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.


February Releases From APA Books!

APA Books will publish the following titles in February:


intro consulting psychAn Introduction to Consulting Psychology

Working With Individuals, Groups, and Organizations

by Rodney L. Lowman

Consulting psychology is rapidly growing yet sometimes underappreciated discipline whose goal is to apply psychological science to consultation at three levels: individual, group, and organizational. This foundational volume of the Fundamentals of Consulting Psychology series translates theory and research into a concise, easy-to-read introduction to the field. Case examples help to illustrate the rewarding and important work of consulting psychologists, which includes coaching individuals, assessing and improving work group dynamics, and enhancing organizational systems and processes.



ethnic minority childrenPsychoeducational Assessment and Intervention for Ethnic Minority Children

Evidence-Based Approaches

Edited by Scott L. Graves, Jr., and Jamilia J. Blake

This invaluable book is a comprehensive resource for psychologists and counselors who assess and intervene with ethnic minority children. Beginning with an historical tour of psychoeducational assessment related to ethnic minorities, the book situates basic areas of assessment—such as neuropsychology, social/emotional assessment, and early childhood development assessment—within an ethnic minority context. It then offers evidenced-based strategies for improving the educational performance and well-being of ethnically diverse students.



supervision feministSupervision Essentials for the Feminist Psychotherapy Model of Supervision

by Laura S. Brown

This book offers a theoretically-grounded yet practical approach to supervision based on the principles of feminist psychotherapy. Feminist therapy supervision challenges trainees and supervisors alike to engage with difficult questions about bias, and ways in which power distributes itself in the contexts of education, psychotherapy, and supervision itself.  Chapters examine the impact of systemic hierarchies, and stress the importance of thinking critically about dominant cultural norms in psychotherapy and elsewhere.  Includes a synthesis of the literature on feminist therapy and theory, as well as case examples and practical advice for common supervision problems.




human-animal interactionThe Social Neuroscience of Human–Animal Interaction

Edited by Lisa S. Freund, Sandra McCune, Layla Esposito, Nancy R. Gee, and Peggy McCardle

In this wide-ranging and fascinating volume, an international and cross-disciplinary group of authors seek to understand human–animal interaction (HAI) by applying research in the neurobiology and genetics that underlie human social functioning.  Chapters examine HAI from evolutionary and developmental perspectives, and weigh the implications of HAI research for animal welfare. Clinical applications include animal-assisted therapies for people with disabilities, acute or chronic health conditions, and social or emotional difficulties.