What is Your Cognitive Mode: Top Brain Vs. Bottom Brain

braincoverAn essay appeared in the Wall Street Journal (Kosslyn/Miller, Wall Street Journal, 10/18). this past weekend explaining why theories about right-brain vs. left-brain are outdated.  The essay outlined a new model of brain function that is just way cooler, called a cognitve mode.  It is based on a soon-to-be released book, Top Brain, Bottom Brain: Surprising Insights Into How You Think.”

Enter Cognitive Modes…

The theory of cognitive modes

Back in 1982, the National Institutes of Mental Health published a study headed by Mortimer Mishkin and Leslie G. Ungerleider introduced the theory of cognitive modes.  This theory is based on the anatomical division between the top and bottom halves of the brain.

The theory builds on the anatomy of the brain with the top-brain system being composed of the entire parietal lobe and the top portion of the frontal lobe.  The top-brain system takes in the surrounding environment, combines it with emotional reactions, and overlays it with personal needs to decide which goals to try and achieve. Basically the top-brain comes up with the plans, sets up your expectations about what will happen when the plan is executed, and makes adjustments to the plan in real time.

The bottom-brain system is made up of the occipital and temporal lobes and the smaller remainder of the frontal lobe.  The bottom-brain organizes sensory signals, simultaneously comparing what is being perceived with information stored in memory. Translation, the bottom-brain uses the information from the comparisons to classify and interpret an object or event, drawing meaning from the world.

This theory is not based on the we only use 10% of our brain myth as stressed by the essay authors, Kosslyn and Miller.  Rather, the top- and bottom-brain systems work together and are not engaged in a “constant cerebral tug of war.”  But don’t be mistaken, people don’t equally rely on the top and bottom of the brain.  We all have preferences that fall into four basic categories or cognitive modes.

Which mode are you? A mover, perceiver, stimulator, or adaptor?

The new cognitive theory predicts that you will fall into one of four cognitive modes based on whether you more heavily rely on the top or bottom brain.  This new way of looking at human thought and behavior could help explain your actions and personalities.

  • Mover. Movers are individuals who highly utilize both top- and bottom-brain systems in optional ways, a mode that allows them to plan, act, and readily see the consequences of their actions. They tend to be well-suited for leadership positions.
  • Perceiver. Perceivers tend to rely on the bottom-brain system to make sense of what they perceive, interpret their experience, and place it in context to try and understand its implications. They generally do not make and execute big plans; however, they are valuable part of group decision-making because they can help make sense of the big picture.
  • Stimulator. Individuals in stimulator mode may be creative and original, relying on the top-brain system to create and execute detailed plans. However, stimulators often fail to realize the consequences of acting on such plans, and they do not update their plans when things go awry.
  • Adaptor. Adaptors are people who do not highly utilize either the top- or bottom-brain. They do not initiate plans; instead, they are consumed by their immediate situations and have a “go with the flow” attitude.

Kosslyn and Miller have put together a 20-question quiz to find out which type of thinker you are.  I took the quiz and it turns out that I rely on both top and bottom parts of my brain. 

So I am a…

You think in situational Mover Mode: You tend to make and act on plans, register consequences, and adjust plans accordingly, but are particularly context dependent.

Before you get on a high horse, according to the authors no one mode is better than the others.  Rather, the theory reinforces the notion that people can work together more productively when they are aware of their own and others’ cognitive strengths and weaknesses.

I have added the book to my Kindle reading list.  You can pre-order your copy of Top Brain/Bottom Brain: Surprising Insights into How You Think by Stephen M. Kosslyn and G. Wayne Miller ßHere

Question: After you have taken the quiz post your cognitive mode in the comments below.

Very Respectfully,



  1. Richard says

    Ann, thank you for sharing your results. Did you feel the description that accompanied your test result matched who you are? I felt the the write-up for my test result was pretty accurate, but I am curious how well it is working for others.

  2. Cassie V. says

    I took the quiz 3 times to see if I would get at least 2 out of 3 to see which I really am. I ended up being a situational Mover Mode, next a situational Adaptor Mode, then a situational Perceiver Mode. Well guess my theory didn’t work quite as planned. LOL! Well I happen to ask my husband of 10 years which he thought was more like me and he said both the situational Mover and Adaptor Mode. I think he may be right. I am a Sales Manager. Thanks for the quiz. I really enjoyed it and learning about the different Modes. :)

  3. Richard says

    Cassie, thanks for sharing your results. I have often wondered how our personal bias impacts these types of personality quizes. Or if we tend to select towards what we want to be when we have had time to reflect on the questions. Either way they are still fun to see the results.

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