Capturing the Reptilian Brains

Do you make logical decisions or are you under the influence of primitive thinking?

Does free will exist? Do you purchase a product because you analyzed the choices and decide it’s the logical alternative? Or are you subconsciously making decisions based on the part of your brain that’s over 70,000 years old?

We use our old, reptilian brains to make most of our decisions. Yet, we continue to optimize for logical buyers.

What is the Reptilian Brain? And its importance

There are three sections of the brain: The outer, the middle, and the reptilian. The Outer layer is the youngest part of the brain. It is responsible for processing the complex thinking, written language, calculating, and rationalizing your judgement. The middle section of the brain is responsible for processing emotional responses.  It gives you a gut feeling on your judgement. The Reptilian area is the oldest part of the brain.  It is responsible for instinct, survival and focus on avoiding the pain. This area is what makes your decisions.

The reptilian brain makes the irrational decisions. Since rational decisions are difficult to make, your reptilian brain is very important. If your product is not the rationally best choice, you must appeal to the reptilian brain. If you appeal to the outer layer, it will analyze the facts and determine that you’re not making the best choice.

If your product is the rationally best choice, you should still appeal to the reptilian brain. It may direct that it’s the most logical choice, but what if your buyer has done critical analysis to an extent that it diminishes their reptilian layer? Outer layer will be the decision-maker, so you should still optimize for it.

Outer layer,


  • Is intuitive and associative
  • Is very fast
  • Is always on
  • Has a large capacity
  • Requires no effort

And Reptilian brain,


  • Is rational and logical
  • Is extremely slow
  • Is very lazy
  • Is easily exhausted
  • Requires full focus

Five factors that drive the reptilian brain

Pain- You need to remember that the reptilian brain is primitive. It’s not concerned with gaining delight (e.g. getting to wear a new dress for less money), it’s concerned with avoiding pain (e.g. not having to spend hundreds on a dress you’ll wear once for work).

Fear- The reptilian brain is concerned with its own survival. As a result, it can be doubtful and afraid of change and the unpredicted.

Emotion- The reptilian brain operates on emotion instead of logic and rationale. Therefore, when you’re appealing to emotion, you’re appealing to the reptilian brain.

Ego- Due to its survivalist mentality, the reptilian brain is incredibly self-interested. What’s in it for me? How will this affect me? And that is why, it’s best to use word like “you” and “your”.

Contrast- Have you ever wondered why before and after photos work so well? Or why the Coke vs. Pepsi, Mac vs. Windows, Burger King vs. McDonalds, Xbox vs. Playstation rivalries are so compelling? It’s because the reptilian brain loves the contrast.

Different ways to reach the reptilian brain

Speak to the pain of your audience– Tap into the pain point of your consumer. Then, in your value proposition, make sure that you have incorporated how you plan to reduce that pain.

Example- Domino’s Pizza

Appeal to its self-centered nature- Use words like, “You” and provide pictures from the consumer’s perspective.

Example- The American Disability Foundation


Demonstrate importance through contrast– Show contrast by comparing before and after; show the pain and relief from the pain. Show why you are better than your competitors and why your message is significant. Use words like “We are the only” and “We are the best” in your messaging so that you stand out.

Example- Apple

Show value tangibility- Use simple and short sentences if you need to use words.  Focus on visual language that bespeak the value you are suggesting in a way that feels real, concrete, and/or familiar.

Example- Heinz ketchup


Don’t strive for the impact in the middle: focus on beginning and end- Express the most important information at the beginning and repeat it at the end. Build a structure and notify the reptilian brain that something new is about to come and it doesn’t need to tune out. Segments will also help the brain with memory retention.

Example- Volkswagen

Visual metaphor– Provide a visual metaphor for what you are offering and why it’s the best. Don’t provide complicated visuals, or it will need other brain regions to decipher the meaning. Make it as simple as possible.

Strike an emotional chord– Visual images that tell an emotional story can be powerful since story helps the consumer to understand how your information applies to them. Video is always more effective because it captures both the auditory and visual senses, which will increase attention and memory.

Example- World Wildlife Federation


Future of your brand is in the Reptilian brain

The entire brain plays a role in the consumer decision process, however, the reptilian brain is the power behind the scene. You must work to appeal to this area first to effectively influence your audience. Speak the language of the reptilian brain by tapping into what causes your audience pain and presenting your value proposition in the ways that are easily understood by this brain region.

By learning the art of capturing Reptilian brain, you will be able to improve brand loyalty, increase sales and improve your ability to positively affect YOUR customers.

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