YOUR LIFE ON BRAINWISE: PART 2 By Jane Wilson- Parent Engagement Specialist

The key to fewer problems in life? Use your Wizard Brain over Your Lizard Brain.

In order to understand why we sometimes act with our emotions rather than respond rationally, we have to understand our brain’s connection to our emotions and thinking.

Just like thoughts, emotions are centered around the brain. Our five senses (taste, touch, sight, smell and sound) act as the body’s defense system and send signals to the brain to protect it from harm.

When your senses send a signal to the brain, it sends it to the thalamus. The thalamus acts as the relay center and sends urgent messages from your senses to the limbic system, triggering survival responses.

The limbic system is located just below the thalamus. There are two sections of the limbic system: the hypothalamus and the amygdala. The hypothalamus is your “fight, flight or freeze” instinct. Even reptiles have this survival response so that is why BrainWise calls the limbic system the Lizard Brain. The amygdala is the source of emotions.

Everyone is born with the Lizard Brain’s survival system. When you touch a hot flame, your hand pulls back automatically. When a siren goes off, you seek safety. There is no stop and think time about the warning signal – you just react. Of course, this response is key to survival and was essential a thousand years ago when society was less civilized.

In today’s world, we rarely encounter life-threatening events, but our Lizard Brain has not changed. It is still interpreting all intense emotions as threats, which triggers numerous “fight or flight” responses in your body every day.

Everyone is born with their senses hardwired to send signals to the thalamus and on to the Lizard Brain. No one is born with the ability to analyze our senses and intense emotions or analyze whether reacting impulsively is a good response.

Analysis occurs in another part of the brain – the prefrontal cortex. BrainWise refers to the prefrontal cortex as our Wizard Brain.

Ultimately, people who experience fewer problems have been able to use thinking skills to bypass Lizard Brain reactions. Stay tuned next month to learn how.

For more information on Engaging Families and the BrainWise program, email

Melissa Lovato