How Emotions Are Made: The Secret Life of the Brain

How Emotions Are Made: The Secret Life of the Brain

Preeminent psychologist Lisa Barrett lays out how the brain constructs emotions in a way that could revolutionize psychology, health care, the legal system, and our understanding of the human mind.
“Fascinating . . . A thought-provoking journey into emotion science.”??—??The Wall Street Journal
“A singular book, remarkable for the freshness of its ideas and the boldness and clarity with which they are presented.”??—??Scientific American
“A brilliant and original book on the science of emotion, by the deepest thinker about this topic since Darwin.”??—??Daniel Gilbert, best-selling author of Stumbling on Happiness
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. Leading the charge is psychologist and neuroscientist Lisa Feldman Barrett, whose research overturns the long-standing belief that emotions are automatic, universal, and hardwired in different brain regions. Instead, Barrett shows, we construct each instance of emotion through a unique interplay of brain, body, and culture.
A lucid report from the cutting edge of emotion science, How Emotions Are Made reveals the profound real-world consequences of this breakthrough for everything from neuroscience and medicine to the legal system and even national security, laying bare the immense implications of our latest and most intimate scientific revolution.

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  • Format: eBook

  • ISBN-13/EAN: 9780544129962

  • ISBN-10: 0544129962

  • Pages: 496

  • Price: $9.99

  • Publication Date: 03/07/2017

  • Carton Quantity: 1

Lisa Feldman Barrett

Lisa Feldman Barrett

LISA FELDMAN BARRETT, PhD, is a University Distinguished Professor of Psychology at Northeastern University. She received a National Institutes of Health Director's Pioneer Award for her groundbreaking research on emotion in the brain, and is an elected member of the Royal Society of Canada. Barrett is the author of How Emotions are Made and Seven and a Half Lessons About the Brain.
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  • reviews

     “Fascinating . . . a thought-provoking journey into emotion science.” 

    Wall Street Journal  


    “I have never seen a book so devoted to understanding the nature of emotions . . . the book is down-to-earth and a delight to read. With a high level of knowledge and articulate style, Barrett delivers a prime example of modern prose in digestible chunks.” 

    Seattle Book Review, five stars 


    “Most of us make our way through the world without thinking a lot about what we bring to our encounters with it. Lisa Feldman Barrett does—and what she has to say about our perceptions and emotions is pretty mind-blowing.” 



    “Prepare to have your brain twisted around as psychology professor Barrett takes it on a tour of itself . . . Her enthusiasm for her topic brightens every amazing fact and theory about where our emotions come from . . . each chapter is chockablock with startling insights . . . Barrett’s figurative selfie of the brain is brilliant.” 

    Booklist, starred review 


    “A well-argued, entertaining disputation of the prevailing view that emotion and reason are at odds . . . Highly informative, readable, and wide-ranging.” 

    Kirkus Reviews, starred review 


    “Barrett (psychology, Northeastern University) 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.” 

    Library Journal, starred review 


    "How Emotions Are Made did what all great books do. It took a subject I thought I understood—and turned my understanding upside down." — Malcolm Gladwell 


    “This meticulous, well-researched, and deeply thought-out book reveals new insights about our emotions—what they are, where they come from, why we have them. For anyone who has struggled to reconcile brain and heart, this book will be a treasure; it explains the science without short-changing the humanism of its topic.” 

    — Andrew Solomon, best-selling author of Far from the Tree and The Noonday Demon 


    “A brilliant and original book on the science of emotion, by the deepest thinker about this topic since Darwin.” 

    — Daniel Gilbert, best-selling author of Stumbling on Happiness 


    “Ever wonder where your emotions come from? Lisa Barrett, a world expert in the psychology of emotion, has written the definitive field guide to feelings and the neuroscience behind them.” 

