The Triune Brain, how our brain has evolved so far

Firstly I would like to thank all of the lovely people who sent me such wonderful messages about taking care of myself and getting well soon. It is heart warming to read them. A couple of you asked about using NLP to help with health and I am certainly doing that. For example I was booked to deliver a session called “Running your own Brain” to a senior leadership group of 130 people last week. I used state management to ensure that I could perform however we need to remember that traditional medicine also has a place and it is unwise to try and ignore our body when it gives us messages.

Now for this weeks blog…

From an evolutionary perspective it can be said the brain has developed almost in a series of layers building gradually to where we are today.

It is suggested that the brain consists of three main parts that have been labelled the “triune” brain that can be traced back through our evolutionary history. It is worth noting that this theory is one theory only and is not accepted by all. For the purposes of this blog let us consider the possible metaphor this theory offers.

The three parts are made up of the “reptilian” brain, the “mammalian brain” and the “cognitive” brain.

As the name suggests the reptilian brain is the earliest part and we share it with animals including reptiles. It sits at the top of the spinal cord and regulates everything that runs automatically including breathing, heart rate, organ function and the biochemistry of the body. This part of the brain can persist even after a person is pronounced “brain dead” under some circumstances.

It has been suggested that the mammalian brain developed to manage relationships. One of the consequences of this stage in evolution was that animals began to produce “live” young rather than hatching eggs. As such the young needed to be cared for in order to survive. This part of brain is the “limbic system” which contains the amygdala. The amygdala is divided into two parts, one in each hemisphere and it is the amygdala that can both send and receive emotional signals. The introduction of this feature allows the management of behaviours to occur.

The final part of the brain to develop was the “cognitive” brain or “neocortex”. This is the part of the brain that sits above the limbic system and is responsible for making sense of what is going on both within and out in the world. This is often the distinction that is made about the difference between human beings and other animals. In particular the ability to be self-aware and have an awareness of internal representations of self and others. This may be disputed and if you are interested in this aspect you might want to read some of Jeffery Masson’s books (e.g When Elephants weep).

There is certainly some important developments that we can attribute to the cognitive brain including our ability to use language and our ability to integrate our internal systems and our experiences.

I will explore more about the triune brain later in this series. For now I would suggest that understanding these three “levels” of the brain can help the practitioner understand why a client might be “running” on automatic pilot in an unhelpful way. Engaging the cognitive brain is one way of helping the client to manage such knee jerk reactions.

I’m hoping the above is clear, once I get back to full health I’ll review the blogs I’ve written while less than healthy and reflect on them. I am curious to find out how my thinking is impacted by the loud shouting of both my reptilian and mammalian brains!

About Melody @ GWizlearning

Melody spent fourteen years gathering experience of the business world working in banking, telecommunications and the public sector before co-founding The GWiz Learning Partnership in 1993. Melody has a Masters Degree in Applied Positive Psychology, a degree in Psychology and a diploma in Psychotherapy. She is an NLP Master Trainer which allows her to run NLP Practitioner, NLP Master Practitioner and NLP Trainer Training courses certified by the Positive School of Intrinsic Neuro-Linguistc Psychology. She is also a qualified Myers Briggs practitioner and EI practitioner and added to all this is five years Transactional Analysis training, meaning she is able to help organisations access the hidden potential in their staff. She is also in demand for her work in transforming average or even troubled teams into high performers. Melody is a visiting lecturer at University of East London, teaching "Wellbeing and Positive Psychology" to undergraduates. Additionally, she is a member of the CIPD and is ILM accredited. Melody's interests are many and varied. She has a keen interest in personal development, canine and wolf psychology, conservation, movies and running. She also enjoys western horse riding, walking the GWiz dogs, nature watching and stage combat (particularly sword fighting).
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