Neuroanatomical Bases of Hemispheric Functional Specialization in the Human Brain: Developmental Factors

  • Sandra F. Witelson


Hemispheric functional specialization or functional asymmetry is a wellestablished characteristic of functional organization in the human brain. In essence, the right and left hemispheres have different roles in mediating various behaviors and higher mental processes. Tasks involving speech production, phonemic discrimination, comprehension of oral and written language, ability to write, performance of voluntary finger, limb, and oral movements, and perception of sequences of stimuli are more dependent on left- than right-hemisphere functioning in most people. In contrast, tasks involving the perception of two- and three-dimensional visual or tactual shapes, spatial position and orientation of stimuli, perception of faces and colors, mental rotation of three-dimensional shapes, the ability to direct attention to both lateral sensory fields, perception of musical chords and melodies, perception of emotional stimuli and prosodic aspects of speech, the ability to dress oneself and to construct block models are more dependent on the right hemisphere. In the past decade, numerous books have summarized these findings based on the study of brain-damaged people with unilateral lesions, people with commissurotomy, and neurologically intact people who were tested with various behavioral and perceptual tests involving right- and left-sided input or output (e.g., Beaton, 1985; Boller and Grafman, 1988-90; Bradshaw and Nettleton, 1983; Bryden, 1982; Corballis, 1983; Damasio and Damasio, 1990; Geschwind and Galaburda, 1984; Hannay, 1986; Heilman and Valenstein, 1985; Hellige, 1983; Kolb and Whishaw, 1990; Molfese and Segalowitz, 1988; Ottoson, 1987).


