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See Inside February/March 2006

Mastery of Emotions

Joseph E. LeDoux discovered how fear arises. Now he is showing that the biology of emotions is what gives life meaning

One of the biggest fears Joseph E. LeDoux had when he was growing up was of getting stuck in Eunice, La. His small hometown sits among creeks and rice fields, and its Cajun country roots give it a certain charm. It is hard to swing a possum without hitting a good gumbo restaurant. An old theater downtown hosts the weekly Rendezvous des Cajun radio show, a yipping version of Prairie Home Companion, only with dancing, and anyone can join the live studio audience for a mere $5.

But when LeDoux was coming of age in the 1960s, he found Eunice too sedate. He did some radio disc jockeying in high school, and the era's music, along with his own inquisitiveness, drew his attention to the wider world. His parents, however, told him they would pay for college only if he studied business and only if he did not venture farther than Baton Rouge, 80 miles east. His father, a butcher, envisioned his son as a leading local businessman. The main interest Joseph had in butchering was that it allowed him to do his first neural explorations: digging through cow brains to extract the bullets that had killed the cattle, so his father could sell the brains as a delicacy.

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