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Anxious: Using the Brain to Understand and Treat Fear and Anxiety Hardcover – July 14, 2015
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“Every age believes itself to be the age of anxiety, as Auden’s famous poem first put it. But in his new book, Anxious, the neuroscientist and writer Joseph LeDoux suggests that that has never been a stronger claim to make than it is now . . . . If this is the age of anxiety, LeDoux is our Lewis and our Clark: It was LeDoux who laid down the first map of what is called the brain’s ‘fear circuit,’ the regions—centered on the amygdala and its adjacent structures—that together give rise to our ability to respond to threats and danger. But with his new book, he wants to redraw that map.”
—Casey Schwartz, New York Magazine
“Mr. LeDoux offers a careful tour through the current neuroscience of fear and anxiety. . . . [Anxious] will reward the informed reader.”
—Leonore Tiefer, The Wall Street Journal
“LeDoux presents a rigorous, in-depth guide to the history, philosophy and scientific exploration of this widespread emotional state. . . . Neuroscientists, psychologists, philosophers and psychiatrists will find this exquisitely referenced book particularly useful. It is also a must-read for young investigators, and anyone perusing the footnotes will be rewarded with an insider’s view of the state and evolution of anxiety research. LeDoux’s charming personal asides give an impression of having a conversation with a world expert. LeDoux ends on a high note, describing how cutting-edge research on the neural substrates of anxiety is being translated into new approaches for psychiatric treatment.”
—Susanne Ahmari, Nature
“LeDoux is not only a pioneer in the neurobiological analysis of fear in animals but also a scholarly and accessible writer. In Anxious, he systematically builds on his earlier works, covering with aplomb a vast literature on emotion, memory, attention, and consciousness. With that said, Anxious is a significant and important departure from the author’s earlier views on the neural underpinnings of fear. . . . In Anxious, LeDoux challenges the reader to think differently about the neural origins of fear and its disorders. In doing so, he offers a masterful synthesis of animal and human work and a novel roadmap for future work in both the laboratory and the clinic.”
—Stephen Maren, Science
“Anxious is an extraordinarily ambitious, provocative, challenging, and important book. Drawing on the latest research in neuro-science (including work in his own laboratory), LeDoux provides explanations of the origins, nature, and impact of fear and anxiety disorders.”
—Glenn Altschuler, Psychology Today
“Drawing on years of research, neuroscientist LeDoux delves into the subject of anxiety and fear, depicting both emotions as cognitive constructs. . . . [Anxious] will open up new worlds of thinking and feeling”
“Wonderfully erudite, informative, and splendidly well written. Helps to explain and prevent the kinds of debilitating anxieties all of us face in this increasingly stressful world. Any author who can weave Leonard Bernstein, W. H. Auden, The Rolling Stones, and Alfred E. Neuman into a single illustrative example is on my short list for favorite writers ever.”
—Daniel J. Levitin, author of The Organized Mind and This Is Your Brain On Music
“Joseph LeDoux [is] the William James of our era. . . . This marvelous book is science at its best. It traces the evolution of a key set of scientific insights based on progressively better empirical data, most of these derived from LeDoux’s brilliant studies, and applies these new insights to a family of clinically important phenomenon. Anxious is an absolute must read for clinicians and basic scientists as well as for anyone else interested in anxiety and its disorders.”
—Eric R. Kandel, Kavli Professor and University Professor, Columbia University; Senior Investigator, Howard Hughes Medical Institute; author of In Search of Memory and The Age of Insight; recipient of the 2000 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine
“An exquisite and unique attempt to truly relate how neural cells lead to felt conscious states in the human mind—the toughest problem in all of science. LeDoux has thrown down the gauntlet and set the standard. I wish all of us working on the problem luck trying to beat this analysis.”
—Michael Gazzaniga, Professor of Psychology, University of California, Santa Barbara, and author of Tales from Both Sides of the Brain, Human, and The Social Brain
“Anxious is a profound, exciting and immensely useful work about one of our most troubling—and puzzling—emotions. Joseph LeDoux takes us behind the scenes of our own minds to show us not only how anxiety is constructed in the brain but how it can be deconstructed. This is neuroscience at its very best: helpful and hopeful without a hint of hyperbole.”
