The Three Centers of Intelligence Theory (and How to Figure out your Repressed Center)

The three centers of intelligence theory probably isn’t something you want to discuss in public, at least for now.

Western psychology has elevated mental (or thinking) intelligence to a point that in our minds, none other exists. And to acknowledge otherwise is sure to give rise to raised eyebrows, stifled smirks or, depending on the company you keep, even undisguised contempt.

But other viewpoints are emerging. Centuries of Eastern philosophy and a creep of early scientific evidence are showing that actually, there might be reality processing organs other than the brain. 

David Daniels MD, Clinical Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Stanford Medical School, and proponent of the Enneagram theory, is one such voice. He says that, in addition to the mind, we can speak of two other powerful forms of intelligence: the ‘intelligence of emotions’ and the ‘intelligence of sensations and movement/action’.

And according to this theory, we meet the world with a dominant and supporting intelligence – and all but ignore the third!

We all use a primary and supporting intelligence, and ignore a third intelligence! Click To Tweet

Drawing on the centers of intelligence theory, this post looks at how the way we process information might be lacking perspective. As usual, the point is to improve your self awareness, and hopefully become a happier (or at least a less confused and deluded) bunny.

Let’s do this.

The three centers of intelligence

Our preferred centers emerge when are very young.

Cast your mind back to when you were a teeny child, and life is going swimmingly. Your parents are proving to be adept at mind reading and interpreting your cries with precision. But then, one day, they accidentally neglect you whilst attending to your brother. Or some variation of the above.

According to Daniels, based on modern neuroscience, we have one of three averse reactions when our basic needs aren’t met:

  • Fear/anxiety
  • Distress/panic
  • Anger/rage

These reactions cause a preferred form of intelligence to step up in response to the adversity.

Fear/anxiety prompts the thinking intelligence

The fear reaction occurs when we experience a threat, challenge, or danger to our security. This reaction is driven by the thinking center intelligence. The thinking center figures out what makes life certain and secure for us.

Distress/panic prompts the feeling intelligence

This reaction happens when we experience the loss of connection and bonding. It is driven by the feeling center of intelligence, which is the center that innately pursues the need for bonding and love.

We are all either wimps, ashamed and unlovable, or seething with rage Click To Tweet

Anger/rage prompts the doing intelligence

This reaction occurs when we experience that we aren’t being treated right, are being violated, or that we are not getting/can’t get what we want/need at any given point in time. It is driven by the doing center of intelligence. This center senses what is wrong about the world around us and how we need to take action to correct it/fulfill ourselves.

So: we’re either scared little wimps that use our brains to compensate, shame-ridden unlovables that deflect by being caring for others, or seething inside and compensating with purposeful action. Or (as we’ll look at below) a delightful configuration of these.

Is your dominant center your best one?

To recap, the theory states that one is the primary (most used) intelligence, and another intelligence supports.

For example, let’s say you use primarily use thinking, and doing intelligence supports it. Feeling is your repressed intelligence. You repressed it after it didn’t prove useful early on in life. Expressing it might have even resulted in rejection. (It is a part of your Shadow/Hidden self.)

  • Primary – thinking
  • Supporting – doing
  • Ignored – feeling 

Guess this means you’re a pretty intelligent go-getter, but a bit of an unfeeling fox right?

Not quite.

Just because thinking is your preferred center, doesn’t mean your thinking is unfettered. In fact, it might be your primary dysfunction, because you overuse it. You might need to give that head of yours a rest and tap into the heart a bit more.

The repressed center contains your purest intelligence. It's your secret weapon Click To Tweet

Feeling intelligence is like your unused secret weapon. As you learn to include feeling intelligence into your reality, for example by deliberately making an effort to consider your own and other people’s emotions in your decisions, instead of just going on logic and what needs to be done, you become more balanced. More on that in a moment.

Figuring out the forgotten/repressed intelligence

Okay, let’s figure this out.

There are six possible configurations of primary/supporting intelligence:

  • doing supported by feeling
  • feeling supported by doing 
  • thinking supported by doing
  • doing supported by thinking 
  • thinking supported by feeling
  • feeling supported by thinking 

I know it’s a little counter intuitive, but I’m going to recommend that instead of working out your primary and supporting intelligence, identify your forgotten intelligence/lost center. Firstly it’s easier. Secondly, it’s more practical anyway as this is the one you are going to focus on integrating.

If thinking is the repressed center 

It doesn’t mean you’re a dummy. But it sort of means you don’t apply your logic, rationality, planning, analyzing and judging capabilities, though.

If thinking is your primary intelligence, you’re all about minimizing fear, to manage potentially painful situations ahead of time, and to gain a sense of certainty by employing mental processes of analyzing, envisioning, imagining, preparing, and planning. When we can figure out the world, understand and anticipate its requirements, we can gain security, follow the rules, and assess risks.

You don’t do this. Consequently, you may be short on the higher qualities of the thinking center: thoughtfulness, discernment, wisdom, and peace.

If feeling is the repressed center 

Are you highly self-referential in your decisions, rarely factoring in others? You might have forgotten to feel.

Those that lead with the feeling intelligence tend to perceive the world through the filter of emotional intelligence. They’re attuned to the mood and feeling state of others, to meet their own needs for acceptance, contact, affection, bonding, and approval. They depend on recognition and admiration.

The higher qualities include empathy, understanding, compassion, and loving-kindness.

If doing is the repressed center 

Those that lead with their doing centers quite simply, do. They are active, whether that means pursuing their goals or generally supporting others. The higher quality is purposeful, appropriate action.

If this is your forgotten intelligence, than you are likely apathetic and easily sidetracked from your goals. You are slow to act.

So have you figured it out yet? Which are your primary two? Which gets left out in the cold?

Good. Now let’s see what can be done.

Balancing through inclusion

It is tempting to want to tone down the dominant intelligence. But a more realistic goal is to begin to use what you’re not using. This, says Daniels, can help us live a more balanced and satisfying life, and consequently build more fulfilling relationships with people around us. Here are some suggestions:

If you forgot the feeling center, give some consideration to checking in with your feelings more.

A realistic aim is to try to integrate more of the lost center's intelligence Click To Tweet

If you forgot the thinking center, start using your loaf! Put aside your emotions occasionally, and start using reflection and contemplation. Plan, anticipate, reflect. Do all the things you resist.

If you forgot the doing, remember that action is how things happen. What are the things you aren’t doing, that you know you should do?


There is no need to accept the three centers of intelligence theory to notice that we all do not seem to apply our intelligence in the same way.

Even if you don't like the theory, you can't deny that the way we process reality is hugely variable Click To Tweet

Some of us are more ‘touchy feely’, with higher emotional intelligence and a keener intuition. Others are are so clear thinking and rational, that arguing with them leaves you with the feeling that they were always one step ahead. A third kind of us meet every situation foremost with action, steam-rolling their way through life.

This theory offers a potential container for the things we can all observe.

And to my mind, that’s valuable.