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Beating the Reptilian Brain (Triune Brain Model)

Most people tend to think of the brain as one large single organ, as one brain. What some may not be aware of however, is that during the 1950s a doctor and researcher named Paul MacLean came up with a controversial new theory that humans have not one brain, but three.

Dr. Paul MacLean

Dr. Paul D. MacLean came up with the idea of the triune brain as a way to explain the evolution of the human brain.

Doctor MacLean proposed that, through evolutionary time, the human brain began to evolve and become more complex.

As the brain evolved, a new brain was formed over the older brain until there were three distinct brains, each with its own purpose and function. He called this, the “Triune Brain Model”.

Components of the “Triune” Brain

In this article, we are going to be taking a closer look at the Triune Brain Model, and how understanding your brain can help you to better understand both your behavior and the behavior of others.

So to begin, let’s start with our first and oldest brain, something MacLean referred to as the “R-Complex”.

The R-Complex

reptilian brain

The reptilian brain is the oldest part of your brain and deals with basic bodily functions.

The R-Complex, also called the “reptilian brain”, is your first and oldest brain. It evolved to serve your genes by driving fundamental needs such as survival, mating, feeding and self-maintenance.

In addition to this, the reptilian brain also took on the responsibility of controlling autonomic bodily functions, such as the beating of the heart, the breathing of the lungs and the regulation of body temperature.

Because of these roles, the reptilian brain is said to be very animalistic and primitive in its nature. This is why the R-Complex is often referred to as the “reptilian brain”, as it closely resembles the brain of modern-day reptiles such as lizards.

crocodile with arm in mouth

Reptiles show no mercy. You either dominate them or they dominate you.

Your reptilian brain is part of your unconscious (subconscious) mind, and its primary role is to make sure that you stay alive and spread your genes by mating with others.

It carries out a set program of behavioral responses when presented with certain external triggers. It does not learn from its mistakes, and understands only images not language.

Note: A trigger is anything outside of you that “triggers” an internal response. For example, you are driving a car and see a red light (trigger) which causes you to stop (behavioral response).

Some of the traits associated with the reptilian brain include: aggression, dominance, seeking a mate, sex, rigidity, obsessiveness, compulsiveness, worship, fear, submission and greed.

Think of a wild animal defending its territory from an invader, and you will have a good idea as to the sorts of behaviors that originate from this part of your brain.

The Limbic System (emotions)

Limbic System

The limbic system is responsible for regulating emotions, and plays an important role in learning.

The limbic system is your emotional brain, and it is what makes you feel the way you feel when exposed to a certain stimulus.

The limbic system creates chemical messages that connect information to memory, the retention of which is significantly increased when that information is presented in an emotionally charged context.

This is why you are most likely to remember events that created a strong emotional response within you, and why other people will mostly remember the things you said or did to them that made them feel a certain way.

learning from mistakes

Associating an emotion with an event makes it more memorable. This can help you to quickly learn to avoid something painful, or to seek something pleasurable.

Since we are largely driven towards experiencing pleasure and away from pain, this emotional part of your brain may have evolved to serve and counterbalance the needs of your reptilian brain.

One of the ways the limbic system does this is by ensuring that you obtain pleasure from activities such as eating and sex so that you are motivated to repeat them, and pain from activities that may harm or endanger you so that you are motivated to avoid them.

Without the emotional brain, you would keep doing the same things in a ritualistic way and never learning from your mistakes.

This is an extremely important part of your brain and may control more of your behavior than you realize, as most people tend to make decisions based on what they feel rather than think about something.

The Neocortex (thinking brain)

Neocortex limbic reptilian

The newest part of the brain, the neocortex, sits on top of the emotional and reptilian brain.

The neocortex is the newest part of your brain, and can be called the “thinking brain”. It controls higher level processes such as logic, reasoning, creative thinking, language and the integration of sensory information.

The fact that you can read this article means that your neocortex is working, as without it, you would be nothing more than a vegetable.

