129 of 130 people found the following review helpful
on March 18, 1998
For the layperson, LeDoux's book is an excellent account of the scientific search for understanding what emotions are and what they do. Comparing it to the several trendy books about measuring emotional intelligence isn't quite fair--this is not a self-help book that stresses the importance of good social skills (which to me, seems what emotional quotient boils down to). Instead, this book nicely weaves the best of psychological, biological, and cutting-edge neuroscientific research to give the reader a good picture of what scientists currently know about emotions and how emotions are experienced in the body and the mind. But despite the comprehensive scientific explanations, the book is extremely readable and filled with real-world implications. For a professor of neural science, LeDoux writes creatively (love those subheadings!), and I think this book can do for the study of emotions what Carl Sagan's Cosmos did for astronomy.
For psychologists, particularly psychotherapists, this book should be required reading. Despite dealing with people's emotions everyday, few therapists can give more than a basic explanation of what exactly an emotion is, and how it influences human functioning. This is partly because most textbook discussions of emotions are either too basic or too difficult, are just plain boring, or don't make the implications for therapists clear. LeDoux's book changes all that--I've reviewed several academic books, articles, and texts on understanding emotions, and kept coming back to this one. Do your graduate students (who may be groaning under the pressure of a dry neuroscience text!) a favor and make them all read The Emotional Brain--they'll be just as educated, and a lot more excited as well.
156 of 164 people found the following review helpful
This book is a long-needed look at how those parts of the brain that mediate emotion, primarily the limbic system and the medial and lateral frontal cortex, affect our behavior, thinking, and our lives. This is a well-written and thoughful account for the intelligent layman about this important topic.
There are excellent discussions of the different limbic system structures as well as the frontal lobes. The sections on the amygdala I thought were especially good, and the discussions of how the frontal lobes and the limbic areas interact in various and important ways is equally good.
Unlike other important areas of science, there are few really accessible books on the brain for the non-specialist, but I've noticed the situation has improved significantly in the last 5 to 10 years. If you liked this book and want to round out your knowledge of the human brain, I can also recommend the following books, all of which are similarly well-regarded and well-written:
1. Descartes' Error: Emotion, Reason, and the Human Brain, by Antonio Damasio
2. The Language Instinct: How the Mind Creates Language, by Steven Pinker
3. Phantoms in the Brain: Probing the Mysteries of the Human Mind, by V. S. Ramachandran, Sandra Blakeslee
4. Nature's Mind: The Biological Roots of Thinking, Emotions, Sexuality, Language, and Intelligence, by Michael Gazzaniga
5. How Brains Think: Evolving Intelligences, Then & Now, by William H. Calvin
There are about a half dozen others that I could have added to this list, but I would read these first. In fact, I would start with Gazzaniga's book and then read the others, since his book is more of a general introduction, whereas the others deal more with certain special topics.
If you read these books you'll be in pretty good shape in terms of having at least a basic understanding of current neuroscience. Anyway, good luck and happy reading.
25 of 25 people found the following review helpful
on February 20, 2006
I was ecstatic as I read LeDoux' first chapter, where he outlines the eight major points he plans to make. It's so clear, so logical, so .... Right. At last, I thought, I'm going to get from a major neuroscientist an overview of the emotions as organized in and by the brain.
LeDoux does follow through and explain his points, but alas, more in a manner establishing them and defending them against previous contrary research or thought than as a textbook or introduction for laypeople, which would seem to be his primary intended audience. He devotes a significant amount of space to historical background of how psychological and neurological sciences of emotion got to where they are today. Most of us don't need to know that research history. I don't care nearly as much about what was formerly thought as about what the author thinks Actually Is.
His point #1, that each emotion evolves differently and has its own neurological subsystem, is completely believable, but LeDoux lays out this emotional system for only one emotion -- fear. He is a prominent fear researcher, so we read several chapters focusing on fear and its cousin anxiety, yet almost completely nothing about all the others. Joy is mentioned once or twice, with no discussion. Love scarcely more. The sadness pathway is not outlined. He doesn't even take a stand on what the primary vs. secondary emotions are, a topic of argument going back at least to Descartes. I'd like to know what neurologists think about the development of these.
Sorry to be so negative. If the title were Fear and the Emotional Brain, I wouldn't have been so disappointed. LeDoux writes unusually clearly for a neurologist, and is thus a quicker read than Antonio Damasio, for instance. I just finished Emotional Brain, and will now go back and re-read Damasio's "Descartes' Error" and "The Feeling of What Happens." They are much tougher slogging, presuming more neuroanatomical knowledge than LeDoux. But Damasio is willing to take some risks to make calculated guesses and summary statements about how he envisions various processes, even though he's well aware that in some cases we may have insufficient scientific evidence to make them securely.
There is a great deal of profound knowledge and insight in this book. But it's not nearly as broad as its title implies.
