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HOW EMOTIONS ARE MADE The Secret Life of the Brain

Lisa Feldman Barrett • Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

This book has made a sensation, since it claims to run counter to the prevailing thinking in the psychology of emotions, what Barrett calls the classical view of emotion. This view holds, according to Barrett, that we have emotion circuits in our brain built in since birth that cover a range of responses. Each of these has a kind of signature in various parts of our anatomy. If we’re experiencing fear, say, our face will show a telltale wide-eyed look while our palms may sweat, and so forth. Leading psychologists have done extensive work cataloging our range of emotions.

Barrett first casts doubt on the evidence for these fixed emotions, arguing that the names and ranges of emotional responses differ by culture and that even within a homogenous culture, people show much wider ranges of response than are captured by the research that purports to identify our emotional menu. She goes on to say that emotions are constructed on the spot, not hard-wired. Our brains create emotions based on memory of previous responses to similar stimuli and these are based on culture and…

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