The problem with the neocortex is that it tends to be overpowered by the brains beneath it, especially, the emotional brain. For example, experiencing the emotion of fear can cause the amygdala to send out urgent signals to every part of the brain, causing you to become more alert and ready to respond to any potential dangers.

fear head

During times of fear your thinking brain can literally shut down and cause you to react in an entirely automatic and unconscious way.

The brain then searches itself for relevant responses to the threat, taking priority over other forms of thought. If the need arises, an action such as fighting or running away can be carried out immediately and automatically, without you even thinking about it.

These kinds of responses are extremely useful, and could one day save your life. However, this lack of neocortical dominance may potentially become a problem in less life threatening situations, as it can cause you to behave in preprogrammed irrational ways essentially making you a helpless slave to your emotional brain.

Triggers of the Reptilian Brain

The type of trigger that you are exposed to will determine the resulting behavioral response. Some triggers may cause reptilian brain responses, resulting in aggressive, territorial and domineering behavior.

Whilst other triggers may target the emotional brain, resulting in feelings of pleasure or pain and memories associated with those emotions.

triune brain

The way that you respond to things in your environment largely depends upon the stimuli that you are exposed to. When reading this article for example, you will mainly be activating your thinking brain and your emotional brain.

Understanding the triggers that you are exposed to, and their resulting effects, is therefore extremely important if you want to live a conscious life where you consciously choose what to do and how to feel.

Without this understanding, the triggers that you are exposed to will covertly influence your thoughts and your behavior giving you the false illusion that you are in control. In other words, they will cause you to live an unconscious and almost robotic life.

Below we look at some of the most common triggers of the reptilian brain.

Threats to Safety

A good example of how an external trigger can result in an automatic pre-programmed reptilian behavioral response is road rage.

Road rage is a term used to describe an outburst of moderate to extreme rage in response to another road users actions, and shows just how easily the reptilian brain can take over your conscious brain.

When another road user cuts in front of you, the reptilian brain considers this act a threat and an invasion of your personal space. Without even thinking about it, you react aggressively by swearing or beeping your horn, trying to re-establish your dominance over the other road user.

Road rage

Road rage is a classic reptilian brain response that is activated when one feels threatened.

A thinking brain response would not have acted this way. Instead of being aggressive, it would have tried to think of an explanation as to why this person cut in front of you. For example, maybe there was a pregnant woman in the car and they were rushing to the hospital?

These types of questions involving logical deductive reasoning, are classic responses of the thinking brain. They allow you to understand why something may have happened, and then come up with possible explanations for it.

However, because road rage triggers a reptilian brain response, it overpowers the thinking conscious brain causing you to automatically react like an animal trying to defend its territory.

It is only after some time has passed and the “threat” (trigger) has disappeared, does the conscious thinking brain come back “online” allowing you to logically analyze both your behavior, and the behavior of the other road user.

The important point to remember about unconscious brain responses (such as the reptilian or emotional brain) is that they are both automatic and irrational, often leading to decisions and actions which you later regret.


sexy woman

Attractive models used in adverts can stimulate worship and submissive behavior.

Sex is widely used in the media and advertising, and comes in many different forms.

Sex can range from graphic full nudity to attractive visually appealing models or presenters. Sex stimulates reptilian behaviors such as worship, submission, aggression and wanting to seek a mate.

Sex tends to cause the unconscious irrational brains to become dominant, at the expense of your conscious rational brain. This makes you less likely to critically analyze any incoming information, thereby making you far more susceptible to persuasion.

This is where the expression “sex sells” comes from, and it’s true. It is well-known in advertising that using sex increases sales, which is why it’s used so widely.

Money/Power/Social Status

man holding money happy

The prospect of gaining power stimulates greed and aggression.

Power, or the prospect of gaining or losing power, is another important trigger to look out for and one which also activates unconscious brain responses.

The most common way that power is used, is through money. Anything that promises you lots of quick and easy money automatically triggers a variety of reptilian brain responses. Most notably, greed, aggression and compulsive behavior.

