The Feeling Brain: The Biology and Psychology of Emotions

Reviewed by Helen Hu

Current advancements in technology and research methods have allowed for previously neglected disciplines to be re-evaluated in a new light. Among these revitalized topics is affective neuroscience, a field that combines neuroscience with certain aspects of psychology to investigate the neural mechanisms behind emotion. Drs. Elizabeth Johnston and Leah Olson, professors at Sarah Lawrence College, have dedicated their careers to further this relatively contemporary subject: in addition to research, Johnston and Olson have previously co-taught a college course titled “The Feeling Brain” which sought to explore emotion in an academic environment.

More recently, Johnston and Olson have transformed their teachings into writing, resulting in The Feeling Brain: The Biology and Psychology of Emotions. The authors “ the work of a few key researchers,” describing their text as a “tasting menu that introduces the variety of delicacies available in the vibrant and growing field of emotion research” (xvi). Drawing from researchers dating back to Darwin, Johnston and Olson weave together a myriad of theories that seek to define emotion in various ways. The authors offer comprehensive coverage of what they view as the most profound contributions to affective neuroscience, hoping to engage their audience in a way that goes beyond a mere question-answer approach.The feeling brain website

There are a total of eleven chapters in this book. As stated in the Introduction, “each chapter will focus on a small number of select individuals whose work has helped shaped emotion research today” (xvi). “Boxes,” short sections explaining concepts relevant to their respective chapters, provide textbook-like definitions and labeled figures to help with understanding. The “tasting menu” metaphor only grows more applicable throughout the work as every chapter guides the reader to a more wholesome understanding of emotion.

The Feeling Brain: The Biology and Psychology of Emotions is a work that is noted as a “reader-friendly exploration of the science of emotion.” Though it is not an “easy text” (and is most likely not meant to be perused for leisure alone), The Feeling Brain presents information in terms that can be understood fairly easily. Admittedly, Johnston and Olson’s academic backgrounds are prominent throughout the book: the strict, “research paper-esque” layout is reminiscent of college lectures or assigned readings, neither of which sound particularly exciting. However, the authors’ ever-present passion for affective neuroscience as well as their hope to share their knowledge with others balance out the book’s drier aspects, resulting in a publication that is wholesome in its exploration of human emotion.

Johnston, E., & Olson, L. (2015). The Feeling Brain: The Biology and Psychology of Emotions. W.W. Norton & Company, Inc. New York, NY USA. ISBN: 978-0-393-70665-9.
Hardcover. 416 pages.
Includes bibliographic references and index.

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