How Emotions Are Made: The Secret Life of the Brain Hardcover – March 7, 2017
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"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."
"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."
"Drawing on neuroscience and experimental psychology to overturn the assumption that emotions are innate and universal, this book describes them as 'goal-based' concepts designed to help us categorize experience...Upbringing has the biggest influence, but we can all reshape our mental makeup and learn new concepts. The latter part of the book considers how doing so can affect our health, the law, and our relationship with the natural world. As Barrett frequently repeats, 'You are an architect of your experience.'"
—The New Yorker, "Briefly Noted"
"A neuroscientist offers an enjoyable guide to a revolutionary scientific theory of emotion and its practical applications."
"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.”
“A brilliant and original book on the science of emotion, by the deepest thinker about this topic since Darwin.”
“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.”
“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.”
“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.”
“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.”
“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.”
“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.”
“How Emotions Are Made is a provocative, insightful, and engaging analysis of the fascinating ways that our brains create our emotional lives, convincingly linking cutting edge neuroscience studies with everyday emotions. You won't think about emotions in the same way after you read this important book.”
“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. How Emotions are Made will help you remake your life, giving you new lenses to see familiar feelings—from anxiety to love—anew.”
"How Emotions are Made is a tour de force in the quest to understand how we perceive, judge and decide. It lays the groundwork to address many of the mysteries of human behavior. I look forward to how this more accurate view of emotion will help my clients in athletics and trading."
—Denise K. Shull, MA, Founder and CEO of The ReThink Group
"With How Emotions Are Made, Lisa Feldman Barrett has set the terms of debate for emotion theory in the 21st century. In clear, readable prose, she invites us to question both lay and expert understandings of what emotions are—and she musters an impressive body of data to suggest new answers. Barrett’s theory of how we construct emotions has major implications for law, including the myth of dispassionate judging. Her 'affective science manifesto for the legal system' deserves to be taken seriously by theorists and practitioners alike."
—Terry Maroney, Professor of Law and Professor of Medicine, Health and Society, Vanderbilt University
"Every lawyer and judge doing serious criminal trials should read this book. We all grapple with the concepts of free will, emotional impulses, and criminal intent, but here these topics are exposed to a new scrutiny and old assumptions are challenged. The interface of law and brain science is suddenly the area we ought to be debating."
—Baroness Helena Kennedy, QC House of Lords, U.K.
“Extraordinarily well written, Lisa Barrett’s How Emotions are Made chronicles a paradigm shift in the science of emotion. But more than just a chronicle, this book is a brilliant work of translation, translating the new neuroscience of emotion into understandable and readable terms. Since that science has profound implications in areas as disparate as police shootings and TSA profiling, the translation is critical for scientists and citizens, lawmakers and physicians. (For example, what if there is no meaningful scientific difference between premeditated murder, the product of rational thought, which we consider most culpable, and the lesser offense of manslaughter, a 'crime of passion?') Emotions do not reside in dedicated brain areas, constantly at war with areas charged with cognition or perception, as Pixar caricatured it in Inside out, let alone the brain described by Descartes or Plato or other philosophers. Nor does the brain passively retrieve data from “outside” to which it reacts. The brain constructs the reality it perceives, and the emotions it (and we) experience, using core brain systems, not specialized circuits. And it does so in concert with other brains, with the culture surrounding it. The implications of this work ('only' challenging two thousand year old assumptions about the brain) and its ambitions are nothing short of stunning. Even more stunning is how extraordinarily well it succeeds.”
About the Author
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Since my lens is Consciousness, the idea of the Model as Reality is the key to the book FOR ME. This ia a fragment of text that needs a lot of set-up. And the set-up needs set-up, too. So, the set-up and this text are repeated near the end. Obviously, the book leads you into this gently.
p287: "From these three inevitabilities of the mind, we see that construction teaches us to be skeptical. Your experiences are not a window into reality. Rather, your brain is wired to model your world, driven by what is relevant for your body budget, and then you experience that model as Reality..."