This is why get rich quick schemes are so popular, as the prospect of easy money causes people to react in unconscious, automatic and irrational ways. However, the result of these schemes is invariably wasted time and money, something which the conscious thinking brain knew all along.

Note: Anything that can improve your life, or make it worse, is a form of power. Power can be further subdivided into personal power, power over others and power over your external environment.

Self Image

woman with camera

Things that promise to improve the way you look can stimulate obsessive compulsive behavior.

Things that promise to improve the way you look and/or the health of your body, stimulate reptilian brain responses such as obsessive compulsive behavior, dominance and self-maintenance.

This is why some people can become addicted to buying clothes, shoes, cosmetic surgery, vitamins and their overall general appearance. What you may notice when you see people advertising these type of products, is that they all tend to be very attractive. Ever wonder why?

Whilst attractive people are used because sex helps to increase sales, another reason sex is used is because it makes you feel inadequate. This is especially true if you are not as attractive, wealthy or powerful as the person advertising the product.

Such feelings can result in aggression, jealousy, submission and/or a desire to compete with them.

sexy woman holding tennis ball

When you see someone who is more attractive or wealthy than you, the reptilian brain automatically stimulates hostile thoughts and behavior. This makes you want to become like them, better than them or mate with them.

By purchasing a product which is advertised by an attractive model, your unconscious and irrational brains associate the purchase of that product with the person advertising it.

This is one reason why celebrities are commonly used in advertising, as it provides a false illusion of the product transferring what the celebrity has over to you (divisional transference of power).


man with bloody face on plate

When food is scarce people will quickly behave like animals, becoming concerned only with their survival.

Without food, your genes would be unable to replicate and your body would die. Since the reptilian brain evolved to serve the needs of your genes and keep your body alive, food is therefore an extremely powerful trigger generating strong reptilian and emotional brain responses.

Food can cause intense feelings of pleasure (emotional brain response) whilst also stimulating greed, dominance, aggression and obsessive compulsive reptilian behavioral responses.

However, in western society where food tends to be plentiful, aggression is generally not associated with food. But should food suddenly become hard to obtain, an aggressive reptilian brain response will be quickly activated.

When this occurs food riots are a common sight, and people will begin to behave somewhat similar to a pack of animals fighting over a piece of meat.

The human animal

All of the triggers that were previously described can result in automatic irrational behavioral responses, whereby the conscious thinking logical brain is essentially bypassed and the unconscious irrational reptilian brain dominates.

The easiest way to understand this is to remember that sex, power, self-image and food can cause people to behave completely differently to how they would normally behave. Acting more like animals, rather than rational human beings.

The stronger these triggers are, such as during a food shortage, the more a person’s character will change and the more like an animal (primal) they will act.

woman acting like animal

The more the reptilian brain is stimulated the more animalistic a person will become.

An important point to remember though, is that triggered behaviors may later be amplified or down-regulated by the emotional and thinking brains. Usually, the emotional brain will amplify or down-regulate, and the thinking brain down-regulate these responses.

So the next time you feel a strong desire to buy something, or behave in a certain way, look for the triggers that you were exposed to. As there is a good chance that they were responsible for making “your” decision for you.

Mixed messages

Generally, you will find that in the media several triggers are used in combination (e.g. sex and power), rather than individually.

This is because unless a trigger is especially powerful (e.g. scare food vs plentiful food), its power to cause a behavioral response within you may be somewhat limited.

Furthermore, if you have been exposed to something repeatedly, you will also become desensitized to it. This means that a stronger trigger is needed to create the same response that a weaker trigger used to create.

Roger Federer, Tiger Woods, Thierry Henry - Gillette advert

This advert creates an association between Roger Federer (left), Thierry Henry (center), Tiger Woods (right) and the Gillette razor. The message that your reptilian brain receives is that by using a Gillette razor you will become like the people who are advertising it (i.e., wealthy, powerful & successful).

A very simple example to demonstrate how you can become desensitized to stimuli in your environment can be seen with horror movies.

If you have never seen a horror movie before, then you are likely to find watching one very scary and frightening. For example, when “The Exorcist” was released in 1973, many people found it so frightening that they would faint and throw up.