Corpus Callosum Left Hemisphere Axon Loss Sylvian Fissure Planum Temporale 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Annett M (1985): Left. Right. Hand and Brain: The Right Shift Theory. New Jersey: ErlbaumGoogle Scholar
  2. Bean RB (1906): Some racial peculiarities of the Negro brain. American Journal of Anatomy 5:353–432CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Beaton A (1985): Left Side. Right Side: A Review of Laterality Research. London: BatsfordGoogle Scholar
  4. Bell AD, Variend S (1985): Failure to demonstrate sexual dimorphism of the corpus callosum in childhood. Journal of Anatomy 143:143–147Google Scholar
  5. Bertoncini J, Morais J, Bijeljac-Babic R, McAdams S, Peretz I, Mehler J (1989): Dichotic perception and laterality in neonates. Brain and Language 37:591–605CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Boiler F, Grafman J, eds. (1988–1990): Handbook of Neuropsychology, Vols. 1-4, New York: Elsevier ScienceGoogle Scholar
  7. Bourgeois J-P, Jastreboff PJ, Rakic P (1989): Synaptogenesis in visual cortex of normal and preterm monkeys: Evidence for intrinsic regulation of synaptic over production. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 86:4297–4301CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Bradshaw JL, Nettleton NC (1983): Human Cerebral Asymmetry. New Jersey: Prentice-HallGoogle Scholar
  9. Brown W, Jaffe J (1975): Hypothesis on cerebral dominance. Neuropsychologia 13:107–110CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Bryden MP (1982): Laterality. Functional Asymmetry in the Intact Brain. Toronto: Academic PressGoogle Scholar
  11. Bryden MP, Hécaen H, de Agostini M (1983): Patterns of cerebral organization. Brain and Language 20:249–262CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Chije G, Dooling EC, Gilles FH (1977): Gyral development of the human brain. Annals of Neurology 1:86–93CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Clarke S, Kraftsik R, Innocenti G, van der Loos H (1986): Sexual dimorphism and development of the human corpus callosum. Neuroscience Letters 26:S 299 [Abstract]Google Scholar
  14. Clarke S, Kraftsik R, Van der Loos H, Innocenti G (1989): Forms and measures of adult and developing human corpus callosum: Is there sexual dimorphism? Journal of Comparative Neurology 280:213–230CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Corballis MC (1983): Human Laterality. New York: Academic PressGoogle Scholar
  16. Cowan WM, Fawcett JW, O’Leary DDM, Stanfield BB (1984): Regressive events in neurogenesis. Science 225, 1258–1265Google Scholar
  17. Damasio H, Damasio A (1990): Lesion Analysis in Neuropsychology Oxford: Oxford University PressGoogle Scholar
  18. Dehay C, Horsburgh G, Berland M, Killackey H, Kennedy M (1989): Maturation and connectivity of the visual cortex in monkey is altered by prenatal removal of retinal input. Nature 337:265–267CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Dehay C, Kennedy H, Bullier J, Berland M (1988): Absence of interhemispheric connections of area 17 during development in the monkey. Nature 331:348–350CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. De Lacoste MC, Holloway RL, Woodward DJ (1986): Sex differences in the fetal human corpus callosum. Human Neurobiology 5:93–96Google Scholar
  21. De Lacoste-Utamsing C, Holloway RL (1982): Sexual dimorphism in the human corpus callosum. Science 216:1431–1432CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Fischer RS, Alexander MP, Gabriel C, Gould E, Milione J (1991): Reversed lateralization of cognitive functions in right-handers. Brain 114:245–261Google Scholar
  23. Fontes V (1944): Morfologia do Cortex Cerebral. LisbonGoogle Scholar
  24. Geschwind N, Galaburda AM, eds. (1984): Cerebral Dominance the Biological Foundations. Cambridge: Harvard University PressGoogle Scholar
  25. Habib M, Gayraud D, Oliva A, Regis J, Salamon G, Khalil R (1991): Effects of handedness and sex on the morphology of the corpus callosum: A study with brain magnetic resonance imaging. Brain and Cognition 16:41–61CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Hamilton CR, Vermeire BA (1988): Complementary hemispheric specialization in monkeys. Science 242:1691–1694CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Hannay HJ, ed. (1986): Experimental Techniques in Human Neuropsychology. New York: Oxford University PressGoogle Scholar
  28. Hécaen H, de Agostini M, Monzon-Montes A (1981): Cerebral organization in left-handers. Brain and Language 12:261–284CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Heffner HE, Heffner RS (1986): Effect of unilateral and bilateral auditory cortex lesions on the discrimination of vocalizations by Japanese macaques. Journal of Neurophysiology 56:683–701Google Scholar
  30. Heilman KM, Coyle JM, Gonyea EF, Geschwind N (1973): Apraxia and agraphia in a left-hander. Brain 96:21–28CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Heilman KM, Rothi LJG (1985): Apraxia. In: Clinical Neuropsychology, 2nd ed., Heilman KM, Valenstein E, eds. New York: Oxford University Press, pp. 131–150Google Scholar
  32. Heilman KM, Valenstein E, eds. (1985): Clinical Neuropsychology, 2nd ed. New York: Oxford University PressGoogle Scholar
  33. Heilige JB, ed. (1983): Cerebral Hemisphere Asymmetry. Method, Theory, and Application. New York: PraegerGoogle Scholar
  34. Hepper PG, Shahidullah S, White R (1990): Origins of fetal handedness. Nature 347:431CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Hiscock M (1988): Behavioral asymmetries in normal children. In: Brain Lateralization in Children, Molfese DL, Segalowitz SJ, eds. New York: Guilford Press pp. 85–169Google Scholar
