In this book review of "How Emotions are made: the secret life of the brain" by Lisa Feldman Barrett, Stella shares her experiences with the book and her favourite neuroscientific insights.
When you read lots of books it becomes hard to remember them all, but I’m sure you have a few favourites that stand out and you go back to again and again. This will definitely be one of mine.
Lisa Feldman Barrett explodes myths and provides new insights in her latest book about emotions. She’s a neuroscientist, psychologist and author and clearly knows what she’s talking about as she’s also Chief Scientific Officer for the Centre for Law, Brain and Behaviour at Harvard University.
According to research it turns out that we’re not driven by innate, universal emotions triggered by external events but we’re actively constructing emotions as concepts to manage our world.
In reading the book she challenges many long-held beliefs, assumptions and models about emotion which feels surprising but at the same time completely obvious. She even questions Darwin and giants of emotion research like Paul Ekman. She describes how almost all emotion research up until recently has been built on a false premisek which is why the data has often been variable and hard to explain. Plus you get to find out why our own brains trick us into believing that emotions are happening to us rather than us creating them.
Feldman Barret leads you carefully through the science and evidence to show how the predictive properties of the brain are a much better fit for the results that show up in emotion research than the classical view of emotions as innate responses to external stimuli. In a similar way to how memories are constructed rather than stored, she shows that emotions are constructed in the moment from multiple sources like our internal sensations (proprioception) , past experience, social expectation and sensory input from the outside world.
Anecdotes, stories and examples abound so that you go on a journey of exploration with her. It’s complex stuff but extremely well structured, relevant and human. Finally, she shows us how we are in charge of our emotions rather than them driving us. She offers practical suggestions, both for the individual and society, to view emotions as something we can both experience and manage at the same time because, after all, emotions are what make our lives richer.
This book means we’re all going to have to do some rethinking and now I need to revise my own book ‘Neuroscience for Learning and Development’ with this new paradigm in mind.
If you’re looking for a great book to get your teeth into over the summer then go out and get it now.
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