But once you get used to seeing horror films, you become desensitized to them and need increasing amounts of horror to scare you. So always take into consideration the intensity of a trigger before judging its potential behavioral influence.

Note: The reptilian brain thinks in images, so pay particular attention to the pictures and videos that you see. However, do not neglect the words you see or hear, as vivid descriptive language can also be used to create images in your mind.

Decision Making and the Emotional Brain

The emotional brain evolved to serve the needs of the reptilian brain by ensuring that you are driven towards pleasure and away from pain.

In this way, the emotional brain allows you to learn from past experiences by associating emotions to a particular memory, thereby helping to counterbalance the repetitive and ritualistic nature of the reptilian brain.

As a result, the emotional brain plays a very big role in influencing your everyday thoughts and behavior.


We attach certain emotions to our memories, and these emotions then influence how we behave.

This is an important point to understand, because most people like to think that the actions they take are carried out as a result of their thoughts, when in reality, the large majority of their actions come as a direct result of their emotions.

Emotional control or no control?

The influence of the emotional brain is most apparent when we do things that we know we shouldn’t do and then later regret doing them. For example, many dieters struggle to stick to their diet because they give in to “temptation” and eat something that they said they would no longer eat.

This occurs primarily for two reasons. The first, is the natural pre-programmed response to food from the reptilian brain which readies the body to receive food. The second, and perhaps the most powerful, is the emotional association (memory) that has been linked to that food by the emotional brain.

If the food is perceived as being particularly tasty, and therefore pleasurable, the emotional brain strengthens the desire for food by activating memories associated with pleasure for that food. This can then result in real physiological bodily responses, such as salivation in the mouth.

woman getting ready to eat cake

The emotional brain strengthens your desire to obtain pleasurable things. Often, it does this by over-powering your thinking logical brain.

Although your conscious thinking brain may be telling you not to eat it because it will make you fat (logical response), somehow you suddenly seem to change your mind and eating the food doesn’t “feel” like such a bad idea anymore. After all, it won’t hurt if you have just a little bit, right? (irrational response)

Before you know it, you have eaten the food you were trying to avoid, and later, when the food is gone (the trigger), your conscious thinking brain (which is now no longer overpowered by the emotional brain) logically analyzes your action leading to feelings of regret and guilt because you did something which you said you didn’t want to do.

woman ate cake

When you start thinking about the negative consequences of your action, your emotional brain causes you to feel bad or guilty about what you’ve done.

In essence, what has happened here, is that the needs and desires of your unconscious reptilian and emotional brains overpowered your conscious thinking brain, leaving you as nothing more than a helpless observer.

Even though it “felt” like a good idea at the time, later on you knew that what you did was wrong and wonder why on earth you did it. This really does beg the question as to how much of our life do we actually control?

If an external trigger, such as food, can cause the reptilian and emotional brains to overpower our conscious brain and irrationally change the way we think about something, then how can we live a rational conscious life doing what we want to do rather than acting in a pre-programmed unconscious manner?

Do Emotions Make You Blind?

love is blind

The emotional brain can strengthen the influence that the reptilian brain has over your behavior. It does this by increasing your desire to obtain pleasurable things such as sex.

Another example of the overpowering effects that the emotional brain can have on the thinking brain, is love. Ever hear the expression “madly in love” or “love is blind”? Well, there is some truth behind these sayings.

Love, lust, a crush or even just physical attractiveness can stimulate reptilian sexual and mating responses. Some of which include the desire to have sex/seek a mate, the desire to own or possess (obsessiveness) and the desire to dominate.

Because sex is so important for keeping our genes “alive” in future generations, the drive for sex is incredibly powerful. This especially true when these desires are amplified by the emotional brain, which links feelings of pleasure and well-being to it.

By doing so, the emotional brain increases your desire to seek out that experience, pursue it and repeat it as many times as possible.

Madly in Love

couple in love

When in love, couples overlook the flaws of their partner by viewing them in a predominately emotional way. This infatuation period typically lasts 2-4 years, after which, rational thinking will dominate.

