Marc David Lewis

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Marc Lewis is an emeritus professor (University of Toronto, Radboud University), neuroscientist, and developmental psychologist, interested in the emotional processes underlying psychopathology and (particularly) addiction.


Marc Lewis received his Ph.D. in applied psychology at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education at the University of Toronto in 1989. He was supervised by Robbie Case and can trace his academic lineage back to Jean Piaget through Case's mentor Juan Pascual Leone. From this neo-Piagetian origin, Marc Lewis began investigating cognition-emotion interactions: the influence of cognitive development on emotional and personality development, and the influence of emotion on cognitive and personality development, as a professor at the University of Toronto. This early theory and research led Lewis to incorporate the dynamic systems approaches to development that were emerging in the early 1990s.[1] Following the work of Esther Thelen, Paul van Geert, Alan Fogel, and others, Lewis developed an integrated account of development as self-organization at multiple time scales to explain both the stability and change of emotional aspects of personality.[2]

Through a sabbatical at the University of Oregon in 2000-2001, Lewis took the next step in developing his integrated model by delving into the neural underpinnings of emotion regulation.[3] His research program over the next decade tested this model by examining brain and behaviour in normal and clinically referred children and assessing neural changes corresponding with developmental milestones, normal changes in identity and personality, and treatment outcomes for children with emotional difficulties.[4] His papers on the contribution of dynamic systems theory and affective neuroscience to understanding human development and clinical syndromes have appeared in journals such as Child Development, Behavioral and Brain Sciences, New England Journal of Medicine, and Perspectives on Psychological Science. He has also co-authored two books with his wife, Dr. Isabela Granic[permanent dead link]. The first is an edited volume of dynamic systems approaches to emotional development.[5] The second is a guide for parents about when to attempt sleep training with toddlers.

Lewis began his focus on addiction in 2009. His first book on addiction, Memoirs of an Addicted Brain (2011),[6] connects his own years of drug use with an account of how the brain changes with various drugs and with addiction itself. In the second, The Biology of Desire: Why Addiction is Not a Disease (2015), biographies of addicts are linked with neuropsychological findings to show how addiction develops and how it can be overcome. Both books have been published in several languages, and Biology received the PROSE (Association of American Publishers) award for Psychology in 2016. Lewis currently writes for the popular press, maintains an active blog, sees online clients for consultation and psychotherapy, and speaks internationally on the science, experience, and treatment of addiction

Theoretical Model of Emotional Development[edit]

Lewis' theory of emotional development relates multiple time scales using characteristics of self-organizing dynamic systems as causal mechanisms.[2][5][7] This theoretical model relates the moment-to-moment emotional experiences in real time to the moods that persist for longer stretches at a middle or meso-time scale. These events consolidate through the strengthening or pruning of brain connections to become the habits and tendencies of personality at a developmental time scale of years. A further extension of this model incorporated the evolutionary time scale in an attempt to resolve the dispute about whether basic emotions are "natural kinds".[8]

Theoretical Model of Addiction[edit]

Lewis' contends that addiction is not a disease, but rather a habit that self-perpetuates relatively quickly when people repeatedly pursue the same highly attractive goal. Addictive patterns grow quickly and become more entrenched because of the intensity of the attraction that motivates them, the layered symbolic value they acquire, and the loss of a sense of personal (day-to-day) continuity and self-control over time. These psychological changes are mediated by changes in dopamine circuitry and prefrontal mechanisms of perspective-taking, self-concept and inhibitory control, accompanied by a narrowing of the relevant social world. Often, emotional turmoil during childhood or adolescence initiates the belief that addictive rewards are the only reliable sources of relief and comfort. Addiction is a neurally-entrenched phase of personality development, but neural plasticity allows for continuing growth and future wellbeing.[9]


