Joseph LeDoux, Neuroscientist and Musician

New York University neuroscience professor Joseph LeDoux has a passion for understanding the inner processes of memory. But he's also really into rock music. And, luckily, he's found a way to combine the two. LeDoux and NYU biology professor Tyler Volk are part of a band called the Amygdaloids, whose songs are all about the mind, brain and and mental disorders. Their newest album, "Theory of My Mind," was released this week.


In his Big Think interview, LeDoux also talked about where emotional memories come from. The neuroscientist calls these instances "flashbulb memories," or very vivid strong memories of a particular experience. Are flashbulb memories more accurate than other memories? Not at all, he says. They're simply more vivid. The truth is, memories are often reconstructed when they’re retrieved. At that point of retrieval, memory has the opportunity to be changed. 

LeDoux and his colleagues are currently working to figure out the different ways that the mind changes memories when they are retrieved. "If you block protein synthesis after retrieval you can also disrupt the stability of the memory later," he says. "This is triggered a whole wave of research now on the possibility of using this as a treatment for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder because theoretically we can have the people come in, remember their trauma, give them a pill and the next time the cues about the trauma come along, they won’t have the emotionally response to it."

LeDoux also talked about where certain fears and phobias come from. Often you don't know what's making you anxious at a specific moment. Here's the example LeDoux gives to help you understand your fears: "Let’s say we were having lunch one day and there’s a red and white checkered table cloth, and we have this argument. And the next day I see somebody coming down the street and I say, I have this guy feeling about this guy, he’s an SOB and I don’t like him. And maybe what’s going on there is that he’s got a red-and-white checkered necktie on. Consciously, I’m saying it’s my gut feeling because I don’t like the way he looks, but what’s happened is that the necktie has triggered the activation of the amygdala through the thalamus, the so-called low road, triggered a fear response In me, which I now consciously interpret as this gut feeling about not liking the guy. But in fact, it’s being triggered by external stimuli that I’m not processing consciously."

Finally, LeDoux played the Amygdaloids' new song, "Mind Over Matter," for us, unplugged.  It's a song about "love and loss and longing for someone who’s not there but you kind of use your mind to conquer the space and time that separates you from that person," he says.
Related Articles

How schizophrenia is linked to common personality type

Both schizophrenics and people with a common personality type share similar brain patterns.

(shutterstock)
Mind & Brain
  • A new study shows that people with a common personality type share brain activity with patients diagnosed with schizophrenia.
  • The study gives insight into how the brain activity associated with mental illnesses relates to brain activity in healthy individuals.
  • This finding not only improves our understanding of how the brain works but may one day be applied to treatments.
Keep reading Show less

Human skeletal stem cells isolated in breakthrough discovery

It's a development that could one day lead to much better treatments for osteoporosis, joint damage, and bone fractures.

Image: Nissim Benvenisty
Surprising Science
  • Scientists have isolated skeletal stem cells in adult and fetal bones for the first time.
  • These cells could one day help treat damaged bone and cartilage.
  • The team was able to grow skeletal stem cells from cells found within liposuctioned fat.
Keep reading Show less

How exercise helps your gut bacteria

Gut bacteria play an important role in how you feel and think and how well your body fights off disease. New research shows that exercise can give your gut bacteria a boost.

National Institutes of Health
Surprising Science
  • Two studies from the University of Illinois show that gut bacteria can be changed by exercise alone.
  • Our understanding of how gut bacteria impacts our overall health is an emerging field, and this research sheds light on the many different ways exercise affects your body.
  • Exercising to improve your gut bacteria will prevent diseases and encourage brain health.
Keep reading Show less