Lisa Barrett on How Emotions are Made (BS 135)

Lisa Felman Barrett (click to play interview)

Lisa Felman Barrett (click to play interview)

In How Emotions are Made, neuroscientist Lisa Feldman Barrett challenges a key long-standing assumption about emotions. She argues persuasively that the evidence does not support the idea that emotions are universal and hardwired. She calls this the classical theory because versions of this idea have been around at least since the ancient Greeks, but the idea was also one that Darwin embraced. It is also embedded in several past episodes of this podcast, including the popular interviews with Jaak Panksepp.

In the Brain Science 135 I spoke with Dr. Barrett to discuss the evidence against the classical view, but more importantly to consider her intriguing new theory, which is called the Theory of Constructed Emotions.

When I started the Brain Science Podcast back in 2006, emotion was a topic I was eager to discuss, but my own thoughts had been highly influenced by Carl Sagan’s promotion of the Triune Theory of the Brain, which appeared in his book Dragons of Eden. Dr. Barrett joins Dr. Herculano-Houzel (BS 132) in reminding us that this theory must be abandoned if we want to follow the evidence. We did not inherit a reptilian brain or even the circuits of our mammalian cousins. In fact, our emotions are socially learned and language plays an important part in this process.

Understanding How Emotions Are Made is an essential  component of understanding how our brains make us human. I hope you will listen to BS 135 and read Dr. Barrett's book.

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References and Links

Related Episodes:

  • BSP 11 Discusses emotion including Paul Eckman's work

  • BSP 65 (or BS 134) and BSP91 are interviews with Jaak Panksepp who definitely worked within a classical framework

Consistent with Dr. Barrett

  • BS 121 Bud Craig talked about the role of interoception

  • BS 124 Michael Anderson and neural reuses

  • BS 126 Andy Clark talked about the role of prediction


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