Book recommendations on how the brain impacts the body
November 24, 2014 10:17 PM   Subscribe

I'm interested in learning more about the science of mind-body connections, especially in the mind-impacts-body direction. For example, I'm curious about how mental exertion can lead to physical fatigue, or how an emotion can trigger physical symptoms in the body (such as indigestion from stress). I'm looking for an interesting and accessible book on this topic, if one exists.

I've seen, for example, this NYT article, which is on topic, but I'm looking for a more in-depth treatment of the relevant mechanisms than "Neurons may run low of fuel, and other processes probably also are involved." However, I don't have an actual neuroscience background, so plowing through research papers on Google Scholar feels like a bit much to satisfy my curiosity (I do have access to a university library if there is a non-specialist review paper I should check out).

Ideally, I'd like to read a pop-neuroscience book about this topic, or maybe a relatively engaging textbook, long-form article, or overview paper to learn, on a general level, about the state of the art of scientific knowledge about how mental processes can trigger physical states and sensations. Long-form articles are good too.
posted by ootandaboot to Science & Nature (7 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
You may enjoy The Female Brain by Louann Brizendine. I'm not sure it's exactly what you're looking for, but it was a fascinating read.
posted by phildini at 10:25 PM on November 24, 2014

Jill Bolte Taylor's My Stroke of Insight might be a good place to start. She's a brain scientist and writes about her personal experience when she suffered a stroke (see also her talk on TED) and how it affected her perceptions of the world and herself.
posted by wallawallasweet at 11:24 PM on November 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

Well, if you want the relatively heavy-duty version of mind-body influence, read The Mindbody Prescription, which argues that most chronic pain, especially back pain, has psychological causes. It doesn't argue that the pain is imaginary, but rather that mental states have physiological consequences that are painful. A suggested potential mechanism is slight oxygen deprivation in local tissues.

To be clear, this is a book somewhere on the borderline between medical science and woo. The author is an actual medical doctor with actual clinical experience of the things he describes, but he does himself no favours by drawing in ideas from psychoanalysis to try and explain, rather than just sticking to describing.

Anecdotally, the book helped me cope with chronic pain, but yeah, anecdotes are not data.
posted by Zarkonnen at 12:48 AM on November 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

"I'm looking for a more in-depth treatment of the relevant mechanisms"

Since the brain is poorly understood, you're not likely to find a lot of in-depth explanations of mechanisms. You'll find anecdotes, or correlational studies, or clinical case-studies, along with perhaps some vague speculation of the underlying mechanisms. Not that there is anything wrong with anecdotes or clinical heuristics, but you shouldn't expect a reductionist explanation of the the mind/body connection (there isn't one).
posted by alex1965 at 4:56 AM on November 25, 2014

On re-reading my answer up above, I realized that my last sentence is ambiguous. When I wrote, "there isn't one", I meant that there is no reductionist explanation -- not that there is no mind/body connection.
posted by alex1965 at 8:26 AM on November 25, 2014

Do you want to know how the body is affected by the brain, or by the mind? How about a pop-neuroscience book on how the mind changes the brain? Train Your Mind, Change Your Brain is easy, mostly pleasant reading that summarizes a bunch of studies, some using lab rats, some Tibetan monks. (The monks are happy to be lab rats, although they're unhappy with scientists' disregard for the lives of actual rats.)

Note: despite the title, this is not a how-to book.
posted by feral_goldfish at 10:54 AM on November 25, 2014

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