How Emotions are Made
The Secret Life of the Brain
A new theory of how the brain constructs emotions — one that could revolutionize our understanding of the human mind.
Why do emotions feel automatic and uncontrollable? 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.
Today, 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 immense 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 live in distinct parts of the brain and are universally expressed and recognized. 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.
Excerpt from How Emotions are Made:
“The human brain is a master of deception. It creates experiences and directs actions with a magician’s skill, never revealing how it does so, all the while giving us a false sense of confidence that its products — our day-to-day experiences — reveal its inner workings. Joy, sadness, surprise, fear, and other emotions seem so distinct and feel so built-in that we assume they have separate causes inside us. [So] it’s easy to come up with a wrong theory of the mind. We are, after all, a bunch of brains trying to figure out how brains work.”
Praise for How Emotions Are Made:
“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.”
— Elle, March 2017
[STARRED REVIEW] “A well-argued, entertaining disputation of the prevailing view that emotion and reason are at odds. [Barrett contents that] we are responsible for our individual actions, of course, but we also bear responsibility for working to eliminate racial prejudice, gender stereotyping, and the like from our society…. [This] has important legal as well as moral implications and leads into the thorny questions surrounding free will. A highly informative, readable, and wide-ranging discussion.”
—Kirkus Reviews, January 2017
[STARRED REVIEW] “[Barrett] presents a new neuroscientific explanation of why people are more swayed by feelings than by facts. [She] progressively builds her case, writing in a conversational tone and using down-to-earth metaphors… [Her] theories of emotion and the human brain set forth here are revolutionary….”
—Library Journal, January 2017
“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
“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
“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.”
—Daniel L. Schacter, author of The Seven Sins of Memory
“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
“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 as 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
“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
“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.”
—Barbara Fredrickson, author of Positivity and Love 2.0
“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.”
—Nancy Gertner, Senior Lecturer on Law, Harvard Law School, and former U.S. federal judge for the United States District Court of Massachusetts
“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, The ReThink Group
“With How Emotions Are Made, Lisa Feldman Barrett has set the terms of debate for emotion theory in the 21^st 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 A. Maroney, Professor of Law, Vanderbilt University
Additional Resources for How Emotions Are Made
See extended endnotes for the book.