—Mark Epstein, M.D., author of Thoughts without a Thinker and The Trauma of Everyday Life
“In this tour de force, LeDoux artfully guides the reader from the unconscious defensive system, through attention and memory, to the conscious experience of fear and anxiety. His traverse from the unconscious to the conscious experience of emotion is rich in scientific detail and yet exquisitely readable. LeDoux completes his masterpiece with provocative discussions of therapies for anxiety. This book is a fascinating revelation of the evolution in LeDoux’s own scientific thinking and in the field at large and is a must read for any student of learning, memory or emotion.”
—Michelle G. Craske, Ph.D., Professor of Psychology and Director, Anxiety Disorders Research Center, UCLA
“LeDoux is a true leader in the field of cutting-edge neuroscience and psychology, yet he also has an uncanny ability to write beautifully and clearly. . . . A must-read for anyone interested in the intersection of the mind and brain, and how an understanding of psychology and neuroscience can change ourselves and the world around us!”
—Kerry J. Ressler, M.D., Ph.D., Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Emory University; Scientific Council Chair, Anxiety and Depression Association of America; Investigator, Howard Hughes Medical Institute; Member, National Academy of Sciences
Praise for Synaptic Self
“Synaptic Self represents a brilliant manifesto at the cutting edge of psychology’s evolution into a brain science. Joseph LeDoux is one of the field's pre-eminent, most important thinkers.”
—Daniel Goleman, author of Emotional Intelligence and Primal Leadership
“A clear, up-to-date, and impressively fair-minded account of what neuroscience has established about human nature.”
—Howard Gardner, John H. and Elisabeth A. Hobbs Professor of Cognition and Education at Harvard University and author of Frames of Mind and Intelligence Reframed
“Synaptic Self is a wonderful tour of the brain circuitry behind some of the critical aspects of the mind. LeDoux is an expert tour guide and it is well worth listening. His perspective takes you deep into the cellular basis of what it is to be a thinking being.”
—Antonio R. Damasio, University Professor, David Dornsife Chair in Neuroscience and Professor of Psychology and Neurology, Director of the USC College Brain and Creativity Institute and author of The Feeling of What Happens and Descartes’ Error
“In this pathbreaking synthesis, Joseph LeDoux draws on dazzling insights from the cutting edge of neuroscience to generate a new conception of an enduring mystery: the nature of the self. Enlightening and engrossing, LeDoux's bold formulation will change the way you think about who you are”
—Daniel L. Schacter, William R. Kenan, Jr. Professor of Psychology at Harvard University, author of The Seven Sins of Memory and Searching for Memory
“Starting with a synopsis of the evolving nature of the "self" in philosophy, psychology, and physiology . . . [LeDoux] addresses that most unwieldy of subjects through the empirical divinations of neuroscience. The core of his argument rests on synapses, the empty gaps that neurons bridge to form circuits. LeDoux's remarkably accessible descriptions of the process crackle like the electrical storms that rain chemical ooze on the brain. . . . [Synaptic Self] goes a long way in ordaining the steps to humanity's timeless tango with tautology.”
—Andy Battaglia, A.V. Club
“[A]n important contribution.”
Praise for The Emotional Brain
“Highly accessible, a stimulating and thoughtful work [that] is essential reading for any serious student of human nature.”
—Raymond J. Dolan, Nature
“[The Emotional Brain] is vivid and convincing in its description of a central mechanism of emotion, and is directly applicable to understanding anxiety, the most common ingredient of emotional disorders. It's a terrifically good book.”
—Keith Oatley, New Scientist
“With clarity and convincing logic, The Emotional Brain presents a new view of emotion that is derived in large part from the author's own ground-breaking research. . . . LeDoux shows how the study of the brain leaves our understanding of emotion richer than it was before."
—Steven E. Hyman, M.D. Director, National Institute of Mental Health
“Engrossing and engaging.”