Also, very current about unlearning implicit bias, aka, Training the Elephant: "It is your responsibility to learn concepts that, through prediction, steer you away from harmful actions."
Barrett goes into a lot of detail on a set of concepts that all have to do with modelling Reality. They are: Concepts (the model), Simulation (running the model), Prediction (using the model), Error Correction (tweaking the current categorization and/or the Concept). [jch] Our mental model is a "deep learning" model and categorization similar is "inference" in deep learning lingo, except deep learning does not have the simultaneous predictions...
Prediction: (See Also: Clark's Surfing Uncertaintity)
p59: "Though prediction, your brain constructs the world you experience. It combines bits and pieces of your past and estimates how likely each bit applies in you current situation."
p62 "Through prediction and correction, your brain continually creates and revises your mental model of the world. It's a huge ongoing simulation that constructs everything you perceive while determining how you act..."
p64 "When prediction errors occur there are two general options:" 1) change prediction or 2) filter sensory input to match prediction (Affective Realism, aka, implicit bias)
I'd add 3) Throw the prediction error to consciousness. Perhaps that would be considered "Experiential Blindness".
Barrett's Concepts are VERY SIMILAR to Bor's. Chunking. The "bits and pieces" packaged up into easily retrievable bundles.
p29: "Every moment that you are alive, your brain uses concepts to simulate the outside world. Without concepts, you are experientially blind, as you were with the [ visual anomaly ] . With concepts, your brain simulates so invisibly and automatically that vision, hearing, and your other senses seem like reflexes rather than constructions."
Constructed Emotions: emotions are concepts and the finer the granularity of your concepts, the easier it is to feel what you're feeling. It is more efficient.
p67: "Usually, you experience interception only in general terms: those simple feelings of pleasure, displeasure, arousal, or calmness [mentioned earlier] Sometimes, however, you experience moments of intense interoceptive sensations as emotions. That is a key element of the theory of constructed emotion.In every waking moment, your brain gives your sensations meaning. Some of those sensations are interoceptive sensations, and the resulting meaning can be an instance of an emotion."
p35: "The theory of constructed emotion incorporates elements of all three flavors of construction. From social construction, it acknowledges the importance of culture and concepts. From psychological construction, it considers emotions to be constructed by core systems in the brain and body. And from neuroconstuction, it adopts the idea that experience wires the brain."
Barrett spent the early part of her PhD work trying to detect the "signatures of emotions" for the universal emotions, which was and still is the commonly accepted view. She could not find them. Instead, she started thinking in terms of population thinking. Each instance of anger is unique, based on habit and circumstance.
On p 138, Emotions are 1) to make meaning - to understand one's state is more efficient, 2) prescribe action, 3) regulate your body budget to prepare for said action. These 3 are about you. Two other functions: emotional communication and social influence.
p134. "Emotions become real to us through two human capabilities that are prerequisites for Social Reality. First, you need a group a people to agree that a concept exists, such as "Flower" or "Cash" or "Happiness". This shared knowledge is called collective intentionality. Most people barely think about collective intentionality, but it nevertheless is a foundation of every society. Even your own name is made real through collective intentionality."
p135. "Collective intentionality is necessary for social reality but not sufficient. Certain non-human animals are capable of a rudimentary form of collective intentionality without social reality. Ants work together toward a common activity, as do bees. ... Humans are unique, however, because our collective intentionality involves mental concepts. We can look at a hammer, a chainsaw, and an ice pick and categorize them all as "Tools," then change our minds and categorize them all as "Murder Weapons" We can impose functions that would not otherwise exist, thereby inventing reality. We can work this magic because we have the second prerequisite for social reality: language. No other animals have collective intentionality combined with words."
