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The Emotional Brain: The Mysterious Underpinnings of Emotional Life

4.09  ·  Rating details ·  2,743 ratings  ·  57 reviews
The Emotional Brain investigates the origins of human emotions and explains that many exist as part of complex neural systems that evolved to enable us to survive.
Paperback, 384 pages
Published March 27th 1998 by Simon Schuster (first published 1996)
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Average rating 4.09  · 
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 ·  2,743 ratings  ·  57 reviews

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Jun 11, 2008 rated it liked it
Shelves: math-science
"You're reading that for *fun*?" "Yup."

Okay so it wasn't really "fun", reading this book, and god knows it took me nearly the entire summer to finish it, but here are some crazy tidbits about our emotional brain:

You know how sometimes you wished you could will yourself to feel a certain way about a certain situation/person/thing? Ya know, adopt an emotionally "mature" perspective on it? But instead you feel kinda angry/bitter/jealous/scared/sad/etc. about the whole fucking thing? Well here's w
Cooper Cooper
Jul 27, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Brief Review
A prominent researcher who focuses on the “emotional brain,” Joseph LeDoux contends that, contrary to the belief of some experts, there is no single emotional or “limbic” system in the brain, but different systems for different emotions. He also maintains that the fear system, in which he specializes, has two components that are not always in sync. There is the “lower” system, controlled by the amygdala in the midbrain, which is oriented toward survival and thus triggers flight or f
Stephie Williams
Dec 26, 2018 rated it liked it
This book discusses how emotions are produced in the brain, and what their functions are. How do they help us as we travel through life. The author, Joseph LeDoux, is a brain scientist, who has extensively study the fear response in animals. He believes from his own work, and those of others, that the emotion of fear is produced in the same way in human beings. Humans may have an extra component; this would be we feel fear, which is partly a cognitive affair, which he believes takes language and ...more
Petter Wolff
Jul 15, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Very good overview of an integrated view of emotions, (emotive) consciousness and underlying neurophysiological functions. I feel it complements Damasio well. I don't know if there is any more recent writing on the subject, I'll be on the lookout for it.

Re-read jan 2018, raising to a 5. It's really well laid out and argued, and comparably easy to read. The drawings are a bit drab, though.
shweta agarwal
Oct 17, 2020 rated it really liked it
This book was by no means an easy read for a lay person like me, though I am sure Ledoux has oversimplified it for a more general read. I don't know how much of it will I retain, I doubt much but a big takeaway was to realize how complicated our brain is and how much of the processes are happening unconsciously. Hence, introspective analysis of every emotion and feeling is almost impossible. It's easier probably to read others than judge oneself. It's probably ok if we cannot understand our emot ...more
Magdalena Wajda
Feb 18, 2020 rated it really liked it
I would not have reached for it if I did not have due to work. And it turned out to be fascinating.
David Olmsted
Apr 14, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: neuroscience
Despite being over 10 years old now this book by a leading researcher in the field gives some good information on the fear generating system of the brain.

The first two chapters review the various psychological movements of the 20th century with the third chapter narrowing that down to how they dealt with emotion. By the mid 1980's (page 53) the experimental evidence was in showing that affective (emotional) reactions could take place in the absence of conscious awareness. The key figure was Robe
Bob Nichols
Dec 06, 2012 rated it liked it
This is a good book, although some of the more technical descriptions were challenging. Whether any of this is dated, I can't say.

LeDoux argues that we make a mistake when we conceive of emotions as a distinct, unitary system, as we more or less implicitly do when we contrast emotions with cognition and reason. "Emotions are" he writes, "...functions involved in survival. But since different emotions are involved with different survival functions - defending against danger, finding food and mate
Joe Silber
Jun 04, 2015 rated it liked it
"The Emotional Brain" was surprisingly tough to get through; I found it a bit of a slog. Ledoux was admittedly trying to walk a line: stay accessible and layman-friendly while not "dumbing-down the science." As to whether or not he succeeded, your mileage may vary. First of all, be aware that Ledoux does not get much into the "experience" of emotions per se; this book is focused on the underlying brain processes that cause them. Ledoux doesn't get too deep into the biochemistry of things (he spr ...more
Shashwat Singh
Jul 20, 2015 rated it really liked it
If you're an interested in learning how emotions work and their neurobiological background, read this book.

