Triune brain: three brains, one person

Triune brain: three brains, one person

Tribal brain theory is a concept developed by neuroscientist Paul MacLean to refer to three or three cognizable specialized brains in humans. These parts develop at different points in the evolutionary cycle, which is why they are said to be created from the bottom up. In fact, the oldest and therefore primitive part of the brain develops in the uterus, while the emotional brain is organized during the first 6 years of life and the prefrontal cortex develops last.

Advanced physics and technology converted neuroscience into one of the most popular areas of research and provided insights into tribal brain function (three types of brains in one). In following, we will describe the differences and characteristics of each of these parts.

"The triune brain refers to the three parts or specialized brains of the human being."

The reptilian brain

The reptilian brain is known as the old animal brain. It is located at the level of the brain stem, that is to say where the spinal cord accesses the skull. It is the most primitive part of the human being and begins to develop within the womb itself. This part has an influence on all that newborns can do (breathe, eat, sleep, wake up, cry, urinate, do their needs …).

The brainstem, just like the hypothalamus, controls the energy levels of the body, a fact known as homeostasis. This term refers to the maintenance of internal balance. The functions that the reptilian brain controls are fundamental. However, their importance is often forgotten or put aside when we think of the most advanced functions of our mind, such as abstract thinking.

Many psychological problems are related to difficulties with these basic functions maintained by the reptilian brain. For example, in any traumatic treatment, this must be taken into account, or the whole body may be imbalanced.

The emotional brain (or palaeomammalian)

The emotional brain associated with the limbic area is just above the reptilian brain, in the center of the central nervous system. It begins to develop at the birth of the baby. Depending on the child's experience, genetic makeup and innate temperament, this emotional brain or limbic system is defined.

Some authors call the emotional brain the whole formed by the reptilian brain and the limbic system. It is the center of emotions, the monitor of danger, the judge of well-being, the referee of survival …

Intense emotions activate the limbic system, concretely in the area of ​​the amygdala. The amygdala is responsible for informing us of the dangers (center of fear) and to start certain answers:

  • It causes the cascade of stress hormones
  • It causes nerve impulses
  • She raises the heart rate
  • It increases oxygen consumption
  • She prepares the body to fight or escape

Gray demonstrated in his studies with animals that the lower the level of serotonin, the greater the hyperactivity to stressful stimuli and vice versa. For example, in male monkeys, there was a real importance of the hierarchical position in terms of dominance which has an influence on serotonin levels.

Some people who have experienced traumatic situations register the threat, but their conscious mind continues to act as if nothing has happened. Although the mind is able to learn to ignore the messages of the emotional brain, the body's warning signals do not stop and the emotional brain continues to function.

The two parts of the triunic brain (reptilian and emotional) evolutionarily the oldest are responsible for recording experiences, manage our physiology and identification (comfort, security, threat, hunger, fatigue, desire, desire, activation, pleasure, pain …).

The rational brain (or neomammalian)

The youngest part of our triune brain is the rational brain, also known as the neocortex. It's the one that sets us apart from the rest of the animals. It contains the prefrontal cortex responsible for planning, anticipation, the perception of time and context, the inhibition of inappropriate actions, empathic understanding …

Often, the rational brain can only release the emotional brain through knowledge and understanding of what has happened. For example, in the case of trauma.For many people, it is easier to tell what has been done to them than to realize, feel and put words on the reality of their internal experience.

The frontal lobes are part of the rational brain and balance the boundary between impulses and acceptable behavior in a given situation. Proper operation of the frontal lobes is crucial for the following functions:

  • Maintain harmonious relationships with humans
  • Avoid doing things that will force us to engage or hurt others
  • Regulate our impulses : hungry, sex, anger

In reality, the rational brain occupies only 30% of the cranial space and deals mainly with the outside world. Its main functions are the understanding of the operations, the achievement of the objectives, the time management, the sequencing of the actions … In comparison with the emotional brain, the cellular and biochemical organization of the neocortex of the rational brain is more complex.

"Before the appearance of the brain, there was no color or sound in the universe, there were no flavors and aromas and probably few sensations and no feelings or emotions." Before the brains the universe did not know about pain and anxiety either. "

-Roger Sperry-

Bibliographical references

Van der Kolk, B.A. (1994). The body keeps the score: Memory and the evolving psychobiology of posttraumatic stress. Harvard review of psychiatry, 1(5), 253-265.

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