Body Budget is a term that is purposefully vague, but it works. Your brain minimizes the amount of energy it expends. It can refer to body budgeting regions, metabolism, psychological well being. The lab just published: Evidence for a large-scale brain system supporting allostasis and interoception in humans_ in Nature, Human Behavior. Ian R. Kleckner.
p200: Your body budget fluctuates normally throughout the day, as your brain anticipates your body's needs and shifts around your budgetary resources like oxygen, glucose, salt, and water. When you digest food, your stomach and intestines "borrow" resources from your muscles. When you run, your muscles borrow from your liver and kidneys. During these transfers, your budget remains solvent.
Affective Realism is a step past implicit bias. The Reality we see/hear is shaped by our affect.
p79: "You might believe that you are a rational creature, weighing the pros and cons before deciding how to act, but the structure of your cortex makes this an implausible fiction. Your brain is wired to listen to your body budget. Affect is in the driver's seat and rationality is a passenger. It doesn't matter whether you're choosing between two snacks, two job offers, two investments, or two heart surgeons your everyday decisions are driven by a loudmouthed, mostly deaf scientist who views the world through affect-colored glasses."
Exteroception are the senses vision, hearing, etc. Interoception senses our internal state.
p73: "Interoception is a fundamental feature of the human nervous system, and why you experience these sensations as affect is one of the great mysteries of science. Interoception did not evolve for you to have feelings but to regulate your body budget. It helps your brain track your temperature, how much glucose you are using, whether you have any tissue damage, whether your heart is pounding, whether your muscles are stretching, and other bodily conditions, all at the same time. Your affective feelings of pleasure and displeasure, and calmness and agitation, are simple summaries of your budgetary state. Are you flush?Are you overdrawn?Do you need a deposit, and if so, how desperately?
Experiencing our Constructed Model of the World as Reality
Now, hopefully this makes sense. Perhaps, as my wife says, this is obvious to everyone, but, to me, it's a great model for consciousness.
p283: "Affective Realism, the phenomenon that you experience what you believe, is inevitable because of your wiring. The body budgeting regions ... are the most powerful predictors in your brain, and your primary sensory regions are eager listeners. Body budget predictions are laden with affect, not logic and reason, are the main drivers of your experience and behavior."
p284: "Affective Realism is an inevitability, yet you are not helpless against it. The best defense against it is curiosity..."
"The second inevitability of the mind is that you have concepts, because the human brain is wired to construct a conceptual system."
"The third inevitability of the mind is social reality." ... The social world becomes real.
p287: "From these three inevitabilities of the mind, we see that construction teaches us to be skeptical. Your experiences are not a window into reality. Rather, your brain is wired to model your world, driven by what is relevant for your body budget, and then you experience that model as Reality..."
We are responsible for our actions. Sure, your brain made you do it, but, "It is your responsibility to learn concepts that, through prediction, steer you away from harmful actions." We all need to "Train the Elephant" in Haidt's rider and the elephant metaphor.
p155 "If you grow up in a society full of anger or hate, you can't be blamed for having the associated concepts, but as an adult, you can choose to educate yourself and learn additional concepts. It's certainly not an easy task, but it is doable. This is another basis for my frequent claim, "You are an architect of your experience?" You are indeed partly responsible for your actions, even so-called emotional reactions that you experience as out of your control. It is your responsibility to learn concepts that, through prediction, steer you away from harmful actions. You also bear some responsibility for others, because your actions shape other people's concepts and behaviors, creating the environment that turns genes on and off to wire their brains, including the brains of the next generation. Social reality implies that we are all partly responsible for one another's behavior, not in a fluffy, let's-all-blame-society sort of way, but a very real brain-wiring way."
Granted, I am not the target for this book. I have read a lot of books and papers on Consciousness. This book is aimed at a much wider audience and I hope it does really well. For the most part, Barrett does a good job balancing between abstraction and complexity and dumbing the subject down. One example of dumbing it down too much is when she discusses to Damasio and the loss of a specific brain region at that point, just name the orbitofrontal context.
