Ascendis Blog

Red Brain/Green Brain: How Neuroscience Affects Decision Making for Leaders

Our brains are very complex, and we are learning more each day about them. Rick Hanson, author of Hardwiring Happiness, talks about the reactive and responsive systems in our brains. 

  • The reactive system is what he calls the red brain. When we are in this state, we feel anxious, and we react to things as potential threats.

  • The responsive system is what he calls the green brain. When we are in this state, we feel calm.  

The great thing about knowing this is that we can become more aware of which state we are in, and we can help ourselves and others shift out of a red brain state and into a green brain state with ease.  

We all have what is called the negativity bias, which means our systems are constantly looking for potential threats. When there is a perceived threat, our red brains kick in and do the equivalent of screaming for help. Our nervous system perceives potential threats faster than positive emotions. This is something that has allowed us to survive as a species.  While we can’t change this and, in fact, don’t want to, we can override the negativity bias. Our systems can’t tell the difference between a potential threat of someone criticizing us with a potential threat that would require us to run for our lives. 

The good news is, we can become aware of when this is happening, and then focus our attention on switching to our responsive system, our green brain. Our green brain state gives us access to our full brain including the prefrontal cortex.  Our red brain state gives us access to only part of our brain, the limbic system which is what is active during the fight or flight response.  

What else can leaders do to focus on solutions contributing to positive outcomes? To find out, contact the Ascendis Leadership Academy to take the Organizational Leadership Skills Profile. Please contact Sue Drake at for an overview of the Profile and ways in which it may be used in your organization.