20 of 20 people found the following review helpful
on October 23, 2006
Ledoux reveals the basic functioning of the brain in this book. Based on his research and theories we may undertsand that:
* Emotion is the trigger to action
* The rational system follows the emotional system
* Present actions are driven by past experiences
* Present experiences dictate our emerging needs
This theory is now called "emtional imprinting" and is being exploited by marketing and advertising companies to sell products. Our responses provide insight into how the brain stores information as well as makes decisions. The book is not only basic psychology but also a guide for understanding managining and even mergers and acquisitions.
28 of 30 people found the following review helpful
Ledoux's book gives an excellent introduction to those powerful brain areas that underlie emotion and such things as aggression, fear, anger, and so on, especially the limbic system. This is the primitive area of the brain inherited from our evolutionary ancestors where emotions and violent behavior get controlled and mediated. Above it is the cerebral cortex, where more advanced thinking processes--language, memory, analytical thought, spatial reasoning, and so on--reside. The limbic system has powerful connections to the cortex, especially the frontal and pre-frontal cortex, where more complex aspects of personality have been found to reside, such as long-term motivation and achievement drives.
But getting back to the limbic system, the amydala, for example, is intimately involved in aggression. It was found in one study that a large percentage of death row inmates had abnormal EEG's emanating from the amydalar area, and Ledoux discusses a number of other interesting studies related to this area. In another famous case, Charles Whitman climbed up a tower with a sniper rifle at the University of Texas and killed 16 people and wounded 30 before he was killed by the police in the mid-60's. An autopsy revealed that Whitman, who had been reported by fellow students to be a quiet, easy-going student and not especially aggressive, had an amygdalar tumor.
Well, although the darkest and most violent influences of the limbic system such as in the above cases may not always be in evidence, it's malevolent power continues to affect much of our behavior in other ways. I think this has obvious application and implications to how human society and history has turned out, and I discuss that at the end of my review.
I wanted to discuss one other study, which wasn't in the book. Another sobering result turned up by the emminent neuroanatomist, Orlando J. Andy, is that the limbic system is actually much larger both in absolute terms and also proportionally to the rest of our brain than in any other mammalian or primate species. In other words, although we did evolve the more advanced cerebral cortex, we didn't de-emphasize or shrink the more primitive and violent limbic system as a result; in fact, we expanded on it and grew an even bigger, more complex, and more powerful one. This was completely unexpected, from a comparative neuronatomy standpoint. This is not a good thing, because as Ledoux makes clear, although we think with our cerebral cortices, our behavior is mostly molded and controlled and motivated by the more primitive limbic system areas.
This recent functional neurological finding shows why our history is the way it is. Although we can attain to more peaceable and advanced thought and culture sometimes, it's normally too difficult for us because the more primitive, more violent areas of the brain still control almost everything we do. Because of the malevolent influence of the limbic system, it's too often the case that humans would rather live down to their lowest impulses, rather than the other way around. This neurological finding explains what history has always told us, that we're really just violent uber-apes with a thin veneer of civilization grafted on top, and not a very sturdy or secure one at that, since it gets peeled off all too often in the violent annals of history.
So overall, a well-written, very informative, and fascinating book, considering that our recent knowledge of the limbic system has pretty dire implications for the future of civilization and for the human race.
23 of 24 people found the following review helpful
on December 23, 1999
This is one of the best science popularizations I have ever read. Science writers frequently have trouble finding the right voice in addressing the general reader, but in this case I found the tone perfect: lucidly written, logical, cogently argued, complete, with good narrative flow; not patronizing, not trying to grab with cheap journalistic metaphores or other strained writing designed to win over the timid. Anyone who has ever wondered about emotions-- what they are, where they come from, why we have them, what their role is in "thought", will be well rewarded for reading this book. I also found it more up to date and more accessible than the other famous book on this subject, Descartes' Error.
16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on August 7, 2006
A very thorough journey into the relationship between emotions and the brain. I was drawn to this book simply to answer the question: why is it that people don't make sensible choices sometimes but, rather, let their emotions rule? I got the answer and then some.
LeDoux cites a story of a scientist (I think it was Darwin, but he cites so many, I forgot which one) who was interested in the automaticity of fear responses despite rationally knowing that there is nothing to fear. Darwin went to the zoo and stood in front of a glass cage which housed an aggressive snake. As much as he told himself not to flinch, he could not control his reaction when the snake struck at the glass.
Fear is what has helped the species stay alive and evolve and is, thus, pretty hardwired. When ancestors were going to be someone's lunch, the survivors with the "fast" genes were the ones who created the next generation, and so on and so on...
Well then, why is it that we CAN make really smart, considered decisions and not be just a bundle of emotions reacting all over the place? That's because, as LeDoux demonstrates, there are 2 routes by which an emotional stimulus can reach the amygdala and one of them is through the cortex where higher reasoning is possible. The kicker is that the way the brain is structured -- right now at this point in evolution -- the amygdala has a greater influence on the cortex than the cortex has on the amygdala.
