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The Emotional Brain: The Mysterious Underpinnings of Emotional Life Paperback – March 27, 1998

4.4 out of 5 stars 67 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

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 an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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 an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster; unknown edition (March 27, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0684836599
  • ISBN-13: 978-0684836591
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.2 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (67 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #51,397 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
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.
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Format: Paperback
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.
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Format: Paperback
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.
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