Book Review: The Emotional Brain

by Kimberly on April 8, 2009 · 0 comments

I recently finished reading The Emotional Brain: The Mysterious Underpinnings of Emotional Life by Joseph Ledoux. LeDoux is a well known and well respected researcher who specializes in studying, well, emotions. That’s his official specialty. Unofficially, I feel he should also be considered a specialist in taking complex ideas and breaking them down into easy-to-understand concepts.

The Emotional Brain: The Mysterious Underpinnings of Emotional Life goes through the neural and chemical processes involved in experiencing a feeling. Should be simple, right? We all know what feelings are, so this should be easy, right? Wrong. LeDoux starts at the beginning, with the idea that emotions really are only a label, an easy way for us to describe and talk about something the brain does. As a scientist, LeDoux is more interested in the “what the brain does” aspect of experiencing an emotion, in uncovering the mechanisms responsible for creating what we describe as a feeling.

This book takes the reader through the scientific journey of discovering how we experience an emotion. After reading this book, you will have a better understanding of:

  • The definition of an emotional system. What is an emotion, really?
  • A description of how the emotional system takes sensory information and uses it to produce a response. This response could behavioral (e.g. what we do and how we act), autonomic (e.g. how our heart rate responds), and/or hormonal (e.g. what our brain does chemically).
  • The definition of a “cortical sensory buffer” and how that is involved in creating an emotional experience.
  • What is Baddeley’s “working memory” system and how that is involved in creating an emotional experience? In short, our working memory system takes the short-term information (e.g. sensory information such as the lion roar we are hearing) and integrates it with our long-term memory (e.g. have we experienced this or heard this roar before?).
  • A description of how our body naturally provides feedback that is then used to influence our emotional response.

If this seems confusing and “over your head,” do not worry – LeDoux is a master at taking time to explain each step and each bit of new information in a way that makes it easy to understand. He systematically takes the reader through the theory and research needed to really grasp and comprehend that point.

I highly recommend The Emotional Brain: The Mysterious Underpinnings of Emotional Life to the music therapist (or the layperson!) interested in understanding how our brain works. Although LeDoux focuses on emotions, the information also provides an insight into how our brain takes information and uses, or responds, to it. At 300+ pages, it may take some time, but it is well worth the read.

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