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The Neuroscience of Human Relationships: It Had the Potential To Be Great, But Couldn’t Quite Reach It
on December 11, 2013
The Neuroscience of Human Relationships by Louis Cozolino reveals the hidden pathways and structures of the brain that mediate social interactions and how people relate to each other and deal with their relationships. Cozolino clarifies the neurotransmitters and structures that cause the various emotions that we encounter. He shows how the different molecules interact with our bodies to cause bonding and attachment, as well as other types of relationships.
The author, Louis Cozolino, is a Professor of Psychology at Pepperdine University and has written four books. He has a doctorate in clinical psychology and holds his own private practice in addition to his other accomplishments. I was ready for a really good read when I decided to pick his book. It’s not that it wasn’t interesting, but it never reached my expectations with the type of relationships analyzed. For example I wanted to hear more about love and dating, and this section was extremely short and didn’t go into much detail which was disappointing. I think the author could have gone into much more detail for the more interesting topics with such a fascinating subject matter.
The Neuroscience of Human Relationships covers all of the different brain structures that are involved with forming relationships and other social interactions. One such structure is the amygdala. This structure focuses strongly on emotions so you can guess why this specific structure is mentioned more than others. The book specifies how neurons work and how certain neurotransmitters cause them to work and what emotions they cause. Depending on the neurotransmitter and emotion, certain relationships, attachments and even diseases can form. The author shows how the brain develops and is shaped based on the social interactions, attachments and relationships throughout one’s life span. It specifies which hemisphere of the brain controls which actions, as well as which parts of the brain are involved when faced with different situations. Each hemisphere is in control of something different than the other, so seeing what side has neurons firing can diagnose specifically what is happening. Following a tutorial on brain structures, the book focuses on different forms of relationships including love, attachment, and the memories associated with social interactions. Different forms of memories influence how one creates relationships throughout life and therefore is an integral part of forming social groups and bonds. The book goes into depth about different types of memories especially implicit memory and how it influences our relationships. Implicit memory does not give you conscious awareness of it, whereas explicit memory is something you can recognize and recall. In the next part, the author focuses on the way people react to faces and how that affects certain emotions. Judging faces is the first way you decide your impression of a person and is the starting point to any type of relationship, good or bad. Another interesting topic is mirror neurons and how children at such a young age already try to mirror the things we do and faces we make. Mirror neurons cause this to happen, some getting so specific that they fire when you pick up a banana with your right hand. Once reviewing the many forms of human relationships, the book moves on to social pathologies of the brain and mind. Ideas including stress, social phobia, and even borderline personality disorder are discussed to show the ways that early childhood problems can affect future social functioning. The author demonstrates how stress can impact the human brain, both prenatally and during adulthood. The hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis drives these stress responses in large part and causes specific reactions. In talking about structures of the brain, certain differences in the brain that affect normal social functioning are discussed, such as autism. The book closes by explaining neural plasticity and how certain types of relationships are formed at a neural level. Neuron firing can change based on what a person is exposed to, therefore neural plasticity causes different neuronal connections to always be changing. This can cause changes in relationships, levels of arousal, cognition and emotion, and view of self, just to name a few that affect human relationships.
At the end of each chapter, the author focuses on case studies of each topic covered and applies them to real life. Each involves specific people dealing with a problem, how therapy made them see the cause of their social dysfunctions, and how to hopefully correct them in the future. Many times someone’s social issues are extremely harmful for their well-being and for the people around them. Through studying and finding a diagnosis, these people are sometimes able to better their lives through neuroscience. The actual topics covered in order for a quick review are social neuroscience, structures and function of the brain, plasticity, attachment, love, social memory, language of faces, disorders, and finally social neural plasticity.
This book did many things right. It had an interesting topic to catch a reader’s attention. The author made sure to completely explain the exact biology behind everything. He probably did this to ensure that if someone knew nothing of neuroscience, they would be able to understand. For example, the book described the fundamentals of how neurons communicate and how neurotransmitters work in the synapse. Not only did it do this, but it never went too in-depth to the point where everyone wouldn’t be able to understand. This is good and bad. On one hand you want people without a thorough understanding of neuroscience to comprehend the concepts, but for people like me, I wish it would have been more in-depth.
The biggest problem I had with the book was the topics that were covered. I expected a whole section on love and romantic relationships, but all I received was a small chapter about it. This is such a focus of human relationships in many other subjects and should’ve been at the forefront of this book because there is so much detail that can be covered. It is such a fascinating part of life and neuroscience and the fact that it was such a small section of the book, and somewhat disappointing section at that, is also unsatisfying.
My final problem with the book is the use of the case studies at the end of every chapter. Yes, they helped me grasp the concepts better, but I feel as if they all ended the same way with the same diagnosis. Each one just turned into a psychological therapy session. Every reason behind someone’s social issues were that something bad happened to the person in childhood and therefore contributed to their terrible social problems in the present. First, this is supposed to be a book on neuroscience, not psychology. The book talks about the brain and how it works and how it contributes to social interactions but then in the case studies everything becomes abstract. Second, how can the answer to every problem be that someone was mistreated in some terrible way as a child? It became so repetitive I knew what the solution in each case study was going to end up being, so it made me think that there is nothing that unique about each type of social interaction and how dysfunction results. The case studies also made it more difficult to discover what is happening in the nervous system because it remained very psychological. I was very disappointed with this aspect of the book; I am a neuroscientist, not a psychologist.
The book was very reader-friendly, entertaining, interesting, and a book I would recommend to others as long as the reader knows going into it that there are some flaws. I enjoyed learning about the structures in the brain involved with different sorts of social interactions and relationships, but there were so many more topics that the book could have gone into, and that was extremely disappointing; I can only hear about implicit memory for so long. Overall the book was interesting, in large part because I enjoy neuroscience so much. I feel as if other people with no background knowledge would enjoy it as well but would also wish for more discussion of social relationships and love. Due to these factors, I give The Neuroscience of Human Relationships 3.5 stars out of 5.