clinical,  coping skills,  counseling,  reptiles,  Self-care,  therapy

Biopsychology: The Reptilian Brain and Human Behavior

Understanding the reptilian brain (R-complex) in correspondence to human behavior.

First of all, I LOVE reptiles. I’ll show you some pictures of my scaley babies after the end of this blog. I can’t resist.

But anyway, this week I have been giving my clients some psychoeducation on anger and stress. We’ve been discussing about how these emotional experiences influence our behavior, and how we can mindfully respond to them (e.g. using body scan or guided meditation). While conducting sessions, I had the urge to go over the physiological factor that influences our automatic responses, but that would be out of the scope of psychotherapy. Thank goodness blogging exists. That means YOU will read my explanation about the “R-complex” in correspondence to human behavior. Thanks for bearing with me.

The R-complex

The R-complex, or the “reptilian brain”, is made of both brain stem and cerebellum. This pair is also called the “basal ganglia”; it is part of the brain that is responsible for our automatic functioning (i.e. heartbeat and breathing) and survival. Essentially, it contributes to our instinctual behavior, compulsions, anger, fear, and aggression. As you can see, this is the most primitive part of the human brain.

R-complex in the Human Brain

The R-complex is what we share with reptiles. But unlike reptiles, the human brain has all four lobes: frontal, cerebral, parietal, and occipital. The functions of all four lobes are vital to our higher mental functioning, comprehension, and memory. They are important to our conscious decisions. In flight or fight situations, different parts of the brain are activated, including the R-complex. When this is activated from an environmental stressor, we may subconsciously react in either helpful or hurtful ways. This is where anger, fear, and aggression may come into play, and when conscious decisions are needed.


Different parts of the brain can work so dynamically with the R-complex. It is part of the brain that is actively working, and perhaps this is why therapists encourage their clients to be consciously aware of their bodies. After learning about the reptilian brain, wouldn’t it be essential to utilize mindfulness, guided meditations, and physical exercise as conscious tools to relax our bodies? If your body feels tensed up and you are breathing super fast as a result of a stressful situation, wouldn’t it be helpful to “shake it of”, and start breathing more deeply and slow? I know. Its easier said than done, especially if you have high anxiety. But practice is key. That is why we emphasize doing these conscious practices over and over again.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

We also need cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) to stop irrational thoughts from allowing the R-complex to sabotage our emotional health and physical bodies. CBT would allow our higher-mental-functioning part of the brain to execute reasoning.

How do you cope when it comes to anger, fear, and anxiety? Please comment below!

And here are two of my babies, including the one that passed away last week:

Rocco, bumblebee ball python

Opal, crested gecko


Psychotherapist and Associate Clinical Social Worker; emphasis on Families and children, and k-8 school systems. I love Jesus, my husky-bull, my reptile babies, hiking, and making music! In an ever so changing world, I hope to help you help yourself find some peace!


  • shoreacres

    As someone who spent some time in the social work field, as well as in clinical pastoral care, I look forward to browsing your blog. And now I know why you liked my insufficiently sneaky snake!

  • Shellie

    Thank you so much for this! What an interesting read! My son has frontal lobe epilepsy and reading just a little bit of how and why he is the way he is makes more sense now! Thank you so much. Also I am sorry to hear about your beloved reptile 🦎. I suffer with high anxiety and mindfulness and CBT has helped immensely! I often focus on what’s happening right here right now in detail when it arises and it brings my breathing back down 🙏🏻. Great read!

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: