top brain consists of the parietal lobe and the top (and larger) part of the frontal lobe. The bottom brain includes the remainder of the frontal lobe and the occipital and temporal lobes. Until the 20th century, the importance of this division went largely unnoticed.

This top/bottom division matters because these two parts of the brain have different cognitive functions, a fact first discovered in the context of visual perception and supported in a milestone report in 1982 by National Medal of Science winner Mortimer Mishkin and Leslie G. Ungerleider, of the National Institute of Mental Health. Their trailblazing study examined rhesus monkeys, whose brains process visual information in much the same way as the human brain. Decades of research by many scientists, much of which is with humans, have led to a detailed understanding of the functions of these two parts of the brain.

In brief, the top part of the brain is involved in setting up plans, controlling movements, registering changes in where objects are located in space, and revising plans when anticipated events do not occur. The bottom is involved in classifying and interpreting what we perceive, and allows us to confer meaning on the world. Unlike the left brain/right brain story, a black-and-white dichotomy, The Theory of Cognitive Modes emphasizes the constant and close interaction of the top and bottom systems. They don’t work in isolation — or in competition — but seamlessly together.

We all use both the top and bottom systems, but our Theory of Cognitive Modes holds that we vary in the degree to which we tend to rely on each brain system for functions that are optional — that are not dictated by the immediate situation, such as your reaction to a car speeding in your direction, for example. Nothing in your environment forces you to make subtle and detailed plans — or to ponder the meaning of something in your mind. This kind of optional function is up to the individual.

We define four cognitive modes, based on how highly or minimally a person utilizes the top and bottom brains in optional ways. According to our theory:

Mover Mode results when a person uses both the top and bottom brain systems in optional ways. People who habitually rely on Mover Mode often are leaders, and prefer situations in which they can plan and act — and be able to react to the consequences of their actions.

Perceiver Mode results when a person uses the bottom brain system in optional ways, but not the top in such ways. People habitually relying on Perceiver Mode should try to understand in depth what they perceive, putting their experiences in context and drawing the implications. But they do not like to devise detailed and complex plans.

Stimulator Mode results when a person uses the top but not the bottom brain system in optional ways. People relying on Stimulator Mode may create original, complex plans, but they can also disrupt others’ plans and may stick with their own after it’s clear that their plan should be revised.

Adaptor Mode results when someone uses neither top nor bottom brain system in optional ways. People thinking in this mode are not absorbed in formulating new plans and don’t spend much time trying to understand their experiences in depth. However, they can use both brain systems effectively when others formulate a complex or detailed plan or define how to interpret objects and events. As such they can be good team members.

You can take a test in our book, and online at www.TopBrainBottomBrain.com, to determine your own dominant mode.

In presenting our Theory of Cognitive Modes, we welcome scrutiny from the scientific community. As we write in the Preface, “Why Another Brain Book?”:

“We intend this book to be accessible to the general reader, but we also hope that it will influence the scientific community. Since neuroimaging burst on the scene in the mid-1980s, many studies of the mind and brain have become noticeably less theory-oriented. Although neuroimaging is a valuable tool in modern neuroscience, it is not always used effectively. Many researchers now simply ask people to perform a cognitive task (such as playing chess or thinking about a particular topic) while their brains are being scanned — and then see which parts of the brain become activated. [We should note that in some cases the scientists also want to provide evidence for a distinction, such as between different ways of thinking.] This approach is radically different from the traditional one, in which the researcher tests specific theories. The traditional approach is important because science makes progress by devising increasingly better theories, and thus it is essential that theories be developed and evaluated. In this book, we seek to return to the hypothesis-driven tradition by proposing a new, plausible, and coherent theory that is strongly rooted in empirical findings.

“We remind the reader at critical points that we are working with a theory, and that rigorous empirical tests of many key predictions have yet to be conducted. We hope that the reader will take the ideas we present as well-founded hypotheses that are worth considering, not as received truth. We also hope that this book will inspire a new round of studies that will further enrich our understanding of how the brain really works.”

