Wexler, Bruce E.

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Wexler, Bruce E.

PERSONAL:

Education: Havard College, B.A., 1969; Albert Einstein College of Medicine, M.D., 1973.

ADDRESSES:

Office—Connecticut Mental Health Center, 34 Park St., New Haven, CT 06519. E-mail—[email protected]

CAREER:

Yale Medical School, New Haven CT, professor of psychiatry; Connecticut Mental Health Center, New Haven, director of Neurocognitive Research Laboratory; founder, A Different Future.

WRITINGS:

Brain and Culture: Neurobiology, Ideology, and Social Change, MIT Press (Cambridge, MA), 2006.

Contributor of articles to professional journals, including British Journal of Psychiatry, Journal of Neuropsychiatry and Clinical Neurosciences, Neuropsychologia, Biological Psychiatry, Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, Schizophrenia Research, Archives of General Psychiatry, Journal of Abnormal Psychology, American Journal of Psychiatry, and Schizophrenia Bulletin.

SIDELIGHTS:

Bruce E. Wexler is a professor of psychiatry at the Yale Medical School and the director of the Neurocognitive Research Laboratory at the Connecticut Mental Health Center. He is especially interested in the physiological aspects of mental illness and cognition. Much of his research has focused on how people acquire attitudes, beliefs, and prejudices. He believes that early experiences wire preferences in the brain that make it difficult for people to accept new and unfamiliar ideas and circumstances in later life, often leading to conflict and hostility. He further believes that this trait is what is at the heart of cultural clashes that have become especially potent as populations interact more and have commerce with people from cultures radically different from their own. With the belief that understanding resistance to differences can bring about reconciliation, Wexler started a nonprofit group called A Different Future whose purpose is to advance the interests of Israelis and Palestinians who advocate for peace.

Wexler's book Brain and Culture: Neurobiology, Ideology, and Social Change examines this theory. It is divided into two parts. In the first part, "Transgenerational Shaping of Human Brain Function," he explains how the brain works and describes a range of basic neurobiology experiments designed to examine brain plasticity—how well the brain adapts to changing neurobiological function. In the second part, "The Neurobiology of Ideology," he uses the data from his experiments to explain certain aspects of human socialization. He writes about the importance human beings place on the correlation between their internal understanding of how they believe the world is supposed to be and their actual life experiences. A disconnect in this perception, he believes, leads to diverse responses, often irrational and sometimes hostile.

This dichotomy of experience has become more of a problem in recent history. Traditionally, people of diverse cultures were geographically separated and seldom had reason to interrelate beyond a relatively small social sphere. However, with the advent of mass communications and travel, radically different cultures now often come face to face on a regular basis—a situation that can lead to conflict, both individually and nationally.

Reaction to Brain and Culture was generally positive, with reservations. Judy Illes and Vivian Chin, in their review for the American Scientist, thought that Wexler had not fully considered "the simple fact that some unknowns bring joy" and that there have "been times when communities and even nations have overcome cultural conflict." They also question the author's stance that familiarity is "inherently pleasurable," but were intrigued by his theories and found his arguments to be "provocative and thoughtful." Illes and Chin concluded that "Wexler calls for education to alter our instinctive aversion to the unfamiliar, and Brain and Culture is a significant contribution to that effort. It is an approach from which all citizens and all cultures can benefit."

BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:

PERIODICALS

American Scientist, January 1, 2007, Judy Illes and Vivian Chin, "Our Aversion to the Unfamiliar," p. 87.

Choice: Current Reviews for Academic Libraries, January, 2007, M.S. Grace, review of Brain and Culture: Neurobiology, Ideology, and Social Change, p. 856.

JAMA: The Journal of the American Medical Association, October 18, 2006, "Brain and Culture," p. 1906.

Nature, July 6, 2006, Paul Bloom, "Changing Our Minds: Our Environment Can Affect the Way Our Minds Develop, but the Relationship Is Complex," p. 27.

Science Books & Films, November 1, 2006, Randall J. Russac, review of Brain and Culture, p. 256.

Scientific American, April, 2007, review of Brain and Culture, p. 103.

Times Literary Supplement, June 15, 2007, "Product of the Senses," p. 24.

ONLINE

Department of Psychiatry, Yale University Web site,http://www.med.yale.edu/ (January 24, 2008), author's curriculum vitae.

Yale Medicine,http://yalemedicine.yale.edu/ (February 18, 2008), Cathy Shufro, "Culture and the Brain: A New Book Explores the Links between Neural Networks, Feelings and Culture," review of Brain and Culture.