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Home / Neuroscience / Evolution of the Brain. Part 2. Brain layers functions.

Evolution of the Brain. Part 2. Brain layers functions.

In the previous article we talked a little bit about the three brain layers.
So, what do the three brain layers do?

The first brain (brain stem) is the seat of autonomic or automatic response, as well as the seat of habits. It connects us to our external world through our skin, our pores, and our nerves. It controls what impulses get recognized and passed along to the two higher levels. This brain learns through imitation, avoidance, and repetition until something becomes habitual. Information usually enters at this point without our conscious awareness. We can make much of this information conscious and use it to our benefit, as biofeedback and hypnosis have shown us.

Brain layers 2

The emotional brain (limbic system) helps us know what things to approach and what to avoid by guiding our preferences. As we move through life and have more experiences, we have stronger intuitions, hunches, and gut reactions because more things are stored in the limbic warehouse. We have “learned” from experience. Intuition is emotional learning gained over many years; a 14 year old has little intuition because he or she has not experienced enough life to make connections between experiences. As we mature, we accumulate more reliable emotional data that can offer us valuable clues and guide our behavior, providing we become aware of its existence and learn how to interpret it. Unfortunately, many adults have been taught to ignore this type of information.

The rational brain (neocortex) assists us with functions related to thinking and language: planning, questioning, making decisions, solving problems, and generating new ideas. This layer is connected to the emotional brain with millions of connections, allowing the emotional and the thinking brains to influence one another in a myriad of ways and providing rich data on which to draw conclusions and initiate action.

Our emotions have helped us immeasurably over the course of human evolution. Emotional responses are milliseconds faster than cognitive (thinking) responses; the lightning-fast reactions that bypass the rational brain centers were often survival responses for our distant ancestors. The limbic brain sends us the warning of a crisis before the rational brain can even process the incoming signal: the body has been alerted and is ready to act on our behalf.

The emotional brain was conserved for a purpose. Today, physical survival is less of a threat than it was to primitive man, but data from the emotional brain still gives us important clues to our surroundings and the actions we need to take. Ignoring this data on purpose or because we aren’t aware of it leaves us with only partial information.

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