This is a science heavy and technical book. I'd recommend you read Daniel Goleman's Emotional Intelligence first before tackling this book. However, this books gives a very indepth look into why and how emotions occur based on the latest research. The author gives a balanced overview, and you are aware that the whole field of research into emotions is still quite new and there is a lot we
Alex Delogu
A deep look into emotional/neural pathways. The start of the book is a good introduction to the schools of psychology and philosophy of mind and their respective domains of research. The latter half of the book goes into very detailed neurological descriptions that are beyond useful for me.
Juozas Grigas
Mar 04, 2018 rated it really liked it
Generally, The Emotional Brain is a very accessible overview - for both laymen and people interested in more technical details of the topic – about origin, mechanism and function of emotion, and a very important distinction between ‘emotion’ and ‘feeling’, focusing more on the former. A proposition LeDoux makes can be generalized into something like emotion being a physiological and behavioral response to certain external (and possibly internal) stimuli. In that sense, emotion can be treated in ...more
Lauransia O.
Mar 10, 2020 rated it it was amazing
We all often heard emotion word everywhere, anytime. And after having a year of research in emotional intelligence, what’s the point of not digging-it-for-more?

I’ve dived down to CBT (Exposure Therapy), and neuroscience to see where it could bring me. Jumping for one book to another, this is absolutely not an easy-reading one yet I enjoyed the most.

A more harmonious integration of reason and passion in the brain, a development that will allow future humans to better know their true feelings and
Jun 24, 2018 rated it really liked it
Maybe a bit dated, but thoughtful and historical enough to pull through.

His big contention’s that conscious feelings are red herrings: most emotional activity is demonstrably unconscious (though not in a Freudian way). So we should see emotions as products of several separate bodily-response systems: “the word ‘emotion’ does not refer to any thing the mind or brain really has or does”.

Getting there takes a lot of careful conceptual work, debunking old artefacts (“the limbic system”), probing t
This is a good overview of emotive processing, and relatively accessible for those who haven't studied psychology. At the time of writing this review, I'm a 4th year student of neuroscience and cognitive science, and the content of this book is up to a 2nd year university level. It goes through the expected things, such as the Cannon-Bard vs. James-Lange theory of emotion; the neural substrates such as amygdala and cortical processing, the HPA axis, etc.; Pavlov; HM; and long-term potentiation. ...more
Carlos Allende
Jun 09, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A Must for everyone willing to understand emotions

I wished I had read this book years ago! It is a comprehensive, and easy-to-read review of everything we know about emotion. Rather than simply regurgitating knowledge, Ledoux takes your hand on a stroll through others’ research and his own to understand what emotions are and how they affect behavior. Ledoux critiques to how cognitive scientists have minimized the role of emotions are on point. It is appalling how, despite this book coming out in
Dan Pendergrass
Jan 14, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This is a well researched book, but honestly it would be better as a text book for an intro to Neuroscience course. I had to re-read many sections and study the diagrams at length. The idea of various systems existing withing given structures and pathways between the various structures that sometimes are stronger one direction than the other is a bit difficult to grasp when you've been convinced that the old "Limbic" type system was the way things were. I found the overall concept compelling and ...more
Zhuo Zhang
It is a well-written book, even thought the technical terms throughout the book seem challenging, cause if I spend time on getting familiar with those terms, I lose the big picture of the book as well as the joy of reading the book. And I do want to learn more about brain and emotion. The two takeaway for me from this book are: fear is an interesting feeling/emotion and also the base feeling to everything; memory is not reliable cause it can be reconstructed due to emotion. (the emotional memory ...more
Sylvia Clare
Nov 19, 2020 rated it really liked it
a tough read as it is so technical but worth the effort to understand how complex our brains and emotions are too. We all live with them and some of us write about them and study them psychologically but to actually understand how they manifest in the body - well that is astonishing and still largely unknown. But this book is well informed and researched, the author clearly deeply knowledgeable. It has been an interesting read.
An Te
Apr 16, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
So what are emotions? A good survey of the literature, then, on emotion, brain regions and the importance of emotions in decision-making. It'd be nice now to read the updated version to see where the area has moved to since Joseph's book. ...more
Leo Fischer
Nov 18, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book was a great introduction to the structure of the brain, including a lot of insight into emotional systems (particularly fear), research techniques, the evolution of the brain and the interplay between conscious and unconscious systems.
Mitchell Snow
Nov 17, 2020 rated it really liked it
The emotional brain makes us do some wild shit. The complex system that is the brain should be understood by everyone who has or uses one.
Chris Gard
Jan 02, 2016 rated it it was ok
I couldn't finish this book.

