What is the red brain?

A throwback to an earlier age

The red brain is the shadow of our childhood mind.

As we grow, subjected to controlled motivation, we build up a network of automated ways to behave based on memories which link some external event to some strong, often unpleasant, internal sensation.  We broke a window and a parent is shouting at us, we feel bad.  We are excited by a new pair of shoes and someone laughs nastily at them.  Bit by bit we build up a lattice of memories that are recalled if something similar occurs again.  With many similar memories we can experience a cascade of emotions as each memory is pulled up.

When we leave the childhood mind behind and move into the adult mind, we have choice around how we behave.  We can decide how to respond, we no longer need to rely on automated responses.

However, this latticework of memories has not disappeared. Something can occur which triggers a cascade of memories and we return, literally, back into the childhood mind and behave as it does when threatened – self-focused, defensive, emotional.


Most of us experience this.  There are three things we can do.  First, learn how to respond when the red brain takes over so that we can get back to normal as soon as possible.  Second, learn how to defuse the memories so that they can no longer lead to us losing control.  Third, dismantle the lattice itself, so that we operate all the time in our adult mind, the blue brain.

At the same time, we want to avoid bringing up another generation with the syndrome that we are subject to.  Luckily, the practices that help us to remove our own red brain are also those that discourage its development in others.

Avoid the use of controlled motivation (reward and punishment) and practice encounter to build the self-control and self-determination that our children need for the 21st century.

John Corrigan is an expert in helping individuals to bring their whole of mind to their daily life and increase their effectiveness and the effectiveness of those around them. This expertise scales from the individual to the team to the organisation. At the core of this work is the practice of encounter.  Earlier blogs can be found here.

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John Corrigan