1) Terminology - intrinsic networks (p58), which is way too vague. The term Intrinsic Brain Network get 1.5M gaggle hits, while Large Scale Brain Networks (LSBN) gets 9.7M hits. Why not use the more decriptive and more widely used term?
Another example, Theory of Mind is the widely used term for figuring out intentions, beliefs, etc of other people. She uses mental inference. If you are going to use a different term, use a more explicit term.
Interception system would be better than interoception network. If the default mode Network is a part of it and the brain network concept is well established, don't add another layer of networks. No mention of Vagus Nerve..
Barrett refers to brain regions as if they were homogeneous "brain blobs". If all nodes in a network are homogeneous, then the intelligence would live in the routing tables, and downplaining the regions would be fine. HOWEVER, cytoarchitecture makes it clear that the different nodes have different processing capabilites. So the brain regions are as important as the network topology and they should be identified if it is relevant.
p173: So when the classical view [ of emotions ] reasserted itself in the 1960s, half a century of anti-essentialist research was swept into history's dustbin. And we are all the poorer for it, considering how much time and money are being wasted today in pursuit of illusory emotion essences. At press time, Microsoft is analyzing facial photographs in an attempt to recognize emotion. Apple has recently purchased Emollient. . . Google . . ."
What? If emotions are not essences, not purely physiological, then it is a waste of time to detect them? Since language is learned, is it a waste of time to do speech recognition? What if the core emotions are not inherent physiologically, but, they are nearly universal because part of the Social Reality so early that they are nearly universal. They are like Proto-Indo-European roots.
Another nit, she uses "scientists say" too much, as if everyone agrees with her.
Nerdly nit: p129 "We only experience red when light of 600 nanometers reflects off of an object". If you are reading a screen and there is red on it, that is being emitted, not reflected.
So, if you are well read in neuroscience, it may be a little distracting in some places, but, it was a lot of new material for me and SO worthwhile!!!
EDIT -- From page 1 all the way to page 174, I loved this book. The science, and the changing perception of emotion's origin and purpose - it's all fascinating.
FAST FORWARD -- Chapter 9 and beyond becomes a self-help, gobbledygook waste of paper.
I originally gave this 5 stars and HATED to drop it so drastically; but, the complete change in purpose and direction warranted possibly even more of a drop...
I read this book back in March of 2017, and refrained from writing this review because generally I'm uncomfortable with writing them. However, about an hour before writing this, I listened science writer Robert Wright's podcast of the author discussing her book and was so bothered by it that I felt compelled to write the review you're reading now.
Dr. Barrett discusses this book, and I personally found the discussion disingenuous at best, and intellectually dodgy at worst. Dr. Barrett, to me, sounded more like an attorney than she did a scientist. She nitpicked the meaning of Mr. Wright's choice of words, and if you nitpick enough, you can find a flaw in anything, then focus on it ad nauseam. She absolutely dominated the discourse with what I perceived to be a veritable flood of verbiage, while avoiding a truly honest debate on the issues with Mr. Wright, as he clearly disagreed with her.
Let's take for instance the point that Mr. Wright brought up about schadenfreude, which Dr. Barrett discusses in her book. Wright implied this is an instinctive emotion, Dr. Barrett claims this is a culturally constructed emotion, as are all emotions. Schadenfreude is a German word denoting the pleasure that someone feels at the misfortune of others. Can a three year old experience this, Mr. Wright asked. Dr. Barrett made a somewhat snarky remark to Mr. Wright saying that maybe YOU feel schadenfreude a lot, but most of us don't. Then went on to discuss that the three year old would not feel this because they haven't been taught, or learned the concept of it. Ultimately, this is as most questions in psychology, an academic question because we can't prove anything about subjective experience. However, can any of us honestly say that we've never seen a three year old who has no idea what shadenfreude is, experience it anyway? Haven't YOU felt it at some time, even though you many have never heard the word?