References

O. Blazhenkova, M. Kozhevnikov, and M. A. Motes, “Object-Spatial Imagery: A New Self-Report Imagery Questionnaire,” Applied Cognitive Psychology 20 (2006): 239–63.

G. Borst, W. L. Thompson, and S. M. Kosslyn, “Understanding the Dorsal and Ventral Systems of the Human Cerebral Cortex: Beyond Dichotomies,” American Psychologist 66, no. 7 (2011): 624–32.

Melvyn Goodale and A. David Milner “Separate Visual Pathways for Perception and Action,” Trends in Neurosciences 15 (1992): 20–25.

S. M. Kosslyn, “You Can Play 20 Questions with Nature and Win: Categorical Versus Coordinate Spatial Relations as a Case Study,” Neuropsychologia 44 (2006): 1519–23.

S. M. Kosslyn, W. L. Thompson, and G. Ganis, The Case for Mental Imagery (New York: Oxford University Press, 2006).

Kosslyn, Stephen M., and G. Wayne Miller. Top Brain, Bottom Brain: Surprising Insights Into How You Think. New York: Simon & Schuster. 2013.

J. G. Rueckl, K. R. Cave, and S. M. Kosslyn, “Why Are ‘What’ and ‘Where’ Processed by Separate Cortical Visual Systems? A Computational Investigation,” Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience 1 (1989): 171–86.

A. Treisman and H. Schmidt, “Illusory Conjunctions in the Perception of Objects,” Cognitive Psychology 14 (1982): 107–41.

Ungerleider, Leslie G., and Mortimer Mishkin. “Two Cortical Visual Systems.” In David J. Ingle, Melvyn A. Goodale, and Richard J. W. Mansfield, eds., Analysis of Visual Behavior, 549–86. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1982.

A. W. Woolley, J. R. Hackman, T. E. Jerde, C. F. Chabris, S. L. Bennett, and S. M. Kosslyn, “Using Brain-Based Measures to Compose Teams: How Individual Capabilities and Team Collaboration Strategies Jointly Shape Performance,” Social Neuroscience 2 (2007): 96–105.

Image via Luisma Tapia / Shutterstock.

  • http://nurturingtheheart.org Bonnie Badenoch

    Continuing yesterday’s conversation from Part II. One of my struggles with this theory is elimination of consideration of the processes of the limbic brain as well as the belly and heart neural systems. It is possible that this biases the interpretation of the results of the little questionnaire. Having taken the test several times, I am always an Adaptor. The theory would predict that “People thinking in this mode are not absorbed in formulating new plans and don’t spend much time trying to understand their experiences in depth. However, they can use both brain systems effectively when others formulate a complex or detailed plan or define how to interpret objects and events. As such they can be good team members.” My life doesn’t look anything like that. I am continuously involved in long-range planning, have been in executive director role for two successful nonprofits for over 20 years, write books on relational neuroscience, and am generally considered to be a person with some ability to process deeply. I also enjoy being a team member. So what might be going on? Perhaps rather than being cortically centered, I am more oriented toward a right-mode emergent perspective (as Iain McGilchrist speaks about it), attending to in-the-moment situations for guidance, relying on the flow of information from my embodied brain (belly and heart) as well as many decades of work to heal some of the implicit memories from childhood wounds so that my limbic pathways can flow more smoothly with the prefrontal circuits in both hemmispheres. For me, thoughts and actions may emerge from this circuitry beneath centered around what is most meaningful. So the answers to the test may be accurate in saying that I don’t use my neocortex dominantly, because perhaps my cortex is in second place, being shaped by the unfolding processes from deeper regions. (It’s likely this is true for all of us – see Scientific American Mind this month.) However, it isn’t accurate in terms of what that means for the shape of my life and relationships. In a paradigm which is looking at cognitive modes, it may be possible to lose the value of the influence of the deeper processes continually unfolding and shaping our lives. Because Kosslyn and Miller advocate for the importance of the relationship between the different aspects of the brain’s circuitry, it seems crucial to include both the limbic regions as well as the newly emerging information about the power of the belly brain to influence thoughts, feelings, behavior, and relationships. There is so much more to say but perhaps I can conclude with this – a number of my friends have also taken the test with similar results and questions. Perhaps this isn’t surprising since they are likely the people I would be drawn to, and so a biased sample of humans. However, it does mean that a significant number of people may not find themselves pictured accurately by the results of the questionnaire.

