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How Emotions Are Made

The Secret Life of the Brain
Written by: Lisa Feldman Barrett
Narrated by: Cassandra Campbell
Length: 14 hrs and 32 mins
4.5 out of 5 stars (79 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

A new theory of how the brain constructs emotions that could revolutionize psychology, health care, law enforcement, and our understanding of the human mind.

Emotions feel automatic to us; that's why scientists have long assumed that emotions are hardwired in the body or the brain. Today, however, 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. This paradigm shift has far-reaching implications not only for psychology but also medicine, the legal system, airport security, child-rearing, and even meditation.

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 what it means to be human. Her research overturns the widely held belief that emotions are housed in different parts of the brain, and are universally expressed and recognized. Instead, emotion is constructed in the moment by core systems interacting across the whole brain, aided by a lifetime of learning.

Are emotions more than automatic reactions? Does rational thought really control emotion? How does emotion affect disease? How can you make your children more emotionally intelligent? How Emotions Are Made reveals the latest research and intriguing practical applications of the new science of emotion, mind, and brain.

©2017 Lisa Feldman Barrett (P)2016 Brilliance Audio

What members say

Average Customer Ratings

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Repetition is Repetitive

The book spends 14 hours repeating the same concept over and over again ad nauseam.

The concepts covered in the book could have been covered in about 4 to 5 hours without the excessive repetition.

4 of 5 people found this review helpful

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Great book

This book will change the way you think about the brain structure and how it operates.

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Love science

I am a big fan of neuroscience and research. This book is great at sharing complex concepts in simple form and through various research studies. I really enjoyed listening to it. #Audible1

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We are not as reactively oriented as I thought

We are prediction machines... Check this out and let Barrett's hypothesis turn your paradigm upside down.

2 of 4 people found this review helpful

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really more on vocabulary development

The book addressed some interesting concepts with the lead idea being that we construct (perceive) the world around us.

The biggest issue with this book is both the authors tone (frequently saying she is just simplifying and saying what she is not doing, as if to correct the listener before a thought is even made) as well as the performer's tone who enhances this condesention.

A pet peeve: the author refers to herself as a scientist, as opposed to a psychologist. Would a physist do the same ? of course not, they're proud to be a physist.

1 of 7 people found this review helpful

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based on bullshit

didn't find the examples credible also did not like the voice not based on facts

0 of 5 people found this review helpful

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  • W. White
  • 2017-05-29

Eye-opening

As a practicing psychiatrist, I found this book incredibly thought-provoking. It wonderfully turned on its head many of my previous "thoughts" about how "feelings" work. I have always been more of an advocate of good questions than good answers, & Feldman does a wonderful job of asking good questions and following through with adequate scientific inquiry to lend credence to her perspectives. This proved to be such an excellent listen, that I have since purchased the hard cover & am equally enjoying that exploration of the book's ideas. Unquestionably five stars!

85 of 90 people found this review helpful

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  • tri333
  • 2017-07-27

Helped Me Out A Lot

I was genuinely impressed by this book. I was listening to a podcast where they talked about this particular work very heavily and I thought i might look into it just because it was interesting. I've always been an extremely emotional person, to the point where it makes my life much more difficult. I've been going through a particularly hard period and listening to this has helped me get through. Overall it was easy to understand, the narrator's voice was soothing, and the subject was intriguing. I tell all of my friends about it and still want to delve deeper into the science of emotions. I feel more in control over myself after listening and can see myself changing how I think. A lot of the topics talked about can also be brought back to mindfulness which is something that interests me as well. If I had the choice I would have read this book physically just because some of her sentence structures are more complex and it would have been need to have been able to easily read over small portions. I would recommend also trying to listen to this one in large chunks because I felt as though when I came back to it after a period of time I was in a completely different headspace than when I was in it. Looking forward to looking into emotions more, definitely glad I stumbled upon this.

27 of 28 people found this review helpful

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  • PMonaco
  • 2017-03-24

A must read for anyone interested in emotions

A systematic, scientific explanation of emotions. clearly written and understandable by anyone. If you thought that you do not have the ability to modify your emotions, read this book. If you want to understand what emotions are, read this book. Or, if you have a general interest in how the human brain works, read this book.

