The 3 Brains

Drawing of the human brain

3 Brains in One

Scientists talk about 3 main parts of the human brain:  the “old brain” or hindbrain; the midbrain; and the “new brain” or neocortex.  The first two are subconscious and the latter is conscious.These 3 brains act as separate organs and they even have different cellular structures.  All 3 areas interact with each other and try to influence each other.

Neuromarketing is most interested in the decision-making part of the brain – and that is the old brain.

You’ve probably heard the expression ‘People make decisions emotionally and then justify them rationally.’  Research supports this view.  After receiving and weighing input from the other two brains, the old brain actually makes the final decision most of the time.

A Brief History of Brain Development

The old brain develops first in the human embryo.  The new brain isn’t fully developed until about age 24.  The old brain also developed first in human history.  Scientists estimate that brain structure came into existence with very early humans about 450 million years.

Words have only been used by humans for about 40,000 years and written words for only about 10,000 years.  So you have to wonder how the human brain functioned for all those thousands of years without language!  Clearly it functioned well enough to keep human beings alive, allowed them to thrive enough to procreate and to continually evolve until they developed the need and the capacity for language.

Through all those millennia, the old brain has changed very little in its structure and function.  Consider that the part of our brain that is making the final decision for us doesn’t really use words!

Which brain gets your marketing message?

Even though you, as a marketer or business owner, are presenting a message to your audience from your logical, rational new brain, your audience is hearing and seeing that message with their old brain – at least initially!

The subconscious old brain is always scanning the environment for danger, especially in any new situation.  So if you’re giving a presentation to an audience that has not heard you before, or even if you’re sharing new information with a familiar audience, your audience’s subconscious brains will be on guard at the beginning of your presentation.

Establishing trust and rapport can help to lower their resistance, but that doesn’t guarantee that they will really pay attention and comprehend your message.  Let’s look at what happens as you begin your presentation, either in person or on a webinar.

While the audience members take their seats and get ready for whatever is about to happen at this place/event, their old brains are on high alert, continually scanning the environment and processing sensory input at 40 million bits per second.

Remember that the old brain always wants to conserve energy and brain resources.  This is an important survival tactic that our brains have used for millennia.

They will continue on high alert for about 7-10 minutes.  At that time, if there have been no indications of real and present danger, their subconscious brains stand down the alert.  They have determined that this place or this event is safe – at least until there is a change and they go into alert mode again to begin reassessing the safety of the new situation.

Does this mean that the subconscious brain then settles in to enjoy the performance or presentation?  That depends on how interesting it is to the old brain that doesn’t process words well and can’t think abstractly.  It might pay attention to an exciting performance, but it most likely won’t listen to a typical speaker or slide presentation.  Instead it basically checks out and ignores whatever is happening!

Since the old brain is also the primary decision maker,  you really don’t want it checking out during your presentation, webinar, or video or while looking at your social media post, infographic, article, or blog post.

You need your audience’s old brain to find your message unique enough and entertaining enough that it gets the new brain involved for rational analysis and processing.

I’ll share more details about how to keep the old brain engaged in a future post.  Is this making sense so far?  Can you imagine how this affects the success of your marketing message?




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