    • gee

      YES BONNIE LASS,
      I ENJOYED YOU’RE COMMENTS…AS A SCIENCE WONDER JUNKIE MYSELF, I APPRECIATE YOUR EXTENDING THIS SUBJECT TO INCLUDE YOUR FRIENDS.

      AS A WONDER JUNKIE I ONCE READ ABOUT THE BRAIN NEEDING IT’S OWN BRAIN. A DOUBLE BRAIN! AND WHAT WOULD A DOUBLE BRAIN TELL US I WONDERED. FOREMOST WOULD BE THE CRUCIAL ABILITY TO PREDICT OUTCOMES—THE MOST DOMINATING CRITICAL OF HUMAN SURVIVAL NEEDS ,IMHO., .
      WHAT WOULD HUMAN INTELLIGENCE BE IF OUTCOMES WEREN’T BEING PREDICTED? WHAT WORTH?
      IN AS MUCH AS WE ARE OFTEN TASKED TO FIGURE OUT ‘OUTCOMES’ IN A BLINK, WELL,I AM AWARE OF ALL OF MY BIG AND SMALL FAILURES, MEMORY LEAKAGE BEING UBIQUITOUS.[I FORGOT TO REMEMBER WHAT I AM BLIND TO, BUT AT LEAST I KNOW I'M FALLIBLE.]
      ALL OF THIS BIG BRAIN FAILURE OF COURSE IS MIXED WITH ALOT OF
      SUCCESS—HEY, I’VE SURVIVED MY SHORTCOMING AND SHORTSIGHTNESS—HOORAY.
      SO WHILE WE HAVE BIG BRAINS ENOUGH TO SURVIVE AND OUR GUTS ARE WIRED UP TO GIVE US FEEDBACK ENOUGH TO STIR US ANEW, HAVING A DOUBLE BRAIN WOULD GIVE AN IMMEDIACY TO OUR PREDICTION ABILITY WHICH WOULD BE EQUIVALENT TO THOSE ABILITIES WE ARE NOW BEING TOLD WILL BE AVAILABLE TO US VISA VIA “THE QUANTUM COMPUTER” I.E. ACCORDING TO WHAT I’VE BEEN READING, ALL POSSIBLE OUTCOMES WILL BE AVAILABLE TO EVERYONE ON EVERY PROBLEM THAT NEEDS SOLVING—
      da sein

  • Anonymous

    my father suffered from brain injuries 3 months ago , he was in hospital for about a month and he had 3 blood clauts in his brain which was dissolved by medicine there was no need for surgery . he had a memory loss , now he remembers things but not all and has problem remembering some words , he knows them words but it doesnt strike him quickely and the major problem is he gets very angry now and starts abusing , like things doesnt go according to him he gets very angry his temper gets out of controll that is the major problem. so anyone could suggest why is this ? he has made my and my mothers living very difficult so anyone who knows , whats the actual cause of this would appreciate that .

  • http://1health-information.blogspot.com/ samsul

    I also enjoy being a team member. So what might be going on? Perhaps rather than being cortically centered, I am more oriented toward a right-mode emergent perspective (as Iain McGilchrist speaks about it), attending to in-the-moment situations for guidance, relying on the flow of information from my embodied brain (belly and heart) as well as many decades of work to heal some of the implicit memories from childhood wounds so that my limbic pathways can flow more smoothly with the prefrontal circuits in both hemmispheres. For me, thoughts and actions may emerge from this circuitry beneath centered around what is most meaningful. So the answers to the test may be accurate in saying that I don’t use my neocortex dominantly, because perhaps my cortex is in second place, being shaped by the unfolding processes from deeper regions. (It’s likely this is true for all of us – see Scientific American Mind this month.) However, it isn’t accurate in terms of what that means for the shape of my life and relationships. In a paradigm which is looking at cognitive modes, it may be possible to lose the value of the influence of the deeper processes continually unfolding and shaping our lives. Because Kosslyn and Miller advocate for the importance of the relationship between the different aspects of the brain’s circuitry, it seems crucial to include both the limbic regions as well as the newly emerging information about the power of the belly brain to influence thoughts, feelings, behavior, and relationships. There is so much more to say but perhaps I can conclude with this – a number of my friends have also taken the test with similar results and questions. Autoimmune Hepatitis

