A Tale of Two Cases: Lessons for Education From the Study of Two Boys Living With Half Their Brains


Mary Helen Immordino-Yang, 3641 Watt Way Suite B17, Los Angeles, CA 90089-2520; e-mail: mhimmordino-yang@post.harvard.edu.


ABSTRACT— In recent years, educators have been looking increasingly to neuroscience to inform their understanding of how children’s brain and cognitive development are shaped by their learning experiences. However, while this new interdisciplinary approach presents an unprecedented opportunity to explore and debate the educational implications of neuropsychological research, a good model for this dialogue is lacking. This is in part because relatively little is known about the relationships between cognitive, emotional, and neurological development, in part because of a dearth of research methods designed to rigorously connect issues of learning and development to neuropsychological strengths and weaknesses, and in part because neuropsychological studies are rarely presented in a format that is conducive to meaningful cross-disciplinary dialogue with educators. To begin to address these issues, in this article, I present the complementary cases of Nico and Brooke, two high-functioning adolescents, who have suffered the removal of an entire brain hemisphere (Nico his right and Brooke his left) to control severe epilepsy. Through presenting a neuropsychological study of these rare boys’ emotion and affective prosody (vocal intonation) through the developmental lens of an educator, I reinterpret the neuropsychological findings for what they reveal about how the boys leveraged their emotional and cognitive strengths to learn important skills for which they were each missing half of the normally recruited neural hardware. While Nico’s and Brooke’s results seem on the surface to contradict expectations based on neuropsychological findings with adults, they combine to reveal a compensatory logic that begins to elucidate the active role of the learner as well as the organizing role of emotion in brain development, providing a jumping-off point for discussion between educators and neuroscientists and a model for connecting neuropsychological strengths and weaknesses to learning.