  36. Hochberg FH, LeMay M (1975): Artériographic correlates of handedness. Neurology 25:218–222Google Scholar
  37. Holloway RL, de Lacoste MC (1986): Sexual dimorphism in the human corpus callosum: An extension and replication study. Human Neurobiology 5:87–91Google Scholar
  38. Hyde JS, Linn MC (1988): Gender differences in verbal ability: A meta-analysis. Psychological Bulletin 102:53–69CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Hynd GW, Cohen M (1983): Dyslexia: Neuropsychological Theory Research and Clinical Differentiation. Toronto: Grune and StrattonGoogle Scholar
  40. Innocenti GM, Caminiti R (1980): Postnatal shaping of callosal connections from sensory areas. Experimental Brain Research 38:381–394CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Ivy GO, Killackey HP (1981): The ontogeny of the distribution of callosal projection neurons in the rat parietal cortex. Journal of Comparative Neurology 195:389–389CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Kennard MA (1942): Cortical reorganization of motor function: Studies on series of monkeys of various ages from infancy to maturity. Archives of Neurology and Psychiatry 48:227–240Google Scholar
  43. Killackey HP, Chalupa LM (1986): Ontogenetic change in the distribution of callosal projection neurons in the postcentral gyrus of the fetal rhesus monkey. Journal of Comparative Neurology 244:331–348CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Kimura D, Harshman RA (1984): Sex differences in brain organization for verbal and non-verbal functions. Progress in Brain Research 61:423–441CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Kolb B, Whishaw IQ (1990): Fundamentals of Human Neuropsychology. 3rd ed. New York: WH FreemanGoogle Scholar
  46. Koppel H, Innocenti GM (1983): Is there a genuine exuberancy of callosal projections in development? A quantitative electron microscopic study in the cat. Neuroscience Letters 41:33–40CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. LaMantia A-S, Rakic P (1990a): Cytological and quantitative characteristics of four cerebral commissures in the Rhesus monkey. Journal of Comparative Neurology 291:520–537CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. LaMantia A-S, Rakic P (1990b): Axon overproduction and elimination in the corpus callosum of the developing rhesus monkey. Journal of Neuroscience 10:2156–2175Google Scholar
  49. LeMay M, Billig MS, Geschwind N (1982): Asymmetries of the brains and skulls of nonhuman primates. In: Primate Brain Evolution, Armstrong E, Falk D, eds. New York: Plenum Press, pp.263–277Google Scholar
  50. LeMay M, Culebras A (1972): Human brain-morphologic differences in the hemispheres demonstrable by carotid arteriography. New England Journal of Medicine 287:168–170CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Lenneberg EH (1967): Biological Foundations of Language. New York: WileyGoogle Scholar
  52. Levy J (1985): Interhemispheric collaboration: Single-mindedness in the asymmetric brain. In: Hemispheric Function and Collaboration in the Child, Best C, ed. New York: Academic Press, pp. 11–31Google Scholar
  53. Levy J, Reid M (1978): Variations in cerebral organization as a function of handedness, hand posture in writing, and sex. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General 107:119–144CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Lindesay J (1987): Laterality shift in homosexual men. Neuropsychologia 25:965–969CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Linn MC, Petersen AC (1985): Emergence and characterization of sex differences in spatial ability: A meta-analysis. Child Development 56:1479–1498CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Luttenberg J (1965): Contribution to the fetal ontogenesis of the corpus callosum in man. II. Folia Morphologica 13:136–144Google Scholar
  57. McCormick CM (1990): A neuropsychological study of sexual orientation: Neu-robiological implications. PhD thesis, McMaster UniversityGoogle Scholar
  58. McCormick CM, Witelson SF, Kingstone E (1990): Left-handedness in homosexual men and women: Neuroendocrine implications. Psychoneuroendocrinol-ogy 15:69–76CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. McGlone J (1980): Sex differences in human brain asymmetry: a critical survey. The Behavioral and Brain Sciences 3:215–263CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. McGlone J (1986): The neuropsychology of sex differences in human brain organization. In: Advances in Clinical Neuropsychology, Vol. 3, Goldstein G, Tarter RE, eds. New York: Plenum PressGoogle Scholar
  61. Milner B (1974): Hemispheric specialization: Scope and limits. In: The Neurosciences: Third Study Program,Schmitt FO, Worden FG, eds. Cambridge: MIT Press, pp. 75–89Google Scholar
  62. Molfese DL, Segalowitz SJ, eds. (1988): Brain Lateralization in Children. Developmental Implications. New York: Guilford PressGoogle Scholar
  63. Molliver ME, Kostović I, Van der Loos H (1973): The development of synapses in cerebral cortex of the human fetus. Brain Research 50:402–407CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. Moscovitch M (1977): The developmental lateralization of language functions and its relation to cognitive and linguistic development: A review and some theoretical speculations. In: Language Development and Neurological Theory, Segalowitz SJ, Gruber FA, eds. New York: Academic Press, pp. 193–211Google Scholar
