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 – and 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 recognised. 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.
"How Emotions are Made chronicles a paradigm shift in the science of emotion. But more than that, this book brilliantly conveys the new neuroscience of emotion in an understandable, extraordinarily well written way. The implications of Lisa Barrett's work (which 'only' challenges two-thousand-year-old assumptions about the brain) are nothing short of stunning. Even more stunning is how extraordinarily well she succeeds."
– Nancy Gertner, Senior Lecturer on Law, Harvard Law School, and former U.S. federal judge for the United States District Court of Massachusetts
"Lisa Barrett masterfully integrates discoveries from affective science, neuroscience, social psychology, and philosophy to make sense of the many instances of emotion that you experience and witness each day."
– Barbara Fredrickson, author of Positivity and Love 2.0
"Barrett's is a singular book, remarkable for the freshness of its ideas and the boldness and clarity with which they are presented."
– Scientific American
"Chock-full of startling, science-backed findings [...] an entertaining and engaging read."
"Fascinating [...] a thought-provoking journey into emotion science."
– The Wall Street Journal
"Fascinating [...] If you want to read emotions better, read this book."
– Harper's Bazaar
"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, 5 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."
"A neuroscientist offers an enjoyable guide to a revolutionary scientific theory of emotion and its practical applications."
– Shelf Awareness
"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
"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 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."
– Library Journal, starred review
"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
Introduction: The Two Thousand Year Old Assumption
Chapter - 1: The Search For Emotion's ''Fingerprints''
Chapter - 2: Emotions Are Constructed
Chapter - 3: The Myth of Universal Emotions
Chapter - 4: The Origin of Feeling
Chapter - 5: Concepts, Goals, and Words
Chapter - 6: How the Brain Makes Emotions
Chapter - 7: Emotions As A Social Reality
Chapter - 8: A New View of Human Nature
Chapter - 9: Mastering Your Emotions
Chapter - 10: Emotions and Illness
Chapter - 11: Emotion and the Law
Chapter - 12: Is a Growling Dog Angry?
Chapter - 13: From Brain to Mind: The New Frontier
Appendix A: Brain Basics
Appendix B: Supplement for Chapter 2
Appendix C: Supplement for Chapter 3
Appendix D: Evidence for the Concept Cascade
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Lisa Feldman Barrett, PhD, is a University Distinguished Professor of Psychology at Northeastern University, with appointments at Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital in Psychiatry and Radiology. She received a NIH Director's Pioneer Award for her research on emotion in the brain. She is co-author of both The Psychological Construction of Emotion and Handbook of Emotions. She lives in Boston.