When two people fall “madly in love”, their irrational unconscious brains dominate their conscious logical brain.

This has a strong influence on how they view each other, often causing them to overlook flaws the logical thinking brain would have noticed, and instead, see their partner as being perfect.

This phase however, is usually short-lived, which is why statistically most divorces tend to occur shortly after the “honeymoon period” is over, that being, 2-4 years after marriage. Love truly is blind when you think about it emotionally.

I hope now you are beginning to understand the importance of your emotional brain, and why acting whilst under the influence of an emotion (thereby bypassing the logical mind) can lead to poor decision-making and actions that you may later regret.

It is important to note that this applies to all emotions. So never make an important decision when you are very happy or very angry, as otherwise you might regret it!

Are we just slaves to our emotions?

If this article has left you feeling a little bit helpless, then don’t worry! The good news is that we have a thinking brain for a reason, which means that you don’t have to be a helpless slave all your life.

Although the thinking brain is strongly influenced by the older brains (especially the emotional brain), it can be trained to enable you to live a more conscious life.

brain exercising

The more you use your thinking brain the stronger it will become, and the less influence your reptilian and emotional brains will have on your behavior.

Strengthening your conscious brain will allow you to do the things you know you should do, and also to make the right decisions that will positively impact your life and that you won’t regret!.

A person who is able to do this, could be said to have developed self-discipline, because they are able to resist their primal and unconscious urges for immediate gratification and seek long-term gratification instead.

Strengthening the Thinking Brain

One of the roles of the neocortex, your thinking brain, is logical reasoning. This involves deciding whether something is a good idea, and then if necessary, coming up with alternative courses of action/explanations.

The neocortex is what you consciously think with, and therefore, what should be driving your behavior after making an evaluation of any incoming information.

light bulb for head

Your thinking brain (neocortex) is what you consciously think with. If you want to control the direction of your life, you therefore need to focus on strengthening this part of your brain.

The trouble, as we have already discussed, is that most people allow themselves to be controlled by their feelings even though they think they are being controlled by their thoughts.

When this occurs and we continuously do things we said we would no longer do, or did not want to do, we strengthen the influence of our emotional unconscious brain and weaken the influence our conscious thinking brain.

As a result, we begin to feel that we lack self-discipline, lack the ability to live consciously and lack the ability to do the things we want to do in life. This can subsequently have adverse effect on a person’s level of self-esteem and self-confidence, possibly even causing them to fall into a depression.

woman handcuffed to doughnut

If you have little control over your thinking brain, you will become a slave to the unconscious desires of your reptilian and emotional brain.

In the following sections you are going to learn some extremely simple (in principle) techniques that you can use to help strengthen your thinking brain.

By learning and applying the following techniques you will become less driven by your emotions, thereby allowing you to make better decisions and choices in life.

1) Postpone pleasurable activities

The first technique to strengthen your conscious mind is to purposefully avoid or postpone the activities which you find pleasurable.

For example, at dinner time rather than eating your favorite food first, eat it last. Instead of eating the junk food that you promised yourself you wouldn’t eat, have something healthier instead.

boy holding chocolate and orange

Every time you resist temptation you strengthen your thinking brain. This makes it easier to resist temptation the next time.

The key is to purposefully avoid giving into the things you find pleasurable, because even though you may think that your behavior was a result of your conscious thought processes, in reality, most of the time it is as a result of emotional responses driven by your emotional brain.

By avoiding the temptation to give into emotional responses, you weaken the effect of the emotional brain and by doing so help to strengthen your thinking brain. But every time that you give into temptation you weaken your thinking brain, thereby making it harder to resist temptation the next time.

This does not mean that you should avoid experiencing anything pleasurable in life, but rather to not become a “pleasure junkie” where you always seek pleasure and always avoid pain.

2) Consciously use pleasure and pain

The second technique involves the use of pleasure and pain to influence your behavior.

