Alpha Beta Symmetry
Now that we’ve looked at the different frequencies of brain activity and how they relate to the states of our experience, it’s time to begin talking about the location of these frequencies and what effect that has, especially on our moods.
We’ll look at symmetry within two major frequencies: Alpha, the resting awareness state; and Beta, the active processing state. We won’t be comparing Alpha vs. Beta. Rather we’ll compare Alpha in one area against Alpha in another and the same for Beta.
Left and right hemispheres
The left and right hemispheres of the brain are quite different in terms of their structure and their functions. Anyone who has read a popular magazine in the last 20 years has probably heard of left-brained and right-brained people. This popular concept regarding brain hemispheres is an extreme oversimplification. The two nearly always work together, balancing one another.
There is evidence that the right hemisphere of the brain is more effective at dealing with novelty—situations where there is not a clear set of rules for what to do. The left hemisphere is more rule-oriented and better able to deal with routine. The left hemisphere works in tight closely-linked assemblies; the right combines more distant and disconnected areas. Left is “text”; right is “context”. Together they produce a whole.
A good deal of work has been done recently demonstrating the different emotional valences between left and right hemispheres.
The left hemisphere has been shown to be the brighter, more positive, outgoing, opportunity- oriented side of the brain which approaches experience. The right is darker, more withdrawn, focused on risks. It tends to distance itself from experience. The two sides balance one another. A strongly dominant left hemisphere with no right would be manic. A strongly dominant right with no left would be depressed. Most of us would prefer the left side to be slightly dominant.
Surely Beta frequencies are more active and Alpha less so. Hence we want Beta to be stronger over the left hemisphere and Alpha over the right.
When the right hemisphere shows higher levels of Beta we are likely to be anxious. If Beta levels are high, irritability and anger are likely. When Alpha is higher over the left hemisphere, we often see the world in negative terms and are likely to be depressed.
The back of the brain receives and integrates screened sensory information. Most of the cortex is made up of so-called association areas. Processing areas turn sensory data from, for example, the eyes into images with color shape and texture. These images are then compared against primary and secondary association areas—its experience database which helps us to understand them. A specific visual image might be identified as a face. In a secondary association area for faces it might be identified as my sister’s face. Thus the major mission of the back of the brain is to integrate information from visual, touch, auditory and other modes into a unified picture of what’s important in my environment right now.
That integrated picture is sent forward to the prefrontal cortex (PFC) multiple times each second. The PFC combines this flow of sensory images with information from the emotional brain about how I feel and memories related to what I’m experiencing. It determines how to refocus its filters, what this information means to me and what, if anything, I want to do about it. It sends action programs to the frontal lobe to be sent down to the body to implement. The integrative back of the brain should have more Alpha, and the front more beta.
When the back of the brain has more Beta than the front, especially if the levels are high, the result will almost certainly be anxiety. It may also be perfectionism and certain types of sleep problems. When Alpha is higher in the front than the back, the individual will tend to be unmotivated, poorly able to move toward a goal and negative or depressed.
The brain can be divided into four quadrants. The left-front should have the highest level of Beta. The right-rear should have the highest level of Alpha. Training reversals—patterns which deviate from the desired relationships—depends on determining whether the Alpha and Beta relationships are as desired. It also depends on the overall levels of each in the brain. Since Emotional-Drive issues are among the most common people bring to brain training, reversal training is a very common and often effective intervention.