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The Emotional Brain: The Mysterious Underpinnings of Emotional Life Paperback – March 27, 1998
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"Joseph LeDoux is a superb guide to that ultimate frontier in understanding our emotional life, the brain."
-- Daniel Goldman, author of Emotional Intelligence
"The Emotional Brain is an excellent introduction to the strange history of the neurobiology of emotion and a preview of what lies ahead."
-- Antonio R. Damasio, Scientific American
"Engrossing and engaging..."
-- Richard Restak, The New York Times Book Review
"Highly accessible...LeDoux's musical and literary references reveal a man clearly in touch with his own emotional feelings. All said, The Emotional Brain is a stimulating and thoughtful work and is essential reading for any serious student of human emotion."
-- Raymond J. Dolan, Nature
"[The Emotional Brain] is vivid and convincing in its description of the central mechanisms 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
About the Author
Joseph LeDoux is the Henry and Lucy Moses Professor of Science in the Center for Neural Science at New York University. He has been awarded both a Merit Award and a Research Scientist Development Award from the National Institute of Mental Health, as well as grants from the National Science Foundation and the American Heart Association. He lives in New York City.
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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.