Book reviews for your benefit from our Members

Patty Everitt reviews:

How Emotions Are Made - The Secret Life of the Brain by Lisa Feldman Barrett 2018 Pan Books 

"If your brain operates by prediction and construction and rewires itself through experience, then it's no overstatement to say that if you change your current experience today, you can change who you become tomorrow."

Lisa Feldman Barrett (LBF) presents her research and reviews the neurological research literature which, she argues, points toward the constructionist and away from the classical view of human emotions.

The classical view of emotions holds that basic emotions (anger, fear, sadness, shame) are hardwired in the human brain and are identifiable in characteristic facial expressions. Furthermore, the hardwiring and characteristic facial features are common to all humans. LBF argues that neuroscience research to support the classical model actually points clearly away from that hypothesis.

The constructionist view holds that emotions are constructed in the here-and-now from “concepts”. Concepts start to be created from birth (and probably in utero) and are dependent on genetic inheritance, context, social norms, interoception and life experience to-date.

Neuroscience has shown that the brain predicts what it expects to happen next: what it expects to see, hear, smell, taste, and sense. It uses concepts, useful packages of sensation, to install those sensations as part of that predictive process and checks whether the prediction is valid or needs to be tweaked. Societies put a label on the package – often an emotion word.

I like the book and LBF’s style. She comes across as enthusiastic. Her crusade (my word) is to follow the evidence produced by neuroscience research and step back from seeing what you want to see. Her arguments and the way she argues fit nicely into my map of the world. Or am I seeing what I want to see?

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