It the book a fascinating look at, essentially, human nature. Because there is so much fact, structure and research supporting these insights, it was hard to read through some of it. For that reason, it gets 4 stars, though its scientific plausibility would falter is it didn't have the depth.
20 of 21 people found the following review helpful
on May 15, 2002
This book is not only intriguing for advancing neuroscience but enormously necessary for a cultural correction. The research findings that attempt to isolate fear do little to substantiate psychotherapy, or a talking cure for treatment of generic mental illness. Le Doux points out among other things, that what we think about our'true' emotions, is generally inaccurate. Indeed, our feelings are generally understood by others better than by ourselves. There is NO verbal process that will release, inhibit or otherwise subordinate underlying fear and/or trauma. The unconscious memories of these are coded in symbols, not linguistically. The retrieval of `buried memories' as a means to catharsis is most often, impossible, as stress hormones prevented the original memory from being formulated. In short, those memories of trauma are not `repressed' they don't exist. The author spends a great deal of time on the small amygdala as somewhat of a central switch operator for setting the fear response mechanism into play as a reflex and also as information into the conscious mind. He enlightens us as to the flexibility of the brain, the alternate systems and the somewhat disturbing concept that painful memories are never forgotten, they are life long. He challenges Psychometrics, i.e. what we know as psych. testing as being glaringly inadequate means to measure brain functioning mainly because of their complete reliance on words. Words are not the language of the greatest power areas of our neural systems.
The first part of the book, is proof positive that LeDoux is an excellent scientist. He is methodical, detailed, and not on the same attention level as the rest of us. However, his research, and the research of others that support his thesis, is riveting. I definitely recommend this book for the revolutionary challenge it presents to the dominant, crude systems of mental health treatment, as well as to any lay persons with an interest in this material.
The history of medicine could be a horror movie, and I have always believed that future generations will place us therapy people in a category with the barbers who did blood letting. Now I know it.
LeDoux is doing fantastic work and can, along with other pioneers and 'teachers' reinform and reinvent approaches and manners of intervening when human suffering overcomes a life.
25 of 28 people found the following review helpful
on January 22, 1999
Ledoux outlines contemporary research related to emotionality from a neuroscientific perspective, yet retains a sense of humanity by exploring the psychological implications of current findings. Evolutionary biology plays a strong role in The Emotional Brain, such that emotional drives, such as fear, are inherited from our prehistoric ancestors, that conscious emotional experience can be reinterpreted as higher-order forms of survival instinct. Exploring anatomical areas in the brain related to emotional experience, such as the amygdala, and how projections from these areas to cortical regions influences behavior, suggest a physiological explanation for temperamental style. Even if you are not studying psychology or neurology, you will find that the contents of this book apply to everyday life and how we interpret emotional experience in general. Thus, I commend this book's scope and its ability to unlock imaginative flights, which will ultimately inspire me to design new research methods to approach unsolved problems.
25 of 29 people found the following review helpful
on September 15, 2005
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
David Hume in the 18thC. turned philosophical psychology upside down by insisting that impressions (perception), abstract ideas (cognition), passions (emotions), and aesthetic and moral judgments (evaluations) are different aspects of the same mental functions. At the turn of the 20th C. William James took Hume's empiricism and applied it to psychology, and devised the first scientific theory of empirical psychology that included emotions (cf., Freud and Jung, for example, and "depth" psychology). Since then, neuroscience has retreated from these catholic notions into the strictly computational (cognitive) aspects of brain function. LeDoux lays out a plan to rehabilitate cognitive science by restoring the older idiom that includes emotions.
This is an extremely elementary and superficial book; therefore it might serve as a good introduction to brain science in general. Sadly, it spends way too much time rehearsing psychology's failures before alighting onto the rehabilitation. Over 30% of the works cited in the first hundred pages are over 50 years old (as is much of the bibliography). Of course, emotions weren't part of the curriculum back then, so this rehearsal of history only serves to show just how neglected one of psychology's most salient features has been. I suspect it has merit for the naive reader, but it was extremely boring and tedious to anyone with much sense of what's been going on in the past 10-15 years. Fortunately, LeDoux offers the reader a glimpse of what's to follow on pp. 16-20. If this material is old hat, bypass this book. If this material is new, this book may be of interest to you.
But, before buying this book, peruse Daniel Goldman's "Emotional Intelligence." Despite being over ten years old, and despite the error of locating all emotions in the amydala, it's otherwise a much more endearing and provocative work than LeDoux's (issued about the same time). Another interesting and provocative book is Victor Johnston's "Why We Feel: The Science of Human Emotions." At least Johnston's theory of consciousness is novel, and his handling of emotions is much more on target. If you want a philosophical perspective, I heartily recommend Martha Nussbaum's "Upheavals of Thought" and/or "Therapy of Desire." Both these illuminating works explore emotions from a historical perspective, dating back to the Golden Age of Greece. In light of these other fine books, LeDoux's cannot be recommended.