A review of Think Like a Freak: The Authors of Freakonomics Offer to Retrain Your Brain by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner.
Tag Archives: the brain
Mood: The Key to Understanding Ourselves and Others by Patrick M. Burke (Prometheus Books, $18.95, 275 pages)
Patrick Burke has written a straightforward and detailed layman’s textbook that explains the importance of recognizing behavioral problems early in life. Before emotions and feelings there is mood. Typically, we think of observable signs like irritability, hostility and withdrawal as key elements associated with psychological issues. What we don’t take into account is that one’s mood is always – for better or for worse – present. For example, it can be happy or anxious. We usually aren’t aware of our mood until it begins to shift.
Mood sets out the scientific explanation of the brain’s structure and the interactions of the physical and chemical elements that allow it to function. There are diagrams and ample text to support the hypothesis that mood exists within us even before we are born. It is the combination of genetic material and environmental influences with mood that are observable as behavior. The accompanying narrative provides the reader with useful, practical information contained within scenarios.
Mood supplies parents and caregivers with valuable guidance that can demystify the difference between occasional behavioral issues in children and/or adults and mental problems that need attention.
A review copy was received from the publisher. Mood was released on November 11, 2013.
The Other Side of Normal: How Biology is Providing the Clues to Unlock the Secrets of Normal and Abnormal Behavior by Jordan Smoller (William Morrow, $27.99, 390 pages)
“When it comes to the human mind, we’ve long had an uneasy relationship with the concept of normal.”
Author Jordan Smoller has written a book with a purpose. Smoller invites the reader to consider taking a new look at what is considered normal human behavior. As an associate professor at both the Harvard Medical School and the Harvard School of Public Health, he has the background and experience that make this book a compelling read.
There are multiple threads of thought that weave together as Smoller provides a survey of the approaches taken in psychology, psychiatry and biological research since the late 1880s. Moreover, he states that the notion of normal has historically been viewed from the extremes of abnormality. Smoller sees a continuum of behavior with abnormality arranged at the ends. Rather than viewing mental disorders as sitting on one side of a bright line, a new approach would begin at the center of normal and establish how far normal extends before the abnormal is encountered.
A charming phrase that stayed with this reviewer is “the intersection of genes and experience.” Smoller and others in his field have been examining brain/mind function with the intent of clarifying whether the old nature vs. nurture concept for determining causality for behaviors holds true in the 21st Century. In light of the recent findings related to the human genome, genes are now seen as present in a person at birth and they are often activated by experience and exposure to nature (nurturing). That is to say, genes and nature are dependent upon each other for bringing about human behavioral development.
This is a book that approaches textbook status. A reader is well served to have some familiarity with or a strong curiosity about perceptions of normal. To his credit, Smoller takes the time to explain in detail the study of genes and experience that he is so committed to recasting in a new format. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) is referenced frequently throughout the text. It has been a help for practitioners in the past and now, in Smoller’s view, it has become a hindrance due to a universal perception that it is “The” source for determining a diagnosis of mental disorder.
In the DSM, diagnoses are pigeonholed within rigid parameters and, in some cases, arranged and categorized in ways that hinder helpful treatment. Alternatively, Smoller makes a strong case for exploring methods for effective treatment that are likely found outside of the current framework. Practitioners are seeking cures at all levels – genetics, re-conditioning therapy, cognitive and behavioral therapy, and pharmaceuticals. A new view of their methods for determining appropriate treatment seems like a breath of fresh air.
Much is at stake as normal is being fine-tuned. Differentiating normal from abnormal has a measurable impact when viewed from the perspective of health insurance coverage as well as the setting of qualifying criteria for disability payments. Hopefully, Smoller and his associates will prevail in their efforts to de-stigmatize mental illness and provide better treatment for people whose position on the continuum is outside the range of normal.
A review copy was provided by the publisher. The Other Side of Normal is also available as a Nook Book and Kindle Edition download.