The Emotional Revolution by Norman E. Rosenthal is a
tempered exploration of the subject of human emotions for readers who wish to
understand the current status of our scientific knowledge on the subject and
for readers who are overwhelmed with conflicting claims about the effectiveness
of different treatments for emotional disturbances and need to gather reliable
and up-to-date information. Rosenthal'sbook thus combines a didactic and a
clinical goal in an attempt to attract two diverse audiences with an overview
of the subject of human emotions.
The book is organized in two main sections. The
first section is primarily devoted to the explanation of the role that emotions
play in our daily activities, from basic survival issues (e.g., protection from
danger) to higher-order information processing (e.g., intellectual functioning
in social and non-social contexts), and to the examination of the
neuro-anatomical and neuro-physiological substrates of emotions. The second
section is dedicated to an in-depth analysis of an array of individual
emotions, including fear, anger, love, etc.
Throughout the entire book, Rosenthal reminds
readers of the distinction between the utilitarian functions of emotions, which
involve improving our chances of survival and advancing our interests, and the
multi-faceted nature of emotional malfunctioning, which underscores the dangers
of either excessive or insufficient emotional responsiveness. Within this
framework, the author discusses different types of emotions by relying on case
studies and, at times, on literary and anecdotal references, thereby injecting
concreteness and vividness into his didactic and clinical pursuits. He provides
readers with clear-cut and simplified descriptions of the neural structures
deemed to be responsible for emotions in both their "normal" states
and altered functioning. For the latter, he discusses treatment options and
research findings illustrating the extent to which different treatments (from
those focused on biochemistry to those cognitively oriented) may be effective
or ineffective. Rosenthal's attempt to rely on research evidence from diverse
sources is not only commendable, but also refreshing. Not surprisingly, his usually balanced discussion of treatment
options concentrates on uncovering the sources of emotional malfunctioning
instead of simply providing a "cure" for "unpleasant"
Unfortunately, Rosenthal's avoidance of
controversial issues is one of the book's main weaknesses. First, it deprives him of the opportunity to
avow the critical need for serious scientific studies that identify the sources
of our emotional repertoire both in its "normal" and altered
functioning. This would provide readers with an explanation of why his attempts
to uncover such sources frequently fall short of conclusive answers. Second, it
does not fend off the criticism that treating symptoms with whatever appears to
work (otherwise known as the trial and error approach) is still a defining
(albeit unfortunate) quality of many in the clinical profession. Third, it
circumvents a serious evaluation of the scientific evidence provided in support
of different clinical treatments, depriving readers of the opportunity to
critically evaluate each of the presented findings. Finally, it does not engage
readers in any real discussion of the issue of medicalization of
"unpopular" traits and behaviors to the advantage of pharmaceutical
interests. Rosenthal prefers to list
treatment options rather than discussing how such options are the reflection of
a socio-economic context driven more by market values than by human concern.
In summary, this book is an interesting and witty
examination of our emotional repertoire, full of case studies and practical
references to entice readers to the subject of emotions and awash with
insightful recommendations and suggestions to help readers disentangle the maze
of information regarding various treatments for emotional disturbances. It is a
book that has two motives, a didactic one (what do we know about emotions?) and
a clinical one (what do we do when they get in the way?), which are unified and
simplified into a narrative that is primarily devoted to informing and
clarifying what is a complex subject matter.
Readers interested in the didactic motive may find the book to be a
valuable and engaging crash course on emotions whereas readers enamored with
the clinical motive may find the near-boundless suggestions and recommendations
useful and intriguing. Readers, however, will not find the title of the book
entirely reflected in its content. Indeed, this is not a book about a
revolution or paradigmatic shift. It is instead a book written by a researcher
and clinical practitioner who wants to tell a non-professional audience about
the role that different emotions play in our daily lives and to dispense some
practical advice on how to operate when some of these emotions go astray.
© 2003 Maura Pilotti
Ph.D., Department of Psychology, Dowling College, New York.
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