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Iguana Eye

Look Out! The “Reptilian Brain” Is Still Here!

Many psychology students are subjected to this day to an exploded pop neuroscience myth endorsed by celebrity scientist Carl Sagan

Do we have a three-part brain — reptilian, mammalian, and human? Curiously, psychology textbooks teach us that we do and neuroscience studies teach us that we don’t. Who to believe? And how did that happen anyway? In the 1960s, Yale University physiologist and psychiatrist Paul D. MacLean (1913–2007) offered the triune brain theory. On that view, the reptilian brain (brain stem) controls things like movement and breathing; the mammalian brain controls emotion (limbic system); and the human cerebral cortex controls language and reasoning (neocortex). That might have been just another theory except that it was widely promoted by celebrity astronomer Carl Sagan (1934–1996) in his book, The Dragons of Eden (Random House, 1977). Praised in The Atlantic as “a rational, Read More ›