A review of research with chicks, songbirds, rodents, and nonhuman primates indicates that the brain is lateralized for a number of behavioral functions. These findings can be understood in terms of three hypothetical brain processes derived from a brain model based on general systems theory: hemispheric activation, interhemispheric inhibition, and interhemispheric coupling.
Left-hemisphere activation occurs in songbirds and nonhuman primates in response to salient auditory or visual input, or when a communicative output is required. The right hemisphere is activated in rats when spatial performance is required, and in chicks when they are placed in an emotion-provoking situation. In rats and chicks interhemispheric activation and inhibition occur when there is an affective component in the environment (novelty, aversive conditioning) or when an emotional response is emitted (copulation, attack, killing). An interhemispheric coupling (correlation) found in rats and rabbits implies that the hemispheres are two major components in a control system with a negative feedback loop. Early-experience variables in rats can induce laterality in a symmetric brain or facilitate its development in an already biased brain.
It is predicted that functional lateralization, when present, will be similar across species: the left hemisphere will tend to be involved in communicative functions while the right hemisphere will respond to spatial and affective information; both hemispheres will often interact via activation-inhibition mechanisms when affective or emotional processes are involved. Homologous brain areas and their connecting callosal fibers must be intact at birth and must remain intact throughout development for lateralization to reach its maximum level. Injury to any portion of this unit will result in hemispheric redundancy rather than specialization. One major function of early experience is to provide stimulation during development, which acts to enhance the growth and development of the corpus callosum, thereby giving rise to a more specialized brain.