The Chimp Paradox

The Chimp Paradox is a book from Steve Peters subtitled: The Science of Mind Management for Success in Business and in Life.

I used the model proposed to represent how our brain is working during conferences I gave on the Search for Happiness, and I had some positive feedback.

In this article, I would like to give you a little more and invite you to read Steve Peters’s book.


This book is an exploration of a solar system. The sun is the place you wanted to be. The planets represent zones to explore like: yourself, others, communication, stress, success, happiness, trust, security.

The first planet is divided. It represents our mind, our way of functioning, the battle between our human and our inner chimpanzee.

The model proposed by Steve Peters is simple and is composed of three parts:

  • the human: us, in our frontal lobe,
  • the chimp: our emotional machine, in our limbic system,
  • the computer: the place where we store information and manage automatic responses.

If we look at the way a responsible human being will deal with a situation. He will first look at himself, what he has done to generate this problem. Then, he will look at the circumstances and their impacts on the situation. And after, he will look at others and search for ways to help them change their behaviors.

If we look at the way a chimpanzee will deal with a situation. It will be less rational and much more emotional, and it will work in the opposite direction. The chimp will first look at others and finger point at what others have done, then it will look at the circumstances and blame them, and in the end, it will look at himself with pity.

A human being has to live with an inner chimp that will wake up fast (5 times more quickly) each time it feels danger and will take over the thinking with the 3 F: Fight, Flight or Freeze.

The chimp is ours. It’s a part of ourselves given at birth. We cannot say: “Oops, sorry, it’s my chimp.” Like if it was our dog, we are responsible for it if the dog bites someone.

The third part of the model is the computer. The computer, 20 times faster than the human, will take over to handle known situations. So, it will relieve us of a lot of thinking. That explains why, in some circumstances, we react and then think: “why did I say that?”.

The problem is to whom we want to delegate computer programming: the human or the chimp?

After introducing the model, the rest of the book studies ways to manage our inner chimp and to reprogram our computer with the human.

The header picture is from Matthew Wiebe.