The Triune Brain Theory and Its Impact on Emotional Regulation

Triune Brain Explained

The triune brain model, first proposed by neuroscientist Paul D. MacLean in the 1960s, suggests that the human brain consists of three distinct evolutionary layers, each with its own functions. This model has important implications for our understanding of mental health, as each layer of the brain can be linked to specific emotional and behavioral patterns.

Understanding the triune brain model can help us to better understand our own emotions and behaviors, as well as those of others. For example, if we are experiencing strong feelings of fear or anger, we may be able to recognize that these emotions are coming from our reptilian brain, and take steps to calm ourselves down and respond in a more rational and constructive way. Similarly, if we are struggling with feelings of sadness or anxiety, we may be able to recognize that these emotions are coming from disruptions in our limbic system, and seek out strategies to improve our emotional regulation and coping skills.

The triune brain model also has important implications for mental health treatment. For example, therapies like cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) can help to regulate the neocortex and promote more adaptive coping strategies. Meanwhile, therapies like Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) and Somatic Experiencing (SE) can help to process traumatic memories and restore balance to the limbic system.

Reptilian Brain

The first and most primitive layer of the brain is known as the reptilian brain. This part of the brain controls basic survival functions such as breathing, heart rate, and body temperature. It is also responsible for instinctive behaviors like aggression, territoriality, and dominance.

When this part of the brain is activated, we may experience feelings of fear or anger, and may be more likely to respond to threats with aggression or avoidance.




Limbic Brain

The second layer of the brain is the limbic system, also known as the mammalian brain. This part of the brain is responsible for processing emotions and memories, and is involved in the formation of social bonds and attachments.

When the limbic system is activated, we may experience feelings of pleasure, joy, or love, as well as anxiety, depression, or trauma. This part of the brain is particularly important for mental health, as disruptions in its functioning can lead to a range of emotional and behavioral problems.

Human Brain

The third and last layer of the brain to develop is the neocortex, or the human brain. This part of the brain is responsible for advanced cognitive functions like language, abstract reasoning, and self-awareness. It is also involved in regulating emotions and decision-making processes.

When the neocortex is activated, we may experience feelings of curiosity, creativity, or empathy, and may be better able to cope with stress and adversity.

The human brain doesn’t fully develop until your mid 20’s, with the pre-frontal cortex, an area associated with decision making, task management, and other executive functioning, as the last portion to age. 

To wrap it up, the triune brain model provides a useful framework for understanding the complex interplay between our biology, emotions, and behaviors. By recognizing the different functions of each layer of the brain, we can develop a more nuanced understanding of our own mental health, and seek out the most effective treatments and coping strategies.

This is just one of the many educational topics that may be discussed and further explored in our Individual Coaching sessions which utilize a combination of psychoeducation, therapeutic techniques and modalities, and mindfulness practice to help stroke, older adults, and caregivers live a happier and healthier live. Learn more about our Virtual Services by clicking here!