Three Human Brains (Cephalic, Gut And Heart)


The brain in the skull has approximately 86 b. neurons, the gut brain has around 100 m., while the heart brain has approximately 40 k. neurons (CMR, 2021)

"...cephalic brain, which is located in the skull and has approximately 86 billion neurons......the enteric (gut) brain, which has 100 million neurons, and the cardiac (heart) brain which has approximately 40,000 neurons......these brains communicate with one another.....communication goes in both directions with more communications rising up from the cardiac and enteric brains than cascading down from the cephalic brain..."
Grant Soosalu & Marvin Oka as quoted by Change Management Review, 2021

This means that the head brain doesn't dictate every thought we think and emotion we feel. It puts meaning to the advice 'listen to your gut' and 'follow your heart'.

"...the primary functions of the head brain are cognitive perception, thinking, and making meaning......The primary functions of the heart brain are emotion, relational affect, and values; the highest expression of the heart brain is compassion. The primary functions of the gut brain are mobilisation, self-preservation, and core identity; its highest expression is courage..."
Change Management Review, 2021


Imagining an activity, like from a story, is just as powerful for the 3 brains as actually performing it. Making stories and metaphors are ways of engaging the 3 brains. For example,

"...creating stories such as stories 'from the future' can contribute significantly to increasing the probability of the successful change initiative. A story about the future is based in the cephalic brain. A story from the future actually begins the process of reprogramming your own networks and muscle memory. Major change always brings with it unanticipated challenges. The cephalic brain alone may be unable to find a solution. But when the three brains are engaged - and 'know' the experience of having achieved success, as told in the story from the future - they kick in to help to find a way around the problem..."
Change Management Review, 2021

Activating all 3 brains' support of the change significantly increases 'thinking you can' rather than 'you can't'.

Resistance and the 3 brains

As resistance is an inevitable part of change, it needs to be allowed to be identified, understood and handled. For this to happen, it requires a culture of trust and respect

It should be seen as more a sign of progress than of things going wrong.

" attention to the root of the resistance. An amygdala hijack, triggering the flight, fight, freeze, appease response, is most likely based on the gut brain, the seat of self-preservation. A challenge to the values that are (or are not) being exercised in implementing the change is based on the heart. Questions about the rationale for the change or how it is being carried forward successfully are based on the cephalic brain..."
Change Management Review, 2021)

The language used can help determine where the resistance is rooted. Some examples

- to 'reason away' refers to logic and involves the cephalic brain

- 'we can help you' refers to self-preservation and involves the enteric brain

- 'it will make you feel better' refers to emotions and involves the cardiac brain

Need to apply communications and engagement to handle resistance

"...focus on engaging the heads, hearts, and guts of those who have to change by making stories an integral part of your communication strategy. Engage employees early, and maintain engagement throughout the change. Recognise resistance as a normal element of the change cycle; encourage it, hear it, and address it..."
Change Management Review, 2021


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