36 of 39 people found this review helpful

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  • Gary
  • 2017-03-14

Emotions are not things!!!!!!

Most new pop science books irritate me since they give me nothing I didn't already know. This book is definitely an exception to that rule. I started liking this book from the very beginning, because I have previously read in over 20 books the experiment where they show photos of actors posed with an emotional expression of some kind and showed it to various people from different cultures and then claiming that each group shown the pictures knew what emotion was being invoked by the actor posing in the picture. I always suspected there was something wrong with the results which claimed that there is a universal set of emotions based on unique emotional 'fingerprints'. This author demolishes that finding, and I really hope I never see anyone else site that experiment again without at least first mentioning this author's analysis.

There is a classical view of emotions. It's been wrongly floating around since Plato hypothesized that we were like the charioteer (reason) being led by the horse being pulled apart by our passion and our appetites. Similarly Freud gave us a super ego, ego, or id, and Kahneman has his 'S1' and 'S2' (quick thinking vs thoughtful mind). The author not only tears down the classical emotional models of the mind, but she builds one up in its place that seems to make sense.

The author calls it the constructive emotional model. What she's saying is that emotions are not things. They are instances of previous experiences. They do have essences or fingerprints. Darwin knocked it out of the park with his "Origins of Species", but his book "Expression of Emotions in Man in Animals" brought back essentialism (the author will say). That is a belief that there are real categories in the world and they exist beyond the concepts within our own mind. Our emotions are always of a particular instance and never from the general because they are always about something particular.

The author's theory takes the best from the Social, Neurological and Psychological constructive theories from the past. In the past, the social theory would have agreed with Beauvoir that girls are not born girls but made into girls, neurological would have said that there are basically unique areas in the brain for different emotions or patters of neurons, and the Psychological would have been William James' reaction to the bear that we would meet in the woods. The author does not accept any of those premises but does construct her constructive emotional model from those three areas. She builds her system from holism, emergent properties, and multiple different neuron formations leading to various emotional states.

The author really focuses on our body budget as to how we construct our emotional makeup. Also, she speaks about how our mind is constantly predicting, and when we create our 'now' we are also predicting it since we don't always understand everything and we are constantly making our best guess about our world and our current emotional states. We are statisticians from an early age (she'll say) and we often must take all of our previous best guesses of the world (an average) and interpolate (or even extrapolate) what we think we know and use that as our guide even though we know there is an error because we're forcing averages on to a particular. Since she's a scientist in the field she will provide some experiments and data to back up her beliefs.

A lot of the book I didn't like in particular the last third. That's just me. She did a little bit of self help type book and that always bores me, but basically her advice was along the lines of do more exercise and eat broccoli (okay, she doesn't say 'broccoli' but she does say eat healthier). She mentioned Spinoza and that he falls in to the classical school of emotional theory and he does, but within his book "Ethics" he too gave advice for living a healthy emotional live and I think he did a better job then this book did.

Though, I don't recommend skipping the last third. She did a really good job on speculating on the nature of autism. She theorized that the autistic person under predicts their body budget needs since they are not always attuned to the local environment correctly and therefore are often out of sync with what is really going around in their local environment. It seemed reasonable to me. I just never seem to come across any good books on autism, and her section seemed to be better than most that I have seen.

There is a real Phenomenological bent to her theory (think Husserl, some Heidegger, the Existentialist and in particular Gadamer in his book "Truth and Method", a book that no one reads today, but I would rate it as one of my all time favorites). Gadamer did say all "understanding is interpretation, being that can be understood is language". The author makes the point that if we don't have the word for the emotion we can't fully understand the emotion. Not everyone has a rich vocabulary to understand all of their perceived emotional states, and so therefore might not always be fully aware of their emotional state (she'll say). In addition, Gadamer ends his book by emphasizing that it's not the pieces that matter, and it's not the whole it's how they fit together. Similarly, the author is saying that's how we experience our emotions.

I really enjoyed this book. The author has a theory that goes against common wisdom, and builds a system that can explain a better way to understand our emotional world. I don't always agree with everything she says, but I always like to see the world differently and am open to new ways of thinking about old problems.

154 of 170 people found this review helpful

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  • Paul
  • 2017-04-11

Neuroscience Lite

A little bit lighter on neuroscience than I was expecting, but overall a compelling account of how emotions are constructed.

