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by Norman E. Rosenthal
Citadel Press, 2002
Review by Maura Pilotti, Ph.D. on May 27th 2003

The Emotional Revolution

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" symptoms.

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

 

Maura Pilotti, Ph.D., Department of Psychology, Dowling College, New York.