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How Emotions Are Made

Cover of How Emotions Are Made

How Emotions Are Made

The Secret Life of the Brain
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A new theory of how the brain constructs emotions that could revolutionize psychology, health care, law enforcement, and our understanding of the human mind
Emotions feel automatic, like uncontrollable reactions to things we think and experience. Scientists have long supported this assumption by claiming that emotions are hardwired in the body or the brain. Today, however, the science of emotion is in the midst of a revolution on par with the discovery of relativity in physics and natural selection in biology—ans this paradigm shift has far-reaching implications for us all.

Leading the charge is psychologist and neuroscientist Lisa Feldman Barrett, whose theory of emotion is driving a deeper understanding of the mind and brain, and shedding new light on what it means to be human. Her research overturns the widely held belief that emotions are housed in different parts of the brain and are universally expressed and recognized. Instead, she has shown that emotion is constructed in the moment, by core systems that interact across the whole brain, aided by a lifetime of learning. This new theory means that you play a much greater role in your emotional life than you ever thought. Its repercussions are already shaking the foundations not only of psychology but also of medicine, the legal system, child-rearing, meditation, and even airport security.

Why do emotions feel automatic? Does rational thought really control emotion? How does emotion affect disease? How can you make your children more emotionally intelligent? How Emotions Are Made answers these questions and many more, revealing the latest research and intriguing practical applications of the new science of emotion, mind, and brain.

A new theory of how the brain constructs emotions that could revolutionize psychology, health care, law enforcement, and our understanding of the human mind
Emotions feel automatic, like uncontrollable reactions to things we think and experience. Scientists have long supported this assumption by claiming that emotions are hardwired in the body or the brain. Today, however, the science of emotion is in the midst of a revolution on par with the discovery of relativity in physics and natural selection in biology—ans this paradigm shift has far-reaching implications for us all.

Leading the charge is psychologist and neuroscientist Lisa Feldman Barrett, whose theory of emotion is driving a deeper understanding of the mind and brain, and shedding new light on what it means to be human. Her research overturns the widely held belief that emotions are housed in different parts of the brain and are universally expressed and recognized. Instead, she has shown that emotion is constructed in the moment, by core systems that interact across the whole brain, aided by a lifetime of learning. This new theory means that you play a much greater role in your emotional life than you ever thought. Its repercussions are already shaking the foundations not only of psychology but also of medicine, the legal system, child-rearing, meditation, and even airport security.

Why do emotions feel automatic? Does rational thought really control emotion? How does emotion affect disease? How can you make your children more emotionally intelligent? How Emotions Are Made answers these questions and many more, revealing the latest research and intriguing practical applications of the new science of emotion, mind, and brain.

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  • Publisher's Weekly

    December 12, 2016
    Psychologist and neuroscientist Barrett painstakingly attempts to refute traditional thinking about human emotions as portrayed in the popular media, such as the TV show Lie To Me and Oscar-winning movie Inside Out. She argues that emotions aren’t a “fixed component of our biological nature,” but rather are constructed in our minds based on predictions. Emotions take form from how they are perceived, Barrett writes, and moreover, they take different forms in different cultures. Her ideas make intuitive sense and are convincing, though her presentation is often slow going as she painstakingly dissects every conceivable counterargument. Some of her ideas are, as she admits, speculative, though “informed by data.” The book includes possible implications of constructed emotions, Barrett’s prescriptions for emotional health—“eating healthfully, exercising, and getting enough sleep,” among others—and an investigation into whether animals experience emotions. Most startling is Barrett’s suggestion that chronic pain, stress, anxiety, and autism might be caused by errors in predicted, constructed emotions. The book is a challenging read and will offer the most rewards to researchers already familiar with the longstanding and apparently still unresolved arguments about what emotions are. Agent: Max Brockman, Brockman Inc.

  • Kirkus

    Starred review from February 1, 2017
    A well-argued, entertaining disputation of the prevailing view that emotion and reason are at odds.As Barrett (Psychology/Northeastern Univ.; co-editor: The Psychological Construction of Emotion, 2014, etc.) writes, the "internal battle between emotion and reason is one of the great narratives of Western civilization. It helps define [us] as human." From this perspective, emotion is treated as "a kind of brute reflex, very often at odds with our rationality." To the contrary, the author, who also has appointments at Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital, contends that our emotions are not hard-wired in our brains and triggered by circumstances. Instead, they are flexible and vary from culture to culture. During the course of our lifetimes, our brains wire and rewire themselves in response to upbringing and individual experiences. This argument puts Barrett at odds with the prevailing review of well-regarded scientists, such as Antonio Damasio, who emphasize that not only are our emotions shaped subconsciously, but also many of our actions. The author makes a convincing case that such explanations are too simplistic. She emphasizes that our brains respond flexibly to the circumstances of our lives. The degree to which we are responsible for actions that occur in the heat of passion, or prejudices of which we are unaware, may be arguable; that we share responsibility as parents and citizens for the social norms of our culture--e.g. racial prejudice and gender stereotyping--is not. We are responsible for our individual actions, of course, but we also bear responsibility for working to eliminate racial prejudice, gender stereotyping, and the like from our society. As Barrett points out, this has important legal as well as moral implications and leads into the thorny questions surrounding free will. A highly informative, readable, and wide-ranging discussion of "how psychology, neuroscience, and related disciplines are moving away from the search for emotion fingerprints and instead asking how emotions are constructed."

    COPYRIGHT(2017) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

  • Library Journal

    Starred review from January 1, 2017

    Barrett (psychology, Northeastern Univ.) presents a new neuroscientific explanation of why people are more swayed by feelings than by facts. She offers an unintuitive theory that goes against not only the popular understanding but also that of traditional research: emotions don't arise; rather, we construct them on the fly. Furthermore, emotions are neither universal nor located in specific brain regions; they vary by culture and result from dynamic neuronal networks. These networks run nonstop simulations, making predictions and correcting them based on the environment rather than reacting to it. Tracing her own journey from the classical view of emotions, Barrett progressively builds her case, writing in a conversational tone and using down-to-earth metaphors, relegating the heaviest neuroscience to an appendix to keep the book accessible. Still, it is a lot to take in if one has not been exposed to these ideas before. VERDICT The theories of emotion and the human brain set forth here are revolutionary and have important implications. For readers interested in psychology and neuroscience as well as those involved in education and policy.--Nancy H. Fontaine, Norwich P.L., VT

    Copyright 2017 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

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The Secret Life of the Brain
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