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Succeeding with half a brain
Q: If the two hemispheres are heavily involved in virtually everything we do, what happens when one hemisphere is removed?
Two young men, Nico, an Argentine, and Brooke, an American, provide some insight into this question. Nico's right hemisphere was surgically removed when he was three to control severe epilepsy; he has become an engaging young man who enjoys fencing, art, and singing, and who has been academically and socially successful in school in Spain, where he moved with his family. Brooke's left hemisphere was removed when he was 11, also to control persistent seizures. He, too, is a charming young man who attended high school and college and works at a recycling center. What is striking about these young men is that both are able to do things that they "shouldn't" be able to do according to conventional views of the brain—such as use their remaining neural hardware to produce and understand language and its emotional meanings.
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Along with Ekman's test of facial recognition and the Self-In-Relationships Interview (see sidebar above), Mary Helen Immordino-Yang designed two tests (top)
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for her study of these young men's ability to understand and produce the prosody of language. One test determined how Nico's and Brooke's prosodic discrimination and comprehension compared to their peers, and one test compared the intonation patterns in their speech to that of their peers. Although the boys certainly revealed weaknesses, they generally compared favorably to their peers. How can these findings be interpreted in terms of the young men's emotional profiles? What can the results teach us about brain plasticity and development, especially in social contexts, and their relation to compensation and learning?