Balancing the Brain

The traditional method of note-taking consists of listening to a speaker and writing down what the person says in a linear form. Even though it involves writing, it is very attached to the auditory stream of consciousness mode: one thing after another. Mind mapping, on the other hand, takes the ideas coming from the speaker and distributes them on the paper in various ways, adding the dimension of space, thus translating them into a more visual form. Since spatial organization is more associated with the right brain, this method allows the listener to take advantage of all of the left and right cortical skills of the brain.

Mind maps work by emphasizing the strength of the right hemisphere of the brain. In most people, that part of our brain is tasked with visual, associative, and non-verbal thinking as well as a lot of creative thinking. The left hemisphere, on the other hand, is responsible for analytical thoughts (which can only be examined one at a time) – such as when we are writing. Usually, we find it difficult to express our thoughts on paper. But when the right hemisphere is triggered in tandem with the left hemisphere, such as when we are producing a mind map, we overcome this difficulty.

Mind maps allow you to concentrate because both hemispheres of the brain are trained to be balanced and active at the same time, and because various sensory channels are being employed at the same time, multiple intelligences can be drawn together to help in comprehension and memorization.

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Organizing Thoughts

By using mind mapping to organize and classify concepts in your mind first, you will find it easier to write about a string of concepts which are related in some way. Mind maps present information in relation to other data, which helps to mark which concepts are more important than others. So they are useful when you have muddled thoughts that need to be clarified, or bits and pieces of information whose relationships to one another have to be visualized. Mind maps work well when one is dealing with a complex scenario, particularly those which require a holistic point of view if they are to be grasped. When we use mind maps, complex problems become simpler to think through and find solutions to.

The Effects of Mind Mapping on Creativity

The predominant reason that most people underestimate their creative talents is that formal education has traditionally failed to adequately stress this mental ability, favoring instead more academic pursuits. Academics tend to stress the functions of the left hemisphere of the brain; the functions of the “creative” side of the brain – the right hemisphere – are not emphasized as much except in people who are deemed “artistically gifted”. Fortunately, many educators now try to integrate creative pursuits into a well-balanced education so that the products of their institutions will have an equally well-balanced personality.

Mind mapping helps one become more creative because it emphasizes brainstorming, free association and radiant thinking. Your present level of comprehension of ideas is graphically represented, which then translates to a higher level of understanding when extended to other ideas or sub-topics.

The human mind does not function the way a computer does. A computer operates solely in a linear manner. Your brain, on the other hand, operates not just in a linear fashion but also in an associative manner. That means that your brain undertakes the functions of comparing, integrating and synthesizing thoughts as you work. Almost all mental functions rely on association to proceed. Words are representations of ideas in your head. So every word is linked to an idea which in turn is connected to a lot of other ideas stored in your brain.

Since every word you can think of can trigger a host of associations in your mind, creativity is encouraged. One person may be able to generate one set of relationships between concepts using one key central idea, while another person could produce another set of relationships between concepts using the same key central idea. It is possible for just one word/term/concept/idea to be related to many others. Mind maps help us look for different and creative ways that ideas are related to one another within our minds. If you are persistent enough, you may be able to come up with a unique combination of relationships of ideas that may translate into a new product or service.


The nice thing about mind maps is that drawing your ideas in the form of keywords or symbols is a faster process compared to laboriously writing down lines of notes. Associations may also be created more quickly if you use keywords or symbols.

Relying on keywords during note-taking can reduce the amount of unnecessary notes by 90%. This boosts your effective writing/note-taking speed by up to 10 times its present level. You may improve your keyword writing speed even further if you develop the ability to abbreviate them. One of the best ways to do this is to eliminate vowels from the keywords as you write them. The eye has the ability to discern what words mean even without the appropriate vowels.

Mind maps take up less space than linear note-taking so they are more compact (but not less effective.) If you want to add more ideas to your mind map in the future, this is easily accomplished. Information is less arduous to summarize, especially if you gleaned data from different research sources.

List-style notes take a longer time to read and review, compared to checking out our mind map with just one glance. Furthermore, line-by-line notes are tedious to read which may induce our mind to wander and eventually forget what we have just read.


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Having an Overview of the Subject at a Glance

Mind maps take advantage of the human mind’s ability to scan an entire page of information in a non-linear manner. This means that you are also able to view the entire series of relationships between ideas with just one look, which eases the cognitive load on your mind, and enables you to have a quick overview of the subject.

Presenting the mind map to other people helps them to see where the flow of your thoughts is headed and how ideas are associated in your mind. When you need to review the subject tackled in the mind map, all you have to do is glance at it – it will immediately refresh your memory.