Here's another thing I didn't like in the book - Dr. Barrett joking referred to "brain blobs", as she pokes fun at the notion that the brain has specified locations for various functions. If I understand her point correctly, this would directly contradict eminent scientists Dr. Robert Sapolsky's view of the brain, which is greatly divided by function, and has much experimental evidence to back up his claims in his book "Behave: The Biology of Humans at our Best and Worst", which I personally find a far superior book to this one. Here's a statement from "Behave" which directly contradicts the fundamental premise of Dr. Barrett's book - "by the time you finish this book, you'll see that it actually makes no sense to distinguish between aspects of a behavior that are "Biological" and those that would be described as, say, "psychological" or "cultural." Utterly intertwined. I think Dr. Sopolsky would agree that you could replace the word "behvaior" with "emotion" and still agree with him.
The author had the temerity to take a veiled swipe at fellow psychologist, Daniel Kahneman. Not directly, mind you, but it was an unmistakable negative remark towards him. Dr. Kahneman is the only psychologist to win a Nobel Prize; he won it with his contribution to economics on the psychology of decision making in uncertain circumstances. In his masterwork of psychology "Thinking Fast and Slow" he summarizes his decades of research on human psychology by postulating that we have two different thinking systems, one rapid and intuitive, the other slow and deliberate. Dr. Barrett completely denied the existence of this distinction, in language I found similar to poking fun at "brain blobs." I admire a writer who has grand ambitions, however, taking a shot at perhaps the most accomplished living psychologist, and missing the mark entirely, further solidified my inability to construct much positive emotion of this book.
Ultimately, Dr. Barrett is trying to convince the reader that there are no universal emotions, as say psychologist Dr. Paul Ekman and others would have us believe, and that they are all dependent upon learning and culture. Now this view may auger well with our current intellectual zeitgeist, which is averse to the notion of human nature, and believes that most human ills can be mended by being educated in the right ideas. While I believe this in part, I do not believe this entirely. Why can't it be that there are emotions engraved on our DNA and our experience from birth to death interacts with our nature?
Wright and Barrett also discussed indigenous cultures, who are very often discussed in psychological texts because they don't have any of the influence of modern western cultures, and live in a way that humans are more evolved to live in. Dr. Barrett says that for instance, the !Kung simply do not feel fear in the way that you or I would because of their culture. So, if a !Kung saw within stepping on distance of themselves a coiled, ready to strike deadly snake, they wouldn't feel what any other human would feel? I highly doubt that.
Dr. Barrett resides in academia's ivory tower - me, I'm a mud-spattered grunt in the trenches of trying to heal people's painful emotions. I was hoping for cutting edge insights from the Ivory Tower to help us emotional hygienists in the world below. I found woefully little, unfortunately. I see countless people ruled, tormented and sometimes ruined by their painful, negative emotions. If I summarized this book to your clients - "well, those emotions are just constructs that you learned and you create, so just change them!", I think I'd be out of a job. Our emotions are just not that simple. Not even close.
Perhaps I misunderstood the book. I was hoping that the podcast would convince me of Dr. Barrett's way of thinking. It didn't. It actually secured my own existing beliefs, partly because I found her so overbearingly loquacious, without really saying much of anything with substance. Mostly a big disappointing word salad.
On a more positive note, I really liked her discussion about the concept of emotion differentiation and emotional granularity, and found them extremely helpful to my job as a mental health therapist. I now have lists of words for emotions that I have clients read through to help them better identify feelings that cause them trouble, or feelings of things that they find pleasurable. It's been very helpful, so I'm thankful for that.
In closing, I'm a grizzled old veteran of the internet, and anticipate this review may provoke some reader's ire. I won't respond to anything argumentative, snarky, or hostile. I may not respond at all, it depends upon my mood. If there is something I'm misunderstanding, I really would like some enlightening. In short, I simply don't believe the premise of this book, that emotions are predominately cultural constructs. Yes, this is what the book ultimately argues. Instead, emotions are a product of both our natures and our experience. Thank you for reading.