35 of 38 people found this review helpful

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  • S. Yates
  • 2017-10-19

New perspective on emotions

Dr. Barrett's book is a mix of popular science (though sections do get fairly in depth and dense when trying to explain certain mechanisms and workings of the brain), anecdotes, and self-help. Her specialty, the theory of constructed emotion, is fascinating if difficult to embrace. As she lays out, we have a centuries long idea that emotions are fixed and common, that they have a certain profile or fingerprint, and (in modern times) many have sought to find their "location" in the human brain. However, Dr. Barrett posits that emotions are not nearly so fixed. Instead, she explains using a blend of studies, experiments, and anecdotal evidence, that the human brain constructs emotions and that there is nothing so simple as a place in the brain we can map that, when engaged, points directly to anger or sadness, joy or desire. The evidence, though counter-intuitive to many, seems to bear out her theory. Among the interesting and thought-provoking points covered include the idea that our ability to catalog and explain our feelings has an impact on how we experience them, that our bodies have resources that must be "budgeted" and that when the budget is stretched it impacts how we experience and construct emotion, and that emotion is different for each person and often different across cultures, generations, and the like, making intuiting the emotions of others no easy task. This book changed the way I think about emotion, offered tools for self-examination, and placed the brain's workings as related to emotion in context that likewise shed light on mental health issues. This is a book I will likely read again to try to grasp more of her points. My only criticism is that at times Dr. Barrett leans too heavily on personal stories or being slightly glib. But on the whole, this was a well written presentation of a fascinating theory.

4 of 4 people found this review helpful

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  • K Friesen
  • 2017-05-24

Book needed a better editor

Is there anything you would change about this book?

This book is very academic, citing study after study, personal anecdote after anecdote. For a more general audience, it needed a firm editor to insist on summarizing or limiting this repetitive information. And while it includes content supporting the social construction theory of emotion, current research literature in the areas of how consciousness is developed and the implications of neuroscience in attachment, consciousness, and emotion receives a cursory glance.

Any additional comments?

The third section was by far the best part of the book.

27 of 32 people found this review helpful

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  • Wayne
  • 2017-12-07

4 of 5 final chapters are a waste of time

This book should be cut from 13 chapters to 9 by removing chapters 9 through 12. The author makes a strong case for her scientific understanding for how human motions are made. After doing the job the title promises she wanders through chapters 9 through 12 which detract from her message. My other issue is that she presents her concepts as revolutionary while they are not.

The narrator also reads the appendices which are not interesting.

12 of 14 people found this review helpful

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 2017-08-25

This is a wonderful read!

I almost feel guilty being able to read this book and learn all the information in a couple of days, when it took Professor Barrett and her team years to discover their findings. Not only was the information in this book interesting, the ideas and concepts I learned from reading this book are tangibly applicable to furthering developing myself and the way I interact with those around me. I am admittedly not a tough critic, and it is rare when I feel like I've wasted time reading something. However it's even more rare for me to feel as grateful to myself for taking the time to read a book, as I feel about this one.

7 of 8 people found this review helpful

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  • C. Brown
  • 2017-08-01

Old News, Poorly Told

What disappointed you about How Emotions Are Made?

1. All of this information was presented as old news when I went to Medical School 30 years ago, yet Dr. Barrett makes it sound as if she is the genius who discovered that emotions are complex and personal.
2. She actually makes a point of refuting non-scientists like Plato and the Dalai Lama, while totally misrepresenting their views.
3. Often she cites findings which provide little or no support for her thesis.
4. She valiantly aims to overturn a simplistic view of emotions as simple neurologic circuits with predictable outputs that no psychologist, neurologist, or professor of my acquaintance would ever subscribe to. If only psychology were that easy!
5. "Colleagues" were so outraged by her theses that one threatened to punch her? She need new and sober colleagues who actually read. And a lawyer.

What do you think your next listen will be?

Not relevant to this.

What did you like about the performance? What did you dislike?

The narrator was fine.

You didn’t love this book... but did it have any redeeming qualities?

Yes. The material is true and useful. In fact here is all the good stuff in one place:

"Emotions are the individual's output of the complex interaