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Little did we realize when we started studying compassion that we would also have to learn about neuroscience! We may THINK we are in control but our three-in-one brain has a different idea. Or is that a different instinct? A different feeling? (The cartoon, by Will McPhail, is from The New Yorker.)

INSTINCT
Protoreptilian formation (including basal ganglia, mid-brain, and brainstem)
Lizard Brain — that part of the brain that senses danger, where instincts and gut feelings originate; primal thoughts; subconscious or involuntary processes. Examples are:

  • Fight, Flight or Freeze – When threatened, should I fight, should I try to escape, or should I just stand perfectly still and hope it doesn’t see me?
  • Food – Is it edible? Is it ripe? Is it poisonous?
  • Overall Survival – Breathing, heart beat, body growth and maintenance etc.

EMOTION
Paleomammalian formation (including the amygdala, hippocampus, hypothalamus and other structures in the so called limbic system):
Innate emotional and motivational systems shape behavioral responses to incoming stimuli based on instincts and past experience; mediates the social emotions, playfulness, and maternal nurturing.

INTELLECT
Neomammalian formation (neocortex):
Declarative Knowledge about the world derived especially from sight, sound and touch.

This video might make it clearer:

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