Top international reviews
For her, there is no reaction, no sensory channel reception, no awareness of sensory input. Everything is prediction, even an unexpected smell. It takes her to page 64 to accept less minded sensory input reception processes, and such acknowledgement bears almost no echo in her writings. She denies cause effect and fails to see that she is putting the prediction and the mind as the cause (of everything). This is the new descartian generation of Western intellectuals with little experiential sensorial training. For me, it is sort of a stretch to see sensory reception (which of course involves the nervous system, and may be tainted eventually by simulation and 'illusion') as prediction, and self-awareness as prediction.
In brief, her brain is, as she says, locked in her skull. My brain is a sensorial organism permanently in inter-relation with everything else, being changed and changing.
(on the upside, despite her bias and her crusade against Ekman tainting her reasoning, she is well acquainted with the literature)
Definitely not a one time read and then put it aside. If you are interested in this topic, then in my view, this is one of the best books available and for that reason I would wholeheartedly recommend it.
The author fearlessly challenges some of the fields (affective psychology/neuroscience) most revered and respected theorists and researchers, including Jack Panksap, Antonio Damassio, Joseph LeDoux, Paul Ekman and even Charles Darwin.
That's mad ballsy.
The book is a virtual slaughterhouse of sacred cows.
I have reservations about much of the authors assertions. It's hard not to, because she challenges so much of the current gospel.
That being said, I have the strong intuition that the this work represents a legitimate challenge to the old paradigm.
It will be interesting to read the inevitable pushback.
As I intimated earlier, the first half of the book was very hard work. Admittedly some of the concepts are very complex and hard to grasp. I felt that the author was determined to drive home every detail of her considerable research into the roles of prediction and prediction error in the formation of our emotions in order to thoroughly dismantle the long-held classical view of “essential” emotions generated by specific regions of the brain. This is completely understandable since developing a prediction theory of the brain’s function has clearly been a major part of her professional career.
And this book is very convincing of her theories. The author is talented, articulate and dedicated and this book is probably one of the most thorough modern analyses of how emotions are created. It is definitely worth devoting time to several readings.
Lisa Barrett explains how the "classical" view of emotions has misled us up blind alleys. Emotions are concepts tied to our bodily energy budgets that are culturally labelled without real boundaries. We improve our emotional intelligence by "granulating" our labels for these concepts.
Wonderful book that has changed my way of approaching new subject matter.
But, we’ll probably throw this one on the “scrap-head-of-wild-scientific-ideas-that-came-and-went” in a few years time, along with all the other thoughts that currently suit the zeitgeist.
Doch die Argumente sprechen für sich: weder gibt es abgegrenzte Orte im Gehirn, wo die Emotionen darauf warten, von den passenden Außenreizen „automatisch“ auf die Bühne geschickt zu werden ("blobology" nennt die Autorin spöttisch diese Lehre, die jeder Funktion einen Zellhaufen – blob – im Gehirn zuweisen möchte), noch sind bestimmte Emotionen so universell, wie Jahrzehnte lang behauptet. Jeder fühlt anders. Die Studien, welche die Mär von den universellen Emotionen begründet haben, nimmt Frau Barrett lustvoll auseinander und wer ihr dabei folgt, wird sich überzeugen lassen: die Biologie erklärt zwar die Grundqualitäten des Erlebens, die Affekte: angenehm versus unangenehm, ruhig versus erregt. Wie wir sie interpretieren, hängt jedoch von den Konzepten ab, die wir gelernt haben: die Aufregung, die unser Herz beschleunigt, ist sie Furcht? Ärger? Neugier? Eine Mischung? Das entscheiden – meist ohne es zu merken - wir selbst.
