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Joy, Guilt, Anger, Love: What Neuroscience Can and Can't Tell Us about How We Feel by Giovanni Frazzetto
"Joy, Guilt, Anger, Love" is an engaging book on what neuroscience can tell us about our emotions. Neuroscientist, Dr. Giovanni Frazzetto's narrates amusing personal stories in which he applies the latest of neuroscience with the purpose of describing scientifically how we feel. This
interesting 321-page book includes the following seven chapters: 1. Anger: Hot Eruptions, 2. Guilt: An Indelible Stain, 3. Anxiety: Fear of the Unknown, 4. Grief: Presence in the Absence, 5. Empathy: The Truth Behind the Curtains, 6. Joy: Fragments of Bliss, and 7. Love: Syndromes and Sonnets.
1. Engaging and accessible prose.
2. Neuroscience is one of my favorite topics. This book focuses on our emotions.
3. The book is laid out logically and is very easy to follow and understand. Frazzetto is very likeable and does a good job of balancing a narrative of his personal experiences with neuroscience.
4. Good use of diagrams to help the reader understand basic neuroscience.
5. Does a very good job throughout the book of disclosing what we do know versus what we don't know scientifically about our emotions. Acknowledges that neuroscience is in its infancy and we must be careful not to jump to conclusions. "However, no neuroscientist would ever tell you that variation in a gene such as MAOA is alone sufficient to determine violent behavior or to make someone a criminal."
6. Surprisingly, makes great use of lesser-known contributions of Charles Darwin. "In 1872, about a dozen years after On the Origin of Species, Darwin published a beautiful volume called The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals, his biggest legacy to the field of psychology."
7. One of the great disclosures of neuroscience is the compelling link between our brains and behavior, particularly when the brain has been damaged.
8. The importance of emotions in decision making. "Damasio's ground-breaking experiments entirely revised the predominant theories that confined decision-making to the realm of rationality and established a new theory according to which emotion is essential in decision-making and our most seemingly rational choices. Emotion and reason are not two exclusive functions of the brain. There exists a mutual dependency between the two."
9. An interesting look at aggression. "In the case of antisocial and violent behavior, factors as diverse as childhood abuse or neglect, unstable family relationships or exposure to violence have all been found to be influential." "It is the presence of the gene in combination with a hostile environment that increases the possibility of developing antisocial behavior."
10. A good job of describing what neuroscience has learned about guilt and how guilt is connected to concepts of moral purity. "For me at least, there's no way gazing at an fMRI image can help draw definite conclusions about the sense of guilt, nor map its exact locus, let alone find out how to assuage it."
11. Good advice on how to handle anxiety. "We can learn to avoid being gripped by anxiety, not by worrying or withdrawing from life - for this would simply reinforce our anxiety symptoms - but by actively turning away from negative thoughts, engaging in pleasurable activities and adopting constructive behavior."
12. The future of psychiatric neuroscience. "Research in psychiatric neuroscience is heading towards the identification of biomarkers. These are measurable biological values that work as proof of some distinct change in the body. For instance, high levels of gonadotropin in a woman's urine are the biomarker of her pregnancy."
13. Amusingly, uses theatre as a vehicle to teach readers about empathy. "The power of the mirror neurons has resonated widely within the theatre world especially, because it provides a fresh theory to probe the mysterious and tacit understanding between actors and audience."
14. Presents peculiar aspects of pleasure and joy. "In fact, of the many emotional sounds she used to probe the auditory capacity of the mirroring system, laughter was the most powerful. Basically, just hearing someone laugh can prompt a smile on your face."
15. The health benefits of being positive. "In general, a positive disposition does improve physical health. Feeling calm, cheerful and strong as opposed to sad, tense or angry can even increase your resistance to developing a cold!"
16. A look at the science of happiness. "Seven main factors that contribute to happiness: health, employment, income, freedom, personal values, family, and social relationships and friends." "Of all the factors influencing our emotional well-being, by far the most significant is the establishment of social and emotional bonds."
17. Provocative questions. "So, the question is: can love be studied in the laboratory and trapped in a test tube? Indeed, from a neuroscience perspective, love is still only sparsely understood. Neuroscientists have the curiosity and ambition to dissect the wonder of love into its neural components. An increasing number of studies involving genetics, neurochemistry and brain imaging have sought to explain all phases and kinds of love, from the passionate establishment of romantic bonds to sexual pleasure, maternal love, relationship attachment and the desolate experience of rejection."
18. Many examples of how the brain functions. "In the case of fear, the brain is plastic: its neuronal wiring and the genetic expression underlying it can be actively changed. Epigenetic modification continues even after childhood. Whatever happened in childhood, there is still room for change, development and discovery."
19. A good epilogue that wraps everything nicely. "The fact that emotion guides reasoning overturns centuries of mistaken assumptions about our rationality and the way we face choices. That our emotional experience writes itself somehow in our bodies, in our neurons, to guide our instinct and intuition, and that we may have discovered where in the brain this inscription occurs is an irresistible notion. Equally, the discovery of the plasticity of the brain is of great relevance if we think of its meaning and importance in, for instance, overriding unwanted patterns of fear, or even honing our approach to love. There is endless wonder in the images of neuroscience. Yet they do not cover the entire breadth of an emotion."
20. Notes and references and a formal bibliography provided.
1. The book lacks depth, it's intended for the masses and Dr. Frazzetto clearly made the decision to go for clarity and accessibility over neuroscientific jargon.
2. Many topics of interest within neuroscience were not covered. As an example, are there gender differences in the brain?
3. Some North American readers may be put off by the use of British English. Words like learnt are used over learned, as an example.
In summary, I had fun with this book. It's light, entertaining and provides good information on what we know scientifically about our emotions. I also like very much that Dr. Frazzetto doesn't oversell neuroscience and recognizes the challenges involved. Accessible for the masses, I recommend it!
Further recommendations: "We Are Our Brains: A Neurobiography of the Brain, from the Womb to Alzheimer's" D.F. Swaab, "Human" by Michael S. Gazzaniga, "Decisive: How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work" and "Switch" by Chip and Dan Heath "The Chemistry Between Us: Love, Sex, and the Science of Attraction" by Larry Young and Brian Alexander, "Predictably Irrational, Revised and Expanded Edition: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions" by Dan Ariely, "Subliminal: How Your Unconscious Mind Rules Your Behavior" by Leonard Mlodinow, "The Science of Love" by Robin Dunbar, " by Martin E. P. Seligman, "Thinking, Fast and Slow" by Daniel Kahneman, "Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking" by Malcolm Gladwell, "The Believing Brain:" by Michael Shermer, and "The Tell-Tale Brain: A Neuroscientist's Quest for What Makes Us Human" by V.s. Ramachandran. All books reviewed by your truly.