Johns Hopkins Gazette: April 17, 1995

Making Book: Dissatisfied with available textbooks in his field, 
Randy Nelson writes his own

By Emil Venere

     Randy Nelson's new book is doing well.

     It has all the elements: sex, violence, mystery and

     But you won't find it on the average person's must-read
list. The title is An Introduction to Behavioral Endocrinology,
and it's being called the first textbook that unifies the facets
of a field as deeply rooted in biology as it is in psychology.

     People who teach behavioral endocrinology often focus on
either the biological or the social sciences aspects.
Consequently, depending on the teacher, the courses can differ
drastically from one university to another.

     But Dr. Nelson takes a more unified approach: unlike many
experts in the field, he has doctorates in both endocrinology and
psychology. His textbook is the first to standardize the subject,
equally emphasizing both sides, said the associate professor of

     "I wanted to have something that was integrated, and fun,
for the students," he said.

     Endocrinology revolves around hormones-substances secreted
by any of the endocrine glands that, in addition to their
physiological effects, drive many aspects of behavior, from sex
to aggression, depression to parental nurturing.

     Aside from the scientific rewards, society stands to benefit
from research into how hormones affect behavior.

     "It's important on a number of levels," said Dr. Nelson, who
came to Hopkins nine years ago, after completing a postdoctoral
fellowship at the University of Texas at Austin. "It's important
from a purely empirical perspective, in the sense that we are
learning how neural circuits work, and how the brain works. I
think it's important for social issues, too."

     For example, why are some people so much more aggressive
than others? What makes men generally more violent than women?
And what are the influences of hormones on sexual behavior?

     "The fact is, we really don't understand the physiological
basis of human sexual motivation," he said. "And it strikes me
that if people want to understand the societal problems
associated with unwanted pregnancies, or the problems associated
with spreading the HIV virus, they ought to spend as much time
trying to understand the regulation of human sexual behavior as
is spent trying to understand the behavior of a virus."

     Although it's taught at nearly every major university, only
a handful of textbooks on behavioral endocrinology were available
for undergraduates, one of them published 47 years ago. While
undergrads consistently give high ratings for Dr. Nelson's
popular courses, Mechanisms of Animal Behavior and Behavioral
Endocrinology, they have consistently cried out for a good
textbook about hormones and behavior.

     So he decided to write one.

     But it wasn't easy juggling research, grant proposals,
teaching, writing scientific papers and the text for his book.

     "I was working a lot of hours," said Dr. Nelson, who started
writing the book about four years ago. "It reminded me of being
back in graduate school at Berkeley. I never thought I could
relax back then; I'd always be working on my dissertations. I
felt like that with this book. I could never relax because there
was always something I could do on this book."

     The textbook came out earlier this year and has been
well-received. So much so that the publisher, Sinauer Associates
in Sunderland, Mass., needs more copies to meet the demand.

     "They have already begun a second printing," said Gregory
Ball, an associate professor in the Psychology Department who
also specializes in behavioral neuroendocrinology.

     "I think that it helped the field tremendously," Dr. Ball

     "It's very clear and user friendly," said Ilsa Rucosky, an
undergraduate majoring in behavioral biology. Rucosky, who
graduated in December and plans to attend medical school, noted
the book has another advantage students can relate to: it's
cheaper than the textbook previously used in the courses.

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