Since the emotional brain causes us to seek pleasure and avoid pain, this is something that you can consciously use to your advantage rather than having it subconsciously work against you.


When you want to motivate your behavior towards something, you can use the prospect of some future pleasure to help you get through a period of pain or discomfort.

woman staring out window

Motivate yourself to overcome periods of discomfort by thinking about the future benefits you will receive.

For example, you are at school and you would prefer to go out and party every night, but at the same time you know that you have a lot of work to do. Thinking about the benefits of studying (i.e. the good grades that you will get) can be used to motivate you to stay in and work.

However, it is important to remember that in order for this technique to work it must be a pleasure that you strongly desire and can vividly imagine, so that it creates some kind of emotion within you.


Some people respond better to the prospect of pain, so if using pleasure doesn’t work for you, then try using pain. This can be used in exactly the same way as pleasure to influence your behavior, only in this case, you are moving away from pain as opposed to towards pleasure.

monkey monster

If you strongly desire to avoid something negative, you can use that desire to motivate your behavior towards a beneficial direction.

So using the same example as given above, if you don’t stay in and do your school work then you will do badly at school, disappoint your parents and end up in a job you hate.

As with pleasure, this pain should be something that you really want to avoid. The stronger you can make this pain, the more emotion you will attach to it and the more motivated you will be to avoid it.

3) Delay your actions

One technique that can be used to strengthen your thinking brain is to delay an action which you are intending to take.

Often, when we make decisions, we do so immediately or impulsively driven by our “emotional state of mind”. However, when we do so, we bypass our thinking logical mind thereby leading to poor decision-making and actions we may later regret.

cat looking at mouse

However tempting it may be, try to overcome the natural tendency for immediate gratification by delaying your actions. Over time, this will help you to develop self-discipline and a long-term time perspective.

To use this technique, you must resist the urge to immediately act on your impulses and only make your decision after some period of time in which you are able to detach yourself from any emotions that you are feeling.

In others words, this technique means not making important decisions when you are very happy, or very sad, as under the influence of these emotions, you are predominantly driven by your irrational unconscious brains rather than your logical rational conscious thinking brain.

Learning from Lincoln

I once read a book about Abraham Lincoln and how he used to use the very same technique that was just described to control his anger.

When Lincoln would get angry with someone because of something they may have said or done to offend him, he would write them a letter venting his anger out on paper.

However, rather than mailing the letter immediately, Lincoln would keep the letter in a draw and then look at it in a few days or weeks after his anger had passed.

When he did look at his letter, most of the time he realized that things weren’t as bad as he had initially thought, and in most cases, would end up throwing the letter away.

Abraham Lincoln

Abraham Lincoln controlled his anger by writing angry letters that he would never post.

If we analyze Lincoln’s actions, we can see that his anger was a result of his reptilian and emotional brains.

Lincoln’s reptilian brain responded with anger causing Lincoln to want to fight back and display his dominance, whilst his emotional brain amplified these desires by making him feel the emotions associated with anger. By writing a letter, Lincoln satisfied the needs of both these brains by venting his anger out on paper.

Later, after a period of days or weeks when Lincoln reviewed the letter (and his anger had subsided), he was then able to use his thinking logical thinking brain to critically analyze what he had written. This then allowed him to make a rational decision as to whether or not the letter should be mailed.

By delaying his actions, Lincoln ultimately satisfied the desires of all three brains. But he allowed his conscious thinking brain to make the final decision, rather than reacting impulsively and being a slave to his reptilian and emotional brains.

4) Think of a reason

Not all situations will give you the luxury of time to control how you react to something and the subsequent decisions you make. Road rage is a good example of this.

In situations such as road rage, where you repeatedly and predictably react a certain way, you can still use the previous technique by involving your thinking brain.

Whenever you feel yourself getting angry because of another road user, try to think about the reasons why they may have acted that way. Come up with an explanation for their behavior, and understand that their actions were not personally directed at you as an individual.

angry face and fist

As the reptilian brain can become automatically activated when you feel threatened, you can reduce the influence that it has over you by making that threat seem less threatening.