—Richard Restak, The New York Times Book Review
About the Author
JOSEPH LEDOUX is the Henry and Lucy Moses Professor of Science at New York University, where he is a member of the Center for Neural Science and Department of Psychology. He directs the Emotional Brain Institute at New York University and at the Nathan Kline Institute, and is the author of Synaptic Self and The Emotional Brain. A member of the National Academy of Sciences, LeDoux lives in Brooklyn, New York.
Author interviews, book reviews, editors picks, and more. Read it now
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On p. 198, LeDoux alleges that the "simplest" assumption is to think animals can't think or feel--again because they can't talk. This indicates an odd view of simplicity and a lack of thought about Darwinian evolution. In fact the higher mammals are very close to humans biologically. We talk about their legs, ears, eyes, blood, and, of course, brain anatomy because we know these are homologous structures with the same basic genetics as ours. LeDoux also presumably knows that recent MRI studies show the same level of similarity in brain function. Dogs show the same reactions, including emotional ones in so far as tested, as we do--with appropriate differences; dog paws aren't hands but they are homologous; dog fear isn't the same as human fear but it's homologous. If there is any value to Darwinian theory at all, not only the simplest but the only possible hypothesis is to think of higher mammal consciousness and feelings as about like our own--different to the extent that the animals are anatomically different, which is quite a bit but well within the realm of empathy. (LeDoux even drags out Nagel's dreadful essay on how it feels to be a bat, apparently unaware of the countless refutations, mostly of the sort "I don't know exactly how my wife feels, and I sort of know how a bat feels" type.)
In short, a thoroughly mystical and scieintifically meaningless definition of consciousness ("qualia" and all) is not going to work for neuropsychology, however much philosophers love those things.
There is much worse, though. This view of humans as the only conscious beings has been used since the ancient Greeks, and especially since Descartes, as an excuse and justification for torturing animals--including torturing them in horrible psychological experiments. LeDoux does use the Cartesian "machine" image at one point, and rather ominously cites Lloyd Morgan, who famously played that card. LeDoux does have one (one) throwaway line about not wanting to hurt animals, but the rest of the book is a long justification for doing exactly that. The philosophers can have their tendentious definitions of humanity, but if those things start mattering in the real world, we should worry.
I was a student of psychology research until 20 years ago...
Everything I learned up to 20 years ago has literally been invalidated by a few inventions like the MRI and a handful of neuroscientists able to think out of the box. I feel so fortunate to have enough of a psychology research background to understand the contents. However, as a bankrupted consumer of countless mental health services and a severe anxiety sufferer, I can tell anyone with anxiety that limits normal life activities it is worth learning the science just to understand the research in this book. Why? Because the research now shows us conclusively that "anxiety" is NOT a genetic disorder, or a character trait, or a demonic curse, or sin. It's simply a subjective perception of non-specific fear caused by the brain's threat-response system needing a bit of tune up.
Most importantly this knowledge allows me as a sufferer of this condition to be able to divorce myself from the lifelong shame of thinking that my anxiety, my fear of my anxiety, and all the embarrassing coping mechanisms I built into my "personality" were the sentences in the definition of who I was. I am now free of those oh-so misguided assumptions, and I can at least live my remaining life as a new person without any labels.
Now we can see that the entire concept of "anxiety" is much closer to conditions such as epilepsy at a neuro-physical level where the dampening circuits in our brain fail to keep up with the excitatory circuits. Also we see that brain circuits are accidentally altered after traumatic events, but they can set back to normal. Psychotherapies that deal in getting in touch with feelings, reliving past traumas, taking personality inventories, etc will go the route of Sigmund Fraud. We now know they are as useless as bloodletting and inducing boils. No wonder SSRIs and CBT work great (for a few weeks) then stop. Mindfulness of one's condition is a far superior than the mental judo of CBT, and drugs that better target the neural dampening systems will eliminate anxiety much more completely, effectively and quickly.
LeDoux must have some serious enemies who's professional livelihoods based on the old science are now in the process of losing credibility.
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The book is sometimes berry technical but the required attention is so worth...Read more