    — Angela Duckworth, best-selling author of Grit 


    “We all harbor an intuition about emotions: that the way you experience joy, fear or anger happens automatically and is pretty much the same in a Kalahari hunter-gatherer. In this excellent new book, Lisa Barrett draws on contemporary research to offer a radically different picture: that the experience of emotion is highly individualized, neurobiologically idiosyncratic, and inseparable from cognition. This is a provocative, accessible, important book.” 

    — Robert Sapolsky, author of Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers and A Primate’s Memoir 


    “Everything you thought you knew about what you feel and why you feel it turns out to be stunningly wrong. Lisa Barrett illuminates the fascinating new science of our emotions, offering real-world examples of why it matters in realms as diverse as health, parenting, romantic relationships and national security.” 

    — Peggy Orenstein, author of Girls & Sex 


    “After reading How Emotions Are Made, I will never think about emotions the same way again. Lisa Barrett opens up a whole new terrain for fighting gender stereotypes and making better policy.” 

    — Anne-Marie Slaughter, author of Unfinished Business 


    “What if everything you thought you knew about lust, anger, grief, and joy was wrong? Lisa Barrett is one of the psychology’s wisest and most creative scientists and her theory of constructed emotion is radical and fascinating. Through vivid examples and sharp, clear prose, How Emotions Are Made defends a bold new vision of the most central aspects of human nature.”  

    ?— Paul Bloom, author of Against Empathy and How Pleasure Works 


    “Lisa Barrett writes with great clarity about how your emotions are not merely about what you’re born with, but also about how your brain pieces your feelings together, and how you can contribute to the process. She tells a compelling story.” 

    — Joseph LeDoux, author of Anxious and Synaptic Self 


    How Emotions Are Made offers a grand new conception of emotions—what they are, where they come from, and (most importantly) what they aren’t. Brain science is the art of the counterintuitive and Lisa Barrett has a remarkable capacity to make the counterintuitive comprehensible. This book will have you smacking your forehead wondering why it took so long to think this way about the brain.” 

    — Stuart Firestein, author of Failure: Why Science Is So Successful and Ignorance: How It Drives Science&...

  • excerpts

    The Search for Emotion’s “Fingerprints”


    Once upon a time, in the 1980s, I thought I would be a clinical psychologist. I headed into a Ph.D. program at the University of Waterloo, expecting to learn the tools of the trade as a psychotherapist and one day treat patients in a stylish yet tasteful office. I was going to be a consumer of science, not a producer. I certainly had no intention of joining a revolution to unseat basic beliefs about the mind that have existed since the days of Plato. But life sometimes tosses little surprises in your direction. 

        It was in graduate school that I felt my first tug of doubt about the classical view of emotion. At the time, I was researching the roots of low self-esteem and how it leads to anxiety or depression. Numerous experiments showed that people feel depressed when they fail to live up to their own ideals, but when they fall short of a standard set by others, they feel anxious. My first experiment in grad school was simply to replicate this well-known phenomenon before building on it to test my own hypotheses. In the course of this experiment, I asked a large number of volunteers if they felt anxious or depressed using well-established checklists of symptoms.1 

        I’d done more complicated experiments as an undergraduate student, so this one should have been a piece of cake. Instead, it crashed and burned. My volunteers did not report anxious or depressed feelings in the expected pattern. So I tried to replicate a second published experiment, and it failed too. I tried again, over and over, each experiment taking months. After three years, all I’d achieved was the same failure eight times in a row. In science, experiments often don’t replicate, but eight consecutive failures is an impressive record. My internal critic taunted me: not everyone is cut out to be a scientist. 

        When I looked closely at all the evidence I had collected, however, I noticed something consistently odd across all eight experiments. Many of my subjects appeared to be unwilling, or unable, to distinguish between feeling anxious and feeling depressed. Instead, they had indicated feeling both or neither; rarely did a subject report feeling just one. This made no sense. Everybody knows that anxiety and depression, when measured as emotions, are decidedly different. When you’re anxious, you feel worked up, jittery, like you’re worried something bad will happen. In depression you feel miserable and sluggish; everything seems horrible and life is a struggle. These emotions should leave your body in completely opposite physical states, and so they should feel different and be trivial for any healthy person to tell apart. Nevertheless, the data declared that my test subjects weren’t doing so. The question was .?.?. why? 