It actually doesn’t matter what reason you use, or how you justify a person’s behavior. The key is to involve your thinking brain, rather than just responding solely with your reptilian brain.

Although this may take some time before you can completely eliminate your road rage (or any other type of anger), by involving your thinking brain you will eventually allow it to become the dominant brain, thereby allowing you to respond in calmer and more relaxed manner.

Unfortunately, this technique can only be used in situations that happen more than once or result in the same/similar patterns of behaviour, and when you are able to use your emotional brain to learn from that experience.

For random one time events, you are still likely to react in a pre-programmed reptilian manner. Although, it should be noted that if you have been training your thinking brain, then over time, your anger will lessen to the point where only extreme high intensity situations cause you to revert back to your former self.

5) Journal your thoughts

Journaling is perhaps the simplest of all the techniques described. It is easy to do, and will only take a few minutes of your time.

Journaling involves writing down your thoughts on paper (or a computer), and is just like keeping a diary. At the end of the day you write down whatever is on your mind, anything interesting you did and what you would like to do better in the future.

woman writing

Journaling can be a powerful way to help you identify and understand the things which automatically activate reptilian and emotional brain responses. This in turn, allows you to gain more conscious control over them.

By doing this exercise everyday you strengthen your logical thinking brain, by causing it to think about your life and your actions.

Once a week you should review what you have written, as this will allow you to see what you are doing right and what you could improve. It will also help you to better understand yourself and to focus on your long-term goals.

Decisions, Personality and the Triune Brain

Each of our three brains evolved for a specific purpose. Our reptilian brain is concerned with physical survival, our emotional brain with our emotional responses and our thinking brain with decision-making and logical thought.

However, despite having three brains in the same skull, each brain does not communicate well with each other and our older brains tend to dominate our newer brains.

triune brain

Some psychologists estimate that around 95% of our behavior occurs automatically. This means that your thinking brain only controls about 5% of your life.

Unfortunately, this can result in many people living unconscious lives, acting out preprogrammed behaviors in response to a variety of environmental triggers. If these triggers are skillfully used, as they often are in the media and advertising, they can influence your behavior and cause you to act in a predictable way.

For example, fear is often used by governments to get the population to go along with plans or agendas. By using fear the reptilian brain is activated, and one of its pre-programmed behavioral responses when confronted with a threat is to dominate or submit to it.

As a result, fear can be quite effectively used to encourage the population to “submit” to new proposals and/or “dominate” the enemy.

Are you under mind control?

The Triune Brain Model is an extremely interesting model of the brain, and certainly does help to explain a lot about human behavior. However, it is also a model that raises a lot of questions and concerns.

For example, if each new brain evolved to serve the needs of the older brain then what does this mean for the neocortex, our thinking brain?

We like to think that our thoughts and actions are a result of what we want to do, but as has previously been discussed, a lot of our behaviors are not a direct result of our conscious thoughts but rather as a result of our feelings, our “emotional state of mind”.

woman three sides of face

There are two sides to every story, but when it comes to your brain, there are three.

The fact that the emotional brain can so easily overpower our thinking brain, and in some cases (such as during fear) completely control it, is very worrying.

It’s even more worrying when you find out that the media and advertisers deliberately use triggers that result in reptilian and emotional brain responses, thereby bypassing your logical mind and rational decision-making process.

This certainly begs the question as to how much of our actions, and how much of our thoughts, are truly our own? And are we just helpless observers acting out pre-programmed behaviors in response to these triggers?

These are serious questions, which don’t seem so far-fetched when we look at the Triune Brain Model.

The evolution of the thinking brain

I do believe that the neocortex, our thinking brain, evolved for a reason. That being, to give us the ability to live a conscious life and be the master of our unconscious brains, not a slave to them.

The trouble is, many people still tend to think of the brain as one large single organ, and therefore, do not take into consideration the powerful influence that the reptilian and emotional brains can have on their behavior.

As a result, a large percentage of the population are driven by their emotional desires, which they mistakenly interpret as their own original thoughts.

reptilian alien

By thinking of the brain as a single organ many people overlook the reptile inside of them.

