Why I don’t have a lizard brain – why male scientists should talk to their wives

In the 1960’s neuroscientist Paul Maclean developed a theory of the brain that proposed a layered development over the course of evolution from a reptilian base to mammalian ‘midbrain’ and the apex being the ‘human’ neo-cortex.  This model is no longer used much by scientists in the field but it remains popular in the lay literature.  I have always disliked this model initially because it suggested that our brains were  fragmented rather an integrated design.  It also seems to imply that the emotional mid-brain response were somehow sub-human – not a model I wanted to share with my lover.


What I think he got right is that the brain is a triune structure with clearly defined but separate structures.  Maybe as a man he failed to consult with his wife – who could have pointed out the 3 distinct stages of  child development which more closely mirror the brain divisions. A much more useful model would be what I call the Family Brain model which sees the brain comprised of Baby, Child and Adult components.

This model has some immediate advantages in terms of the way we deal with our partners low brain responses – if we are thinking, “Uh-oh lizard brain alert,” we are likely to be repelled or attacking.  However if we remind ourselves that this is their child or baby brain on high alert we are more likely to be both warmer and open towards our partner and consequently more effective in engaging them.

In the next three posts I plan to outline the structures and feature so of these  brains and how they interact to shape our behaviour and that of those we love – and how this integrated model makes it possible to heal our childhood issues and live more passionate, vital and connected lives.

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