  • Lewis, M. (2015). The Biology of Desire: Why Addiction is Not a Disease. New York: Perseus.
  • Lewis, M. (2011). Memoirs of An Addicted Brain: A Neuroscientist Examines His Former Life on Drugs. Toronto: Doubleday.[10]
  • Lewis, M. D., & Granic, I. (2009). Bedtiming: The When-to Guide to Helping Your Child to Sleep. Toronto: HarperCollins.[11]
  • Lewis, M. D., & Granic, I. (Eds.) (2000). Emotion, Development, and Self-Organization: Dynamic Systems Approaches to Emotional Development. New York: Cambridge University Press.[12]
  • Lewis, M. (2018). Brain change in addiction as learning, not disease. New England Journal of Medicine, 379(16), 1551–1560. DOI: 10.1056/nejmra1602872
  • Lewis, M. (2017). Addiction and the brain: Development, not disease. Neuroethics, 10, 7-18. DOI: 10.1007/s12152-016-9293-4.
  • Liu, X., Woltering, S., & Lewis, M. D. (2014). Developmental change in EEG theta activity in the medial prefrontal cortex during response control. Neuroimage, 85, 873–887.
  • Lewis, M. D., & Liu, Z. (2011). "Three time scales of neural self-organization underlying basic and nonbasic emotions". Emotion Review, 3, 416–423.
  • Woltering, S., Granic, I., Lamm, C., & Lewis, M. D. (2011). Neural changes associated with treatment outcome in children with externalizing problems. Biological Psychiatry, 70, 873-879.
  • Lamm, C., Granic, I., Zelazo, P. D., & Lewis, M. D. (2011). Magnitude and chronometry of neural mechanisms of emotion regulation in subtypes of aggressive children. Brain & Cognition, 77, 159-169.
  • Lewis, M. D., & Todd, R. M. (2007). "The self-regulating brain: Cortical-subcortical feedback and the development of intelligent action". Cognitive Development, 22, 406-430.
  • Lewis, M. D. (2005). "Bridging emotion theory and neurobiology through dynamic systems modeling" (target article). Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 28, 169-194.
  • Lewis, M. D., & Stieben, J. (2004). "Emotion regulation in the brain: Conceptual issues and directions for developmental research". Child Development, 75, 371-376.
  • Lewis, M. D. (2000). "The promise of dynamic systems approaches for an integrated account of human development". Child Development, 71, 36-43. (Special issue on New Directions for Child Development in the Twenty-First Century)
  • Lewis, M. D., Lamey, A. V., & Douglas, L. (1999). "A new dynamic systems method for the analysis of early socioemotional development". Developmental Science, 2, 458-476.
  • Lewis, M. D. (1996). "Self-organising cognitive appraisals". Cognition and Emotion, 10, 1-25.
Selected Book Chapters
  • Lewis, M. (in press).  Brain change in addiction: Disease or learning? Implications for science, policy, and care. In N. Heather, M. Field, A. Moss, & S. Satel (Eds.), Evaluating the brain disease model of addiction. London: Routledge.
  • Lewis, M. (2017). Choice in addiction: A neural tug of war between impulse and insight. In N. Heather & G. Segal (Eds.), Addiction and choice: Rethinking the relationship (pp. 171-185). Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Woltering, S. & Lewis, M. D. (2011). Conceptual development and emotion: A neuropsychological perspective. In P. K. Smith & C. H. Hart (Eds.), The Wiley-Blackwell Handbook of Childhood Social Development (2nd edition). London: Wiley-Blackwell.
  • Lewis, M. D., Todd, R. M., & Xu, X. (2010). The development of emotion regulation: A neuropsychological perspective. In M. E. Lamb & A. M. Freund (Eds.), Handbook of life-span development (Vol. 2). New York: Wiley.
  • Lewis, M. D. (2010). Desire, dopamine, and conceptual development. In S. D. Calkins & M. A. Bell (Eds.), Child development at the intersection of emotion and cognition (pp. 175-199). Washington: American Psychological Association.  
  • Todd, R. M., & Lewis, M. D. (2008). Self-regulation in the developing brain. In J. Reed & J. Warner-Rogers (Eds.), Child neuropsychology: Concepts, theory and practice (pp. 285-315). London: Wiley-Blackwell.
  • Critical studies and reviews of Lewis' work

Ahmed, Tanveer (Jan–Feb 2016). "Brain teasers". Quadrant. 60 (1–2): 82–84.CS1 maint: date format (link) Review of The biology of desire.


  1. ^ Lewis, M. D. (2000). "The promise of dynamic systems approaches for an integrated account of human development". Child Development, 71, 36-43.
  2. ^ a b Lewis, M. D., & Liu, Z. (2011). "Three time scales of neural self-organization underlying basic and nonbasic emotions". Emotion Review, 3, 416–423.
  3. ^ *Lewis, M. D., & Stieben, J. (2004). "Emotion regulation in the brain: Conceptual issues and directions for developmental research". Child Development, 75, 371-376.
  4. ^ Lewis, M. D., Granic, I., Lamm, C., Zelazo, P. D., Stieben, J., Todd, R. M., Moadab, I., & Pepler, D. (2008). "Changes in the neural bases of emotion regulation associated with clinical improvement in children with behavior problems". Development and Psychopathology, 20, 913-939.
  5. ^ a b Lewis, M. D., & Granic, I. (Eds.) (2000). Emotion, development, and self-organization: Dynamic systems approaches to emotional development. New York: Cambridge University Press.
  6. ^ Lewis, M.D. (2011) Memoirs of an Addicted Brain. Toronto: Doubleday Canada.
  7. ^ Lewis, M. D. (1996). "Self-organising cognitive appraisals". Cognition and Emotion, 10, 1-25.
  8. ^ Barrett, L. F. (2006). "Emotions as natural kinds?". Perspectives on Psychological Science, 1, 28-58.
  9. ^ Lewis, Marc (2018-10-12). "Brain Change in Addiction as Learning, Not Disease". New England Journal of Medicine. doi:10.1056/NEJMra1602872.
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External links[edit]