By becoming aware of these influences, by becoming conscious of them, we can use the neocortex for what it was meant for. Logically and rationally making sense of our reptilian and emotional brain messages.

Only by consciously becoming conscious will you be able to live a conscious life, and this is why it is so important to strengthen your thinking brain and learn to control your emotional and primal urges and impulses.

Triune Brain Personalities

One of the most important things that I have learned from the Triune Brain Model, is that human behavior can drastically change depending on what trigger a person is exposed to, and therefore, what brain they are reacting with.

This means that your personality, and the personalities of the people around you, is likely to change depending on the different influencing factors in your environment.

contents of mind

The type of personality that you display in a given situation largely depends on how the stimuli in your environment affect each of your three brains.

Being aware of this information can help you to interact more effectively with other people, and also, enhance the quality of the relationships that you have with friends and co-workers.

Lets look briefly at some of these different “brain personalities” now.

1) Reptilian Anger

woman biting finger with fierce written on it.

When responding in a reptilian way, a person will try to dominate you and will not be very responsive to appeals based on logic or reason.

A person who is made to feel angry, threatened, worried or stressful is likely to react in a predominantly reptilian way. They may become irritable, display anger, shout, spout verbal abuse or even become physically violent, reacting just like a wild animal defending its territory.

Trying to reason with this frame of mind will be extremely difficult, as their irrational reptilian and emotional brains will likely disregard anything that you have to say unless you are agreeing with them, and being submissive.

In fact, trying to reason with an angry person may only serve to enrage them further, as the reptilian brain may perceive your attempts to reason with them as a threat. This in turn may activate a behavioral response from your reptilian brain, and before you know it, you are in a “shouting match”.

When dealing with angry people, it is best to let them “cool down” and wait for their thinking logical brain to come back online. Only then should you approach them and try to reason with them.

2) Emotional Love

love is blind

When responding in an emotional way, a person can do something without thinking about the long-term consequences of their actions. Even if at the time they know that what they are doing is wrong/bad.

A person who falls in love or is infatuated with someone, is likely to see that person as being perfect. As if they could do no wrong.

This can cause them to overlook faults a person may have, or come up with irrational explanations/excuses for them. Possibly even causing them to stay in a relationship that is not healthy for them, such as an abusive relationship.

If someone is infatuated with you, really likes or admires you, they can also be easily persuaded and will be very forgiving of any mistakes you make. In the wrong hands, this power can be seriously abused.

3) Neocortical Reasoning

man thinking

Neocortical reasoning is the ideal state of mind to be in. It results in rational decisions that lead to the best future outcome.

A person who is driven predominantly by their thinking brain will always put their emotions aside and think about things rationally.

Even though they may disagree with what you are saying, if they can see that it makes sense, they will go along with it because it is the best option available. This is what we should all be aiming for, as emotions tend only to cloud your judgement.

However, emotions should not be disregarded entirely, as they are often used for determining what is right or wrong in a given situation. Emotions are therefore important for maintaining your moral standards.

Concluding Remarks


Watch out for the effects that emotions have on you, and never make an important decision when you are very angry or very happy. Otherwise, your decision-making will be impaired and may result in you making bad choices that you later regret.

Be aware of the triggers around you, especially those in the media and advertising. If you suddenly find yourself wanting to buy something, do something or behave in a certain way, question yourself as to why you are feeling this way. Detach yourself from the trigger, and rationally think about the best course of action to take from an emotionally neutral point of view.

And lastly, remember that people are not always as they appear to be. They can be angry (reptilian brain), emotional (emotional brain) and logical (thinking brain) depending on the triggers that they are exposed to.

Exposure to a trigger can also completely change a person’s personality, turning them into a different person from the person who you thought you knew.

Be aware of this when dealing with people and try to determine what brain they are reacting with, as this will allow you to respond in the best possible way.


The Human Brain: How We Decide

Overcoming the Reptile Brain

Reviewed – 1st April 2016

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