In the next blog of this series, the Get My Grades Team is going to take a look at what the ‘Chimp Brain’ is and how it affects us.

What do we mean by ‘The Chimp Brain’

All animals need to survive and reproduce; exactly how they make sure they do this is can vary slightly, but between similar organisms it is essentially the same. We call this part the ‘Chimp Brain’ because it is more or less the same as its equivalent in most other animals. So what does it do?

The Chimp Brain is responsible for your feelings and they are powerful motivators to ensure that you do (or don’t do) certain things that are more likely to lead to your survival and reproductive success. A word of warning here; we don’t want you to believe that real chimps always act like this – primates such as chimps are very clever and can show many human-like traits. However, what we are explaining is a model and we just want you to understand that these aspects of brain function are more primitive and animal-like. The Chimp brain is there to protect you. To do this it has the following traits:

  • It is very strong! Emotions and feelings are difficult (but not impossible) to ignore or override – and this is deliberate! They want you to eat, sleep if you’re tired, drink if you’re thirsty, do things which are fun, avoid things which are boring, run when things are scary, fight when you’re angry and not get out of your comfy bed in the morning! Recognise any of those feelings? Are they easy to forget about?
  • It wants people to like you – especially those close to you. Apes are social animals – no ape, humans included, would do very well out in the wild on its own! We need others for help and support, to look out for threats and opportunities and to be on our side. Your chimp brain wants people to like you, especially those you feel close to (not all other animals necessarily share this need – solitary animals, that live on their own, don’t need to care what others think!).
  • It is paranoid. Your chimp brain is very paranoid. It assumes danger is everywhere and that anyone could be a threat. This is just as well in many ways – it’s better to be safe than sorry! This means that we can often be cynical, especially about people we don’t know.
  • It doesn’t like being told what to do. Why should you do what you’re told? What if you don’t want to? This is the voice of your chimp brain speaking out.
  • It can be extremely defensive and aggressive. If you come under verbal or physical attack, your chimp takes emergency control and can declare a neurological version of martial law (emergency control by the army; in this case controlling the blood supply to the brain). The owl part of your brain can do very little about this whilst your chimp brain co-ordinates the war effort – no effort can be spared and winning is a matter of life or death. Except this might be your response if someone pushes in front of you in the queue – it might not actually be a matter of life or death at all. But that is irrelevant; your chimp is there to protect you and it will not let up. It is, of course, possible to inhibit or suppress this response. However sometimes you will notice that people don’t do this.
What does The Chimp Brain do?

The Chimp is intimately associated with your mood and it uses a whole range of chemicals and nerves to exert a sustained effect on your body. When you feel threatened, the Chimp activates the famous ‘fight or flight’ response, provoking the release of adrenaline and the preparation for action. This affects the whole body; heart rate, blood pressure, state of alertness and digestion are all affected. The formation of new memories is not particularly effective in this state as your brain diverts blood flow to pay close attention to current sensory input that could indicate something life-threatening.

However, there is another state for your Chimp to be in. You could be relaxed and comfortable and feel at ease, releasing the hormone oxytocin. This is likely to be the case if you are in familiar surroundings with little to no pressure. Moderate relaxation is ideal for learning. Too much, however, is counter-productive; we don’t want our students to fall asleep or stop paying attention!

As with most things, a balance is needed. Next week we will explore what balance is needed and how it is achieved with the Owl Brain. See you then!