The triune brain

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In order to function, the brain requires the different parts of itself to cooperate seamlessly. To simplify, we can say we have a survival brain, an emotional brain and a logical brain (MacLean, 1985).

The survival brain is in control of functions like reflexes, breathing, heartbeat, blood pressure and body temperature. The emotional brain is central to emotional states like anger and fear, and controls memory functions and stress hormones. The logical brain provides us with language, awareness, the ability to reason and consciously controlled motor functions, among other things (Stien & Kendall, 2004).

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Two motivational systems are in control of our actions

The survival system (often called the alarm system) makes sure one is safe and out of harm’s way.

The exploration system is characterized by curiosity and stimulates exploration, discovery and learning. The systems can’t be “on” at the same time, and the survival system always overrides the exploration system. Prior life experiences strongly affect how the systems cooperate with each other. When children have experienced something hurtful their survival system will, most of the time, be active, and the exploration system inactive. The children are occupied with scanning their surroundings for danger, which hinders their ability to learn. Even though we adults know the classroom is safe, the brains of these children are preparing for danger. To change this, the children need constant safe experiences in the classroom, until their brain has enough of them to realize it is, in fact, safe.

The teacher’s understanding, predictability and perseverance can help the children’s brain to increasingly activate the exploration system. Doing this will improve the children’s learning ability, and the children get to experience the good of the world (Ringereide og Thorkildsen, 2019).


Kjersti Draugedalen has worked as a primary school teacher for over 10 years in Uganda, Groruddalen and Re municipality. She has further education in pedagogical guidance and sexual assault in the perspective of a lifespan. She is currently working on a public Ph.D. titled: “The opportunity teachers have to discover and implement measures for children and young people displaying harmful sexual behaviour in primary school”. Draugedalen is a proponent of inclusivity in schools, and especially the important role a teacher plays when meeting vulnerable children.