Emphasizing Associations

Mind maps were developed based on the human mind’s special way of relating thoughts to each other. A linear way of note-taking, according to Tony Buzan, actually limits creativity and memory since there is little leeway for the brain to create associations about ideas. In addition, using line-by-line or list-style notes trains the brain to think that there is a limit to the links between ideas – that once the reader comes to the end of the list, he has “finished.” Buzan says this dulls the thinking process. In reality, links between ideas go on infinitely in our minds. Line-by-line note-taking is also deemed less effective than mind mapping because we often include superfluous words in addition to keywords in each line. When we are writing down such long phrases and sentences, we may lose out on other important keywords and ideas being presented (particularly if we are listening to a speech.) The other aspect of Radiant Thinking is its use of keywords that are connected to the key central idea we thought of. Research headed by Dr. Gordon Howe of Exeter University showed that note-taking improves when there are keywords, and the fewer keywords used the better it is for retention of information.  A keyword is defined as a term which encompasses the most relevant meaning in the most direct way. It is also the term which provides the fastest recall for the person taking notes. Out of the masses of words which we see, speak and hear, keywords make up just 1% to 10% of that.

Improved Learning and Memory

Can mind mapping help one to study better? Tony Buzan believes so. The problem with formal education is that we gain content from it, not the process of learning. Buzan claims that his Mind Mapping technique will help users tap into the full range of their intelligence, enhance thinking skills, and significantly add to our memory and creative abilities.

Linking means that you remember better those things which are interrelated compared to those which are not connected in any way. You can prove this to yourself – how many times does the “right” idea crop up in your mind? Doesn’t it usually pop up when you bump into something that is related to that concept? For example, you could be trying to remember where you placed your car keys – you just know you had them with you when you parked the car last night. So you pat down the pants you are wearing today and suddenly you remember – your car keys are in the pockets of the pants you were wearing yesterday. You just had to make the right connection so you could remember.

Linking is obviously valuable for comprehension and understanding, particularly when used during note-making and mapping out your study activities. You can improve your learning if you deliberately search for ways that different topics are interrelated. This is profoundly demonstrated by mind mapping, where each idea is connected to another by a line, a color, or a symbol.

The effectiveness of mind maps stems from their function as spatial structure mnemonics. That means that your mind remembers where each idea was placed within the mind map. The shape and the structure of the mind map act as visual cues to trigger memory about the location of the idea.

Contrary to what some people might think, mind maps do not eliminate the value of any note-taking processes which you might be using right now. When used in tandem with the note-taking systems you are used to, mind maps will most likely add to their value by enhancing their effectiveness. For example, if you are used to writing down notes line-by-line, a mind map can complement this style by helping you to see how the ideas all relate to one another.


However, some academic researchers dispute Buzan’s claims as being mere marketing hype to promote his Mind Maps consultation business. These claims, the academics state, are founded on misconceptions about the brain and cerebral hemispheres. Mind mapping, they say, may not be applied with equal rates of effectiveness to all learning tasks. Farrand, Hussain and Hennessy showed in their 2002 study that undergraduate students who used the mind map technique experienced a limited but noteworthy effect solely for recall (equal to 10% over baseline per 600-word text) while preferred study techniques only displayed a -6% hike from the baseline. Such an advantage by the mind map users remained strong only for the first week, after which the students were considerably less motivated to use the technique, as opposed to employing their preferred note-taking strategies. The researchers proposed that learners opt for other techniques since they were not used to using mind maps. They also said that learners were not very eager to use mind maps despite their being categorized as a “memory enhancing” method.

Another study done by Pressley, VanEtten, Yokoi, Freebern, and VanMeter revealed that learners absorbed data better when they emphasized soaking up content rather than trying to find a particular style of note-taking that worked.


Mind mapping can have its drawbacks. As the above studies show, it’s not easy to change your ways of doing things, and changing form the linear system that we have been taught to use since childhood to a very different way of writing down notes requires a great effort that a lot of people are not ready to make.

In addition, when you approach a new subject, you may not have a clear enough grasp of it to be able to organize your thoughts about it from the start. To make a good mind map, you need to choose your main subject and the subsidiary ideas around it, and the appropriate keywords. If you’re not ready to do that, then linear note-taking might be more appropriate. There’s no reason you can’t transform them to a mind map later on.

With mind maps, everything is supposed to be contained on a single page, but you don’t necessarily know where a subject is going to take you and how much space should be allotted to a particular sub-group. It can be irritating when you want to add something to a category and there isn’t enough space in that part of the page.

Even though mind mapping is said to be more intuitive than linear note-taking that is not entirely true. It’s not just because we have always used the linear method that we find it comfortable. Language is first and foremost auditory, and writing is translating the auditory messages into a more permanent form. Speaking is necessarily linear, and the linear writing method is the one that comes closest to our way of speaking

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About Leon Edward

2 Comments (Add Yours)

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  2. Excellent article, but it would have more credibility if you were to cite your sources. You show evidence of having done some research…

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