        As it turned out, my experiments weren’t failing after all. My first “botched” experiment actually revealed a genuine discovery ?— ?that people often did not distinguish between feeling anxious and feeling depressed. My next seven experiments hadn’t failed either; they’d replicated the first one. I also began noticing the same effect lurking in other scientists’ data. After completing my Ph.D. and becoming a university professor, I continued pursuing this mystery. I directed a lab that asked hundreds of test subjects to keep track of their emotional experiences for weeks or months as they went about their lives. My students and I inquired about a wide variety of emotional experiences, not just anxious and depressed feelings, to see if the discovery generalized. 

        These new experiments revealed something that had never been documented before: everyone we tested used the same emotion words like “angry,” “sad,” and “afraid” to communicate their feelings but not necessarily to mean the same thing. Some test subjects made fine distinctions with their word use: for example, they experienced sadness and fear as qualitatively different. Other subjects, however, lumped together words like “sad” and “afraid” and “anxious” and “depressed” to mean “I feel crappy” (or, more scientifically, “I feel unpleasant”). The effect was the same for pleasant emotions like happiness, calmness, and pride. After testing over seven hundred American subjects, we discovered that people vary tremendously in how they differentiate their emotional experiences. 

        A skilled interior designer can look at five shades of blue and distinguish azure, cobalt, ultramarine, royal blue, and cyan. My husband, on the other hand, would call them all blue. My students and I had discovered a similar phenomenon for emotions, which I described as emotional granularity.

        Here’s where the classical view of emotion entered the picture. Emotional granularity, in terms of this view, must be about accurately reading your internal emotional states. Someone who distinguished among different feelings using words like “joy,” “sadness,” “fear,” “disgust,” “excitement,” and “awe” must be detecting physical cues or reactions for each emotion and interpreting them correctly. A person exhibiting lower emotional granularity, who uses words like “anxious” and “depressed” interchangeably, must be failing to detect these cues. 

        I began wondering if I could teach people to improve their emotional granularity by coaching them to recognize their emotional states accurately. The key word here is “accurately.” How can a scientist tell if someone who says “I’m happy” or “I’m anxious” is accurate? Clearly, I needed some way to measure an emotion objectively and then compare it to what the person reports. If a person reports feeling anxious, and the objective criteria indicate that he is in a state of anxiety, then he is accurately detecting his own emotion. On the other hand, if the objective criteria indicate that he is depressed or angry or enthusiastic, then he’s inaccurate. With an objective test in hand, the rest would be simple. I could ask a person how she feels and compare her answer to her “real” emotional state. I could correct any of her apparent mistakes by teaching her to better recognize the cues that distinguish one emotion from another and improve her emotional granularity. 

        Like most students of psychology, I had read that each emotion is supposed to have a distinct pattern of physical changes, roughly like a fingerprint. Each time you grasp a doorknob, the fingerprints that you leave behind may vary depending on the firmness of your grip, how slippery the surface is, or how warm and pliable your skin is at that moment. Nevertheless, your fingerprints look similar enough each time to identify you uniquely. The “fingerprint” of an emotion is likewise assumed to be similar enough from one instance to the next, and in one person to the next, regardless of age, sex, personality, or culture. In a laboratory, scientists should be able to tell whether someone is sad or happy or anxious just by looking at physical measurements of a person’s face, body, and brain. 

        I felt confident that these emotion fingerprints could provide the objective criteria I needed to measure emotion. If the scientific literature was correct, then assessing people’s emotional accuracy would be a breeze. But things did not turn out quite as I expe...

Available Resources

Related Categories

  • Format: eBook

  • ISBN-13/EAN: 9780544129962

  • ISBN-10: 0544129962

  • Pages: 496

  • Price: $9.99

  • Publication Date: 03/07/2017

  • Carton Quantity: 1