Was folgt daraus? Zum Beispiel dies: wenn Emotionen subjektive Konzepte ohne definiertes biologisches Korrelat sind, dann können wir unsere Mitmenschen nicht „lesen“. Zittert er vor Wut, vor Angst, vor Lust? Ist sein Lächeln glücklich? Spöttisch? Schadenfroh? Kontext hilft und kulturelle Nähe, doch je fremder mir der andere ist, desto weniger kann ich davon ausgehen, durch Beobachtung und Menschenkenntnis seine Gefühle (Emotionen) zu erkennen.
Für verschiedene Lebensbereiche wird dargelegt, was dieser Paradigmen-Wechsel – vom Essenzialismus (das korrekte Wort für Blobologie) zum emotionalen Konstruktivismus – konkret verändern kann und soll: in der Rechtssprechung wird die große Zeit des „gesunden Menschenverstandes“ der Laienjuroren (in den USA) womöglich bald zu Ende gehen. Psychisch Kranke (die, das wusste schon Griesinger vor 150 Jahren, Hirnkranke sind), benötigen, um funktionale Gefühls-Konzepte zu entwickeln, mehr als Tabletten und ein paar neue "beliefs". Und die Neurowissenschaften brauchen Forscher, denen die Relativität ihrer Konzepte bewußt ist (statt, zum Beispiel, in allen Kulturen dieselben „westlichen“ Emotionen wiederzuentdecken, weil – ohne dass man es bemerkt hätte - das Design der Studien deren Existenz schon voraussetzt).
Das Buch, so erhellend es ist, hat auch Schwächen: die Autorin war, bevor sie sich ganz der Forschung verschrieb, als Psychotherapeutin tätig, und einige Seiten lesen sich wie die Psycho-Rubrik eines Frauenmagzins. Ein etwas unerwarteter Absturz aus den intellektuellen Höhen der ersten hundert Seiten. Der Leser bekommt sehr nützliche, aber auch – wie die Autorin selbst zugibt – banale Ratschläge: gesund essen, genug schlafen, sich viel bewegen etc., die sie etwas bemüht mit ihrem Konzept des ausgeglichenen Körperhaushalts (body budget) begründet. Außerdem möchte zumindest der deutsche Leser vielleicht nicht ganz so viel erfahren über Frau Baretts prämenstruellen Stimmungsschwankungen, den Ehemann, die Tochter Sophia und den lieben Onkel Kevin. Das ist wohl auch ein kultureller Unterschied: amerikanische Leser, darf man annehmen, schätzen diesen personal touch.
Dennoch, der Lesegewinn ist groß: es öffnet sich ein Raum der Freiheit. Wenn Emotionen erlernte Konzepte sind, dann sind sie, zumindest mittelfristig, veränderbar und wir selbst sind es, die das in die Hand nehmen können. Zum einen, indem wir die Innenwahrnehmung (Interozeption) der Affekte in Richtung "angenehm" verschieben: Obst essen, Abnehmen, Sport machen, Joga, Massage … siehe oben. Doch das Kapitel „mastering your emotions“ enthält Ideen, die weit darüber hinausgehen; es läd uns – die Ebene eines simplen Ratgebers verlassend – ein, die eigenen Gefühle zu dekonstruieren. Yes we can.
Das Buch wird zweifellos auf Deutsch erscheinen, irgendwann. Wer sich jetzt schon lösen will von der beschränkenden Vorstellung, Emotionen seien die Realität, der braucht das Original. Was auch schon die erste Gelegenheit wäre, die Synapsen vom Rost zu befreien.
The most accurate reviews for this book can be found in the 3 star categories. Also considered why there was no mention from the polyvagal theory perspective.
A very generous 3 stars from me. Interesting concept, poorly executed. Found the concept of experience and prediction of the brain interesting which bumped it up to 3 stars, other than that 2 stars. Would definitely not recommend this book to a friend.