The Brain Is Adaptive Not Triune: How the Brain Responds to Threat, Challenge, and Change

Front Psychiatry. 2022 Apr 1;13:802606. doi: 10.3389/fpsyt.2022.802606. eCollection 2022.


Theory impacts how research is conducted. A popular theory used to conceptualize brain functioning is the triune brain theory. The triune brain theory is an evolutionary theory of brain development that emphasizes three key brain regions consisting of the brainstem, the limbic system, and the cortex that function relatively independently in coping with stress via fight or flight, emotion, and cognition, respectively. However, modern neuroscience research demonstrates that the triune brain theory does not accurately explain how the brain functions in everyday life or during the stress response. Specifically, emotion and cognition are interdependent and work together, the limbic system is not a purely emotional center nor are there purely emotional circuits in the brain, and the cortex is not a purely cognitive center nor are there purely cognitive circuits in the brain. We propose a new evolutionarily based model, the adaptive brain, that is founded on adaptive prediction resulting from interdependent brain networks using interoception and exteroception to balance current needs, and the interconnections among homeostasis, allostasis, emotion, cognition, and strong social bonds in accomplishing adaptive goals.

Keywords: adaptive; brain; prediction; stress response; triune.

Publication types

  • Review