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The Emotional Brain: The Mysterious Underpinnings of Emotional Life Paperback – March 27, 1998
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Joseph LeDoux, a professor at the Center for Neural Science at New York University, has written the most comprehensive examination to date of how systems in the brain work in response to emotions, particularly fear. Among his fascinating findings is the work of amygdala structure within the brain. The amygdala mediates fear and other responses and actually processes information more quickly than other parts of the brain, allowing a rapid response that can save our lives before other parts of the brain have had a chance to react. He also offers findings and theories on how the brain handles--and in many cases, buries--extremely traumatic experiences. In all, a compelling read about the mysteries of emotions and the workings of the brain. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
From Publishers Weekly
Brain researcher LeDoux believes that emotions evolved from bodily and behavioral responses controlled by the brain as a means to help our remote ancestors survive a hostile environment. The emotional states we subjectively experience, in this theory, are the end result of information processing that occurs unconsciously as the brain decodes the significance of stimuli in order to shape appropriate behavior. In this intriguing report, LeDoux, a professor at New York University, draws heavily on his own research into the brain's "fear system," which suggests that unconscious fear-related memories imprinted on the brain can result in deep-rooted neurotic anxiety, phobias, panic attacks or obsessive-compulsive disorders. He also reviews studies indicating that multiple memory systems exist in the brain, including one for "emotional memories," which helps to explain the course of Alzheimer's disease as well as adults' inability to remember early childhood experiences. Research cited here suggests that behavior therapy may actually rewire the brain's pathways. LeDoux's lively, heavily annotated text is amplified by numerous photos and drawings. Newbridge Library of Science main selection.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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LeDoux chose fear as the main subject of his study of emotions. He gave various reasons for this:
* Fear is pervasive.
* Fear plays an important role in psychopathology.
* Fear is expressed similarly in humans and other animals.
These factors provided LeDoux with ample source material for his reseach which included his own experiments on animal brains and studies about the removal of parts of the brain of human epileptic patients.
For me his most fascinating discussion was about our primitive brain- in LeDoux's words - "we are emotional lizards" - meaning we detect and respond to fear in the same way as all vertebrate animals. When faced with a frightening situation we freeze, our heart rate accelerates and muscles contract. Stress hormones are released into the bloodstream and reflexes are heightened. One interesting and merciful point about the fear reaction is that it is virtually impossible to feel strong fear and pain at the same time, as when we are frightened our sensitivity to pain is greatly diminished. I was also interested to read that the "lizard" brain has its own memory - traumatic experiences which zap straight from the thalamus to the amygdala may never reach the cortex, with its conscious awareness.
The lizard brain is our fastest and most primitive pathway for responding to fear, with messages sent straight from the thalamus to the amygdala. However a second pathway goes from the thalamus to the cortex to the amygdala, a slightly indirect pattern which appears to be unique to humans and other primates.
The cortex, which is our centre of consciousness and language, helps us to understand a threat and consider how we might deal with it. Thanks to the cortex we can be proactive as well as reactive. However, since it is slower to react than the more instinctual lizard brain, it is obviously handy to have both. It is interesting to note that people who are very anxious from birth tend to have a thicker cortex than others - presumably from trying to rationalize and cope with their anxiety, a form of fear.
LeDoux poses the question - "where is evolution taking our brain?" He speculates that as humans move further up the evolutionary chain, our minds could develop increased connectivity between the amygdala and cortex which would lead to a more harmonious balance between reason and passion.
Given LeDoux' scholarly approach, I was surprised to discover one major mistake. He described the "wild pig" phenomena observed among the Gururumba "a horticultural people living in the highlands of New Zealand." As a New Zealander I can say that if there are such people, it is an incredibly well kept secret! I can only presume that these people come from another country, perhaps one of our Pacific neighbours.
One other minor quibble about the book is the low quality cardboard used for the cover which is so flimsy it curls around and gives no protection to the pages. It is possibly the worst quality book cover I have ever come across and does a disservice to the publisher Simon and Schuster.