The Feeling Brain

The Biology and Psychology of Emotions

Elizabeth Johnston (Author, Sarah Lawrence College), Leah Olson (Author, Sarah Lawrence College)

Overview | Contents

A reader-friendly exploration of the science of emotion.

After years of neglect by both mainstream biology and psychology, the study of emotions has emerged as a central topic of scientific inquiry in the vibrant new discipline of affective neuroscience. Elizabeth Johnston and Leah Olson trace how work in this rapidly expanding field speaks to fundamental questions about the nature of emotion: What is the function of emotions? What is the role of the body in emotions? What are "feelings,” and how do they relate to emotions? Why are emotions so difficult to control? Is there an emotional brain?

The authors tackle these questions and more in this "tasting menu" of cutting-edge emotion research. They build their story around the path-breaking 19th century works of biologist Charles Darwin and psychologist and philosopher William James. James's 1884 article "What Is an Emotion?" continues to guide contemporary debate about minds, brains, and emotions, while Darwin's treatise on "The Expression of Emotions in Animals and Humans" squarely located the study of emotions as a critical concern in biology.

Throughout their study, Johnston and Olson focus on the key scientists whose work has shaped the field, zeroing in on the most brilliant threads in the emerging tapestry of affective neuroscience. Beginning with early work on the brain substrates of emotion by such workers such as James Papez and Paul MacLean, who helped define an emotional brain, they then examine the role of emotion in higher brain functions such as cognition and decision-making. They then investigate the complex interrelations of emotion and pleasure, introducing along the way the work of major researchers such as Antonio Damasio and Joseph LeDoux. In doing so, they braid diverse strands of inquiry into a lucid and concise introduction to this burgeoning field, and begin to answer some of the most compelling questions in the field today.

How does the science of "normal" emotion inform our understanding of emotional disorders? To what extent can we regulate our emotions? When can we trust our emotions and when might they lead us astray? How do emotions affect our memories, and vice versa? How can we best describe the relationship between emotion and cognition? Johnston and Olson lay out the most salient questions of contemporary affective neuroscience in this study, expertly situating them in their biological, psychological, and philosophical contexts. They offer a compelling vision of an increasingly exciting and ambitious field for mental health professionals and the interested lay audience, as well as for undergraduate and graduate students.

Book Details

  • Hardcover
  • May 2015
  • ISBN 978-0-393-70665-9
  • 6.5 × 9.6 in / 416 pages
  • Sales Territory: Worldwide

Endorsements & Reviews

“This book offers a comprehensive, detailed and referenced, synthetic and analytic (rare enough to be noted) insight into emotional experience and its physiological substrate. . . . [T]he complexity and history of neurosciences and biological theories of emotions are told in a very accessible way.” — Metapsychology Online Reviews

“[A] marvelous and fascinating review of our feeling brain in a clear and understandable way. . . . [A] good resource for anyone interested in the neuroscience of emotions. . . . [W]ith its nuanced research, history, and case studies, it drew me in. . . . I took so many notes as I read and found so much valuable information in the book that I can hardly narrow it down.” — PsychCentral

“This wonderful, well-written book . . . is both a richly detailed history of the development of the study of emotions in neuroscience and psychology and a snapshot of contemporary research on emotions. . . . In addition to the depth and breadth of its coverage of the science of emotion, the book is distinguished by the strength of the authors’ narrative voice. They do not simply describe the science—they tell a fascinating and compelling story.” — CHOICE

“[T]he movie Inside Out translates into lay terms what . . . The Feeling Brain presents in much more technical detail. . . . [A]n extremely well researched, in-depth yet concise book for neuroscientists, neuropsychologists, and psychologists who want to know more about the neuroanatomy of emotions. It would also be of interest to any individuals looking for detailed information on the dynamics and understanding of emotions, cognition, and neural integration.” — Dr. Diane Brain Health

“In a comprehensive and accessible book, Drs. Johnston and Olson successfully weave together the diverse threads of emotion research. The result is a rich tapestry that conveys something profound: a more complete picture of what it means to feel. This book not only expanded my knowledge of emotion research. It changed how I teach affective neuroscience, but also, my awareness of those around me, particularly those with whom I share an emotional bond. ” — Dr. Nathan Spreng, Asst. Professor of Human Development, Cornell University

“In The Feeling Brain, Elizabeth Johnston and Leah Olson provide a well-written, engaging, and informative synthesis of one of the most exciting research areas in modern psychology and neuroscience. This timely volume will be essential reading for anyone interested in understanding the relationship between emotion and the brain. ” — Daniel L. Schacter, William R. Kenan, Jr. Professor of Psychology, Harvard University, and author of The Seven Sins of Memory: How the Mind Forgets and Remembers

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