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The monkey is highly intelligent and is a close relative of the human. The monkey is very curious and likes to learn new things. Our prefrontal cortex is like the monkey – it is the part of the brain that is good at communication, problem solving, regulating, creating and learning. We can call the prefrontal cortex our ‘monkey brain’.
The crocodile is a reptile and is one of the planet’s oldest living creatures at around 200 million years old. The crocodile behaves in a similar way to our internal alarm system in the brain – the amygdala. The amygdala prepares the body to fight, flight or freeze. This is the oldest part of our brain – reptiles also have this part of the brain in their brains. Our amygdala or ‘crocodile brain’ works hard to keep us safe and reacts to anything we think might make us unsafe – sometimes it reacts incorrectly.
The elephant has a very long memory – ‘elephants never forget’. The elephant is a good way to describe our hippocampus which is where all of our memories are stored. The hippocampus is where we remember smells, sounds, numbers and words as well as events and experiences we have had. It stores both good and bad memories. The hippocampus is called our ‘elephant brain’. The elephant brain does not respond well to stress so it needs the crocodile brain to be nice and calm to be able to take in information.
So, why are we learning about the brain and learning how to relax?
We receive information through our senses which is then processed by the monkey brain (prefrontal cortex) which then communicates with the elephant and crocodile brains depending on the information that it receives. If the crocodile brain thinks you are in danger it will take over and not allow the elephant or monkey brain to do their jobs. This is our fight, flight or freeze response and it is designed to keep you safe. Sometimes the crocodile brain reacts because there is real danger but sometimes it reacts because of the experiences we have had and at these times fight, flight or freeze is not the way to react. Through relaxation and deep breathing we can calm the crocodile brain and get it to stop and ask the monkey brain the best way to respond. Relaxing also allows the elephant brain to remind the crocodile brain of how we responded to a similar situation in the past. By learning how to relax, we can help our crocodile brain to communicate with our monkey and elephant brains and make sure we make the right choices to allow us to learn information and create and store new memories.
Click here to read more about Learning Enhancement at Heriot’s.