ANXIOUS by Joseph LeDoux


Using the Brain to Understand and Treat Fear and Anxiety
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This is no self-help book but rather a rigorous scientific analysis of brain function, heavy on research and theory.

LeDoux (Neuroscience/New York Univ.; The Synaptic Self: How Our Brains Become Who We Are, 2002, etc.), who directs the Emotional Brain Institute at NYU and at the Nathan Kline Institute, explains that anxiety is fear in the absence of obvious danger. Modern humans face few deadly perils but “more than make up for their absence with our brain’s capacity to anticipate threats including some that may never happen.” The author stresses that fear is the end product of brain structures that generate no feelings by themselves but detect danger and orchestrate defensive responses that ensure the organism’s survival. Technical advances have given neuroscientists precise tools to investigate these structures, and psychologists have been active in the process as well. The result is a torrent of findings from neuroscientific laboratories that often conflict with psychological theories. LeDoux recounts them in often painful detail and tries, sometimes successfully, to reconcile them. In the final chapters, the author claims to offer new ways to cope. He mentions experimental, mind-altering drugs and describes how various brain structures respond to psychotherapy, and he seems particularly intrigued by the benefits of meditation. However, LeDoux is a scientist (more than 100 pages of notes and bibliography attest to his research), not a media celebrity à la Drs. Phil, Oz, and Weil, so sufferers will find no cheerful advice on banishing worry but plenty of sensible if discouraging qualifiers: “additional research will be necessary,” “not all studies have found this effect,” “this has a promising potential….”

Not turgid enough for academia or lucid enough to be quality popular science, the book is a dense, detailed, often stimulating review of how the brain processes external threats.

Pub Date: July 14th, 2015
ISBN: 978-0-670-01533-7
Page count: 464pp
Publisher: Viking
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15th, 2015


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