His writing style is insufferably verbose. When a topic is in its own essence profoundly complex, using over-the-top synonymies and overdrawn, over-complicated junctions of ideas, information and boastful vocabulary are just too overwhelming for the average reader.

It's unpleasant to see myself writing this review, as I do take such a liking to his approach to the mechanisms of unconscious, conscious and physiological and their interaction. His research is sound, altho
Jason Johnson
Jan 03, 2008 rated it really liked it
Presents the role of the amygdala in the processing of fear. Like Damasio, LeDoux includes visceral reactions as part of the overall emotional scheme, although L focuses more on the resulting behaviour and how the initial perception (of say, a snake in the grass) elicits the fear response. Also delves into Panic and Anxiety Disorders and PTSD. Nice debunking of the limbic system as an emotional processing centre of the brain. (Does not necessarily refute limbic as a term to describe the physical ...more
This guy is a huuuuge pessimist and doesn't seem to believe in the power of CBT to help you change your emotions through your thoughts. (His pessimism is reflected in other aspects of his writing as well, btw., so I do mean that "AND".)(the preface/intro is like "Big thanks to my wife and children for putting up with miserable, surly me while I was struggling to write this still-poorly-written book. :( :(")

I can understand the point of view he expresses re: emotional lack of control, considerin
Ann Michael
Jun 25, 2011 rated it really liked it
Although it's 15 years old, this book provides a good basis for a layman (non-neurologist) in understanding the history and science and philosophy of the study of emotions. I like the way LeDoux integrates, without denigrating, previous thinking on the brain and consciousness--from Descartes to James to Freud to the behaviorists and cognitive psychologists, showing how the philosophy of the mind-body problem influenced the science of neurology (among some emotion-study researchers). His writing ...more
J.J. Brown
Aug 31, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Joseph LeDoux' illustrated The Emotional Brain explains why we can't think clearly when flooded with emotion, and many other mysteries. The book is scholarly and covers a tremendous range of research not only on emotion but also on brain evolution, thought, and memory. If you wonder how emotion evolved and how it works in animals and humans, this is a must-read book. I learned so many new concepts and some of these challenged my prior beliefs about how emotions control thought and action. The bo ...more
Aug 10, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book was extremely well written and easy to follow. The author offers a brief history of the different theories behind the study of emotion. Then,based on his own research and that of others in the field, the author presents many interesting theories on the biological basis of emotions. I strongly reccomend this book for anyone who is interested in brain science, emotions, or consciousness.
Jan 04, 2009 rated it it was amazing
This is the clearest, most even-handed book on the brain and the current research that I've seen. LeDoux manages to take the reader through the thickets of research into synapses, axons, and dendrites without ever getting bogged down in the little stuff. By the time you've finished the book, you'll believe that you understand how your mind works, at least some of it, some of the time. ...more
Jan 17, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
This book perfectly balances being informative with being readable and understandable to the educated layman. Very well written and easy to understand. Great book to get you interested in neurology, though not necessarily a good introduction overview.
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