  • http://jochesh00.wordpress.com herb wiggins

    Well, frankly as a clinician, the top-brain/bottom brain dichotomy isn’t very useful at all. Altho is does make us think. The major point is where the lesion(s) is, and what function(s) are lost, a sort of structure/function relationship, which is rather strictly defined by localization of major functions in the brain.
    The left dominant brain for language CAN override in some cases. If the person is left brain dominant, he will preferentially attend to his right visual field, often ignoring the left. I recall an exhibit in the Exploratorium in SFO which showed this rather convincingly. We might guess that driving on the left side of the road, as in the UK and related nations, might be a LOT safer in terms of avoiding head on collisions, altho cell phone distractions related accidents have probably rendered this more moot.
    The real point is why IS the motor/sensory system upside down and reversed left for right? This is really simple to answer creatively using the comparison process. When we look through a magnifying glass held at a distance, what happens to the image? It’s reverses left for right and upside down. Is there a lens in the body? Sure, 1 concave lens in each eye which does the same image transform as the magnifying glass. And so the left brain controls the right body and vice versa.
    Further, in the brainstem decussation of the pyramids, sensory/motor afferents/efferents take the left brain connections to the right body and vice versa for the right brain connections.

    So, it’s pretty clear to figure that our entire brain is organized according to our visual systems. To confirm this note that the visual cortex is also organized this same way. The sup. visual cortex receives input from the top 1/2 of the visual field of the contralateral eyes. The inf. part of the visual cortex receives input from the top 1/2 of the visual field in each eye. And of course the left vertical halves of the visual fields in both eyes got to the right visual cortex, and the same vice versa for the right halves.

    This confirms that the brain is upside down and reversed right for left due to the lens images in the eyes. Our brains are organized around vision. We are visual creatures. And the same is true for the advanced apes, and probably even most mammals including dolphins. Just look for the Decussation of the pyramids in the brainstem of these mammals to confirm.
    The sup. parts of the brain’s motor/sensory strips are concerned with sensory/motor functions of the lower parts of the body, and the inf. body parts with the sup. parts of the brain.
    The right parietal cortex on both sides is higher cognitive functions, R being spatial relationship & emotions(the cussing center is there) and the L pareital with verbal reasoning, and so forth, right next to Wernicke’s area in the L sup. temporal lobe. As far as the Top/bottom approach to understanding the brain, the clinical aspects of brain lesions far outway any concern for that, surely.

    And further the frontal lobe motor eyefields are kind of in the 1/2 way down area from teh sup. frontal lobe and if 1 is damaged, the other overdrives and the eyes move to “Look at the lesion”. If the right frontal lobe eye fields are damaged the eyes are deviated to the left, and vice versa.
    further, in the interhemisphere fissures, superiorly on either side, there is a speech enabling center which promotes speech. If both are injured from a stroke involving a single arterial supply to both areas, the person cannot speak, either. And if and when the interhemisph. fissure area heals over, may have a paucity of
    spontaneous speech.
    As an aside this might be a rather drastic cure for excessive loquacity. (Grin)
    Herb Wiggins

G. Wayne Miller and Stephen M. Kosslyn, PhD

G. Wayne Miller is an author, filmmaker and Providence (R.I.) Journal staff writer. Visit him at www.gwaynemiller.com. Stephen M. Kosslyn, PhD, is a cognitive neuroscientist and was professor of psychology at Harvard University for over 30 years; he now serves as the founding dean of the Minerva Schools at the Keck Graduate Institute.
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