  65. Netley C, Rovet J (1988): The development of cognition and personality in X aneuploids and other subject groups. In: Brain Lateralization in Children. Developmental Implications, Molfese DL, Segalowitz SJ, eds. New York: Guilford Press, pp. 401–416Google Scholar
  66. O’Callaghan MJ, Tudehope DI, Dugdale AE, Mohay H, Burns Y, Cook F (1987): Handedness in children with birth weights below 1000 g. Lancet 1:1155CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  67. Ottoson D, ed. (1987): Duality and Unity of the Brain. England: MacMillan PressGoogle Scholar
  68. Purves D, Lichtman JW (1985): Principles of Neural Development. Massachusetts: Sinauer AssocGoogle Scholar
  69. Rakic P, Yakovlev PI (1968): Development of the corpus callosum and cavum septi in man. Journal of Comparative Neurology 132:45–72CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  70. Rasmussen T, Milner B (1977): The role of early left-brain injury in determining lateralization of cerebral speech functions. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences 299:328–354CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  71. Ratcliff G, Dila C, Taylor L, Milner B (1980): The morphological asymmetry of the hemispheres and cerebral dominance for speech: A possible relationship. Brain and Language 11:87–98CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  72. Sholl SA, Kim KL (1990): Androgen receptors are differentially distributed between right and left cerebral hemispheres of the fetal male rhesus monkey. Brain Research 516:122–126CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  73. Strauss E, LaPointe JS, Wada JA, Gaddes W, Kosaka B (1985): Language dominance: Correlation of radiological and functional data. Neuropsychologia 23:415–420CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  74. Tomasch J (1954): Size distribution, and number of fibres in the human corpus callosum. Anat Record 119:119–135CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  75. Wada JA, Clarke R, Hamm A (1975): Cerebral hemispheric asymmetry in humans. Cortical speech zones in 100 adults and 100 infant brains. Archives of Neurology 32:239–246CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  76. Witelson SF (1976): Sex and the single hemisphere: Right hemisphere specialization for spatial processing. Science 193:425–427CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  77. Witelson SF (1977a): Developmental dyslexia: Two right hemispheres and none left. Science 195:309–311CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  78. Witelson SF (1977b): Early hemisphere specialization and interhemisphere plasticity: An empirical and theoretical review. In: Language Development and Neurological Theory, Segalowitz SJ, Gruber FA, eds. New York: Academic Press, pp. 213–287Google Scholar
  79. Witelson SF (1985a): The brain connection: The corpus callosum is larger in left-handers. Science 229:665–668CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  80. Witelson SF (1985b): On hemisphere specialization and cerebral plasticity from birth. Mark II. In: Hemispheric Function and Collaboration in the Child, Best C, ed. New York: Academic Press, pp. 33–85Google Scholar
  81. Witelson SF (1987): Neurobiological aspects of language in children. Child Development 58:653–688CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  82. Witelson SF (1989): Hand and sex differences in the isthmus and genu of the human corpus callosum: A postmortem morphological study. Brain 112:799–835CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  83. Witelson SF, Goldsmith CH (1991): The relationship of hand preference to anatomy of the corpus callosum in men. Brain Research 545:175–182CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  84. Witelson SF, Kigar DL (1988a): Asymmetry in brain function follows asymmetry in anatomical form: Gross microscopic, postmortem and imaging studies. In: Handbook of Neuropsychology, Vol. 1, Boller F, Grafman J, eds. The Netherlands: Elsevier ScienceGoogle Scholar
  85. Witelson SF, Kigar DL (1988b): Anatomical development of the human corpus callosum: Implications for individual differences and cognition. In: Developmental Implications of Brain Lateralization, Molfese DL, Segalowitz S J, eds. New York: Guilford Press, p. 35–57Google Scholar
  86. Witelson SF, Kigar DL (1990): Hand and sex differences in Sylvian fissure morphology. Society for Neuroscience Abstracts 6:381.13Google Scholar
  87. Witelson SF, McCulloch PB (1991): Method for pre-and post-mortem measurement to study structure-function relations: A normal human brain collection. Schizophrenia Bulletin 583–591; commentary, 593-596Google Scholar
  88. Witelson SF, Nowakowski RS (1991): Left-out axons make men right: A hypothesis for the origin of handedness and functional symmetry. Neuropsychologia 29:327–333CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  89. Witelson SF, Pallie W (1973): Left hemisphere specialization for language in the newborn: Anatomical evidence of asymmetry. Brain 96:641–646CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  90. Witelson SF, Swallow JA (1988): Neuropsychological study of the development of spatial cognition. In: Spatial Cognition: Brain Bases and Development, Stiles-Davis J, Kritchevsky M, Bellugi U, eds. Hillsdale, New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum, pp. 373–409Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Birkhäuser Boston 1992

Authors and Affiliations

  • Sandra F. Witelson

There are no affiliations available

Personalised recommendations