Some science…

Can we understand enough to manage our brain?

Consider some specific areas

If we consider the brain as a machine that can function in different ways, a valid question could be ‘can we develop the ability or skill to manage our brain, and make it work for us in the way that we want it to, all of the time?’ In other words, ‘be the person we want to be, have the emotions we want to have and always act in the way that we want to act?’

As a starting point to try and answer this question we will look at an example of how the brain deals with some input. This may help to understand how the Chimp Model developed.

Ch Model diagram

 

 

1.  The amygdala (a chief emotional centre in the limbic area or limbic system)

2.  The orbito-frontal cortex (a smaller area on the outer edge of the frontal lobe)

3.  The uncinate fasciculus (the pathway joining the amygdala to the orbito-frontal cortex)

4.  The dorso-lateral pre-frontal cortex (part of the frontal lobe)

5.  The ventro-medial pre-frontal cortex (this is the area encircling pathway number 3)

6.  The cingulate gyrus (this is a part of the limbic area).

 

 

The diagram shows six specific numbered areas of the brain. Research indicates that each one has a specific role to play and most have much more than one role to play. For example, the amygdala has as many as seventeen different nuclei each with its own specific role, most of which are based on emotional responses.  The cingulate cortex (or gyrus) is involved in memory formation, learning and decision-making.

To keep it simple and make it understandable we will consider just one role for each numbered area, even though some areas contribute to the same role.

Here are the selected individual roles for each area:

  1. The amygdala is a fast acting defence mechanism that does not think but responds quickly
  2. The orbito-frontal cortex acts by trying to control impulses and uses moral judgements to keep us within social norms.
  3. The uncinate fasciculus is a moral guide providing us with a conscience and guilt
  4. The dorso-lateral pre-frontal cortex works analytically thinking with logic
  5. The ventro-medial pre-frontal cortex considers the feelings of others and empathises
  6. The cingulate cortex is involved in decision-making influenced by past experience

There are two different thinking areas within the brain

It is in the outer edge of the brain, known as the cortex, where thinking takes place, where we put into good use our ‘grey matter’.  If the outer edge had just one area for thinking we wouldn’t have a problem.  However, there are at least two thinking and interpreting areas.  The dorso-lateral edge is interpreting in a rational logical way.  The orbito-frontal cortex is interpreting by impression, feelings and emotions and has direct links to the amygdala.  So this second way of thinking has ‘joined’ forces with the strongest emotional centre within the brain, the amygdala.  What we now have in effect are two interpreting brains.  One of them is virtually automatic and thinks for us without our input and is based on emotion.  The other is under our control and allows us to think, as we want to.  The trouble is that these two ’brains’ do not think the same way and they do not typically agree on the interpretation of what is going on.  We have a potential ‘battle’ within our head going on all the time!

Is there an easy way to make sense of this and to manage the situation to our advantage?  The Chimp Model offers a simplified way of understanding our two thinking brains and how we can learn to use them to the best of our ability.  A model is not pure scientific fact or a hypothesis.  It is just a simple representation to aid understanding and help us to use the science.  It may also help us to make sense of how we have been in the past, how we are now, and how we can manage ourselves better in the future.

In our model, the inner Chimp is the emotional team within the brain that thinks and acts for us without our permission.  The logical team is the real person, it is you; rational, compassionate and humane, and is the Human within.  The memory banks for reference are the Computer.