Open Pages: Reductionism and the Seduction of Neuroscience

APA Books Open Pages is an ongoing series in which we share interesting tidbits from upcoming books. Find the full list by browsing the Open Pages tag.

Reductionism does not necessarily arise from oversimplification or misapplication of neuroscientific findings but, rather, from an inflated admiration of the field. Neuroscience is popular, and some of its findings about the human brain are indeed remarkable, even awe inspiring. As a result, it is easy to become so enamored with neuroscience that we are tempted to think that neurobiological descriptions are the only legitimate descriptive systems for human experience. For example, it’s tempting to describe such human phenomena as love, hope, and altruism in terms of brain structures, circuitry, and chemistry. Although such descriptions are indeed fascinating and perhaps even accurate from a neurobiological perspective, it is easy to forget that there are other descriptive systems, equally valid, that place these important human experiences in a phenomenological context, describing them in terms of the meaning and value they hold for human beings. Indeed, perhaps the greatest danger with the current fascination with neuroscience may be the tendency to describe important human experiences in material, biological terms without also acknowledging their subjective, value-laden, and phenomenological dimensions. This is not to deny that all human experiences have neurological substrates but, rather, to affirm that in our scientific age, biologically based explanations can push aside other ways of knowing that are just as valid and sometimes more important to human life. For example, it would be unthinkably reductionistic to describe a mother’s love for her child in terms of neural activity and brain chemicals without also recognizing that her subjective and value-laden experience of love for her child, a phenomenological experience, is a vital component of any full and accurate description of parental love.

human elements psychotherapy–From Chapter 3, “Neuroscience and Evolutionary Theory: How Our Brains Are Evolved to Heal Through Social Means,” pp. 54-55, in The Human Elements of Psychotherapy: A Nonmedical Model of Emotional Healing by David N. Elkins. Copyright © 2016 by the American Psychological Association. All rights reserved. Except as permitted under the United States Copyright Act of 1976, no part of this publication may be reproduced or distributed in any form or by any means, including, but not limited to, the process of scanning and digitization, or stored in a database or retrieval system, without the prior written permission of the publisher.


March Releases from APA Books!

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Ethics Checklists for Mental Health Professionals

by Mary Alice Fisher


Can therapists keep their patients’ secrets? Should they? Psychotherapists are careful to safeguard information about their clients, but in some instances, they may be legally or otherwise compelled to disclose information, even without client consent. This little confidentiality manual walks readers through this complex topic, using the author’s easy-to-follow six-step Ethical Practice Model.



cost of racismThe Cost of Racism for People of Color

Contextualizing Experiences of Discrimination

Edited by Alvin N. Alvarez, Christopher T.H. Liang, and Helen A. Neville


In this book, leading scholars examine the felt experience of being the target of racism, with a focus on mental and physical health—as the result of particular racist encounters as well as across the lifespan—in addition to group contexts such as education and the workforce. With its skillful synthesis of voices and approaches, this work should appeal to a broad range of scholars and practitioners in clinical psychology, as well as ethnic studies, sociology, and public and allied health.



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Science and Practice in Social, Personality, and Clinical Psychology

Edited by Virgil Zeigler-Hill and David K. Marcus


Dark personality traits are connected to a host of behavioral and interpersonal problems. To better understand and address these problems, this book unites personality psychology and clinical psychology to provide an interdisciplinary taxonomy of dark personality traits. It expands upon the “Dark Triad”—narcissism, psychopathy, and Machiavellianism—to encompass traits that have largely been ignored or not characterized as dark (e.g., spite, authoritarianism, and perfectionism).


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Edited by Anthony D. Ong and Corinna E. Löckenhoff


Although older adults face significant health challenges, they tend to have better emotion regulation skills than younger or middle-age adults. Why is this so? This book explores the reciprocal relations between aging and emotion, as well as applications for promoting mental and physical health across the lifespan.




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by Elizabeth L. Holloway


This book describes the dynamic interplay between various supervisory “systems,” including the client, trainee, supervisor, functions, learning tasks, and setting. Understanding these systems and the interplay between them is the foundation of a thriving supervisory relationship.