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  • Writer's pictureMcKinley

Unlearning the Triune (3-part) Model of the Brain - It's a Myth?!

"Change is the end result of all true learning." - Leo Buscaglia

I first learned of the triune, or three-part, model of the brain when researching Adverse Childhood Experiences and Resilience which became the original Rise to Resilience presentation.

Since then, I encountered the triune brain model regularly: Conscious Discipline uses it as a foundational concept. Dr. Dan Siegel's Hand Model of the Brain and the "flipping your lid" analogy. And in Community Resilience Initiative's training series, it was also a core component.

About two years ago, someone on a Facebook post attempted to correct my misbelief in the triune model. I dismissed it. Twice in the last year, a close friend shared with me evidence of the model being debunked, and I dismissed that too. It was when I received an email from Community Resilience Initiative (CRI) explaining their shift away from the triune brain model and towards the work of Dr. Lisa Feldman Barrett that I met my cognitive dissonance with curiosity. Dr. Feldman Barrett's work was that which my friend had tried to introduce me in recent months.

When I read CRI's email, I was ready to integrate this new (un)learning. Or at least start exploring more, anyway. Rather than allowing my confirmation bias to direct my exploration of the triune model being a myth, I led with my desire to learn. I am not writing this post to detail what several articles in the next paragraph do, but rather to model the learning process I have had over the last two months. I invite you to explore the coming links to inform your own learning, too.

I dove into Dr. Feldman Barrett's 7 and 1/2 Lessons About the Brain and really needed no more convincing. I didn't want to take "one" neuroscientist's word for it though, since I felt like that was what got me so attached to the triune brain model (it was initiated by just one person's theory, after all). So I looked some more and found reinforcement from sources such Your Brain is Not An Onion with a Tiny Lizard Inside and Rethinking the Reptilian Brain. As I reopened tabs and revisited search history to write this post, I also discovered an article from earlier this month by Dr. Feldman Barrett on Nautilus, unpacking three myths about the brain.

I had integrated the triune brain model into much of the work with caregivers and educators. It felt irresponsible to continue to perpetuate this myth once I learned that it had been long-debunked. So what to do instead? First, I sought advice on PACEs Connection. I considered what other aspects of neuroscience I could incorporate: NICABM's Window of Tolerance, infographics and media from the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University, a variety of content from Trauma Geek and the Therapist Neurodiversity Collective, and finally a 3D Model of the Brain to support focusing on the functions of different parts of the brain.

While it's been uncomfortable to navigate the cognitive dissonance that (un)learning initiated, I am excited to be better informed than I was before and more prepared to navigate supporting children, their families, and educators.

Have you (un)learned something recently that challenged you?

A black background with a painted rock. The background of the rock is painted a light blue and has a tree facing horizontally behind the word Learning in black paint.

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