Joseph E. LeDoux

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Joseph E. LeDoux (born 7 December 1949, Eunice, Louisiana) is a neuroscientist, the Henry and Lucy Moses Professor of Science, and professor of neuroscience and psychology at New York University. He is also the director of the Center for the Neuroscience of Fear and Anxiety, a multi-university Center in New York City devoted to using animal research to understand pathological fear and anxiety in humans. He received his Ph.D. in 1977 at the State University of New York at Stony Brook. He was a recipient of the 2005 International Prize of the Fyssen Foundation.[1]

LeDoux's research interests are mainly focused on the biological underpinnings of memory and emotion, especially the mechanisms of fear.

LeDoux is also a singer and guitarist in the science-themed rock band The Amygdaloids.[2]

Synaptic Self[edit]

Published in 2002, Ledoux's Synaptic Self attempts to synthesize his research in neuroscience and on the brain in order to begin tackling the big question he feels neuroscience should be asking: "What makes us who we are?"[3]:1 Ledoux gives a brief synopsis of the disciplines that have made significant contributions to theories and conceptions of the self, claiming his synaptic theory of the self "is not proposed as an alternative to these views...rather, an attempt to portray the way the psychological, social, moral, aesthetic, or spiritual is realized."[3]:3 From here, Ledoux goes on to distinguish the pursuit of his studies from traditional mind-body philosophical inquiry, citing that the self is the totality of the organism which includes conscious and unconscious aspects of the mind. Traditional philosophy of mind concerns itself with the relationship between consciousness and the brain, and Ledoux believes this leaves out an integral portion of brain processes that are unconscious yet essential to formulating the self. Therefore, he goes on to state:

In my view, the self is the totality of what an organism is physically, biologically, psychologically, socially, and culturally. Though it is a unit, it is not unitary. It includes things that we know and things that we do not know, things that others know about us that we do not realize. It includes features that we express and hide, and some that we simply don't call upon. It includes what we would like to be as well as what we hope we never become...I believe, in short, that an answer to the question of how our brains make us who we are can be found in synaptic processes that allow cooperative interactions to take place between the various brain systems that are involved in particular states and experiences, and for these interactions to be linked over time.[3]:31–32

Essentially, Ledoux understands the self to be a constructed assembly of synaptic connections that begins with genetic and environmental influences and then is refined through experiences to distinguish one self from another. He believes that "synaptic plasticity occur[s] in multiple neural systems [and] is coordinated in the process of assembling, and maintaining, the self."[3]:307 He then organizes this plasticity in to seven principles:[3]:307–323

  1. Different Systems Experience the Same World - Systems in the brain experience the same event, but store and interpret the information in different ways creating a parallel encoding/plasticity
  2. Synchrony Coordinates Parallel Plasticity - This synchrony of experience coordinates plasticity among different systems together
  3. Parallel Plasticity is also Coordinated by Modulatory Systems - Significant events trigger modulatory systems to release chemicals that in turn excite active cells across the brain also helping coordinate parallel plasticity
  4. Convergence Zones Integrate Parallel Plasticity - Certain regions act as convergence zones that integrate processing in independent systems and then influence the activity of the input regions
  5. Downwardly Mobile Thoughts Coordinate Parallel Plasticity - To carry out an intention, it requires downward mobility which influences plasticity in a top-bottom manner
  6. Emotional States Monopolize Brain Resources - Activation of emotional systems coordinate activation of several corresponding areas.
  7. Implicit and Explicit Aspects of the Self Overlap, but not Completely - We try and control who we are through explicit systems but due to imperfect cognitive access to implicit emotional systems, that is not always possible.

"That the self is synaptic can be a curse - it doesn't take much to break it apart. But it is also a blessing, as there are always new connections waiting to be made. You are your synapses. They are who you are."[3]:324


Media appearances[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "International Prize". Fyssen Foundation. Retrieved 2010-12-24. 
  2. ^ "The Amygdaloids: Scientists who rock out". The Scientist. 2007-03-30. Retrieved 2010-12-24. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f LeDoux, Joseph E. Synaptic Self: How Our Brains Become Who We Are. New York: Viking, 2002.
  4. ^ Emotions and the Brain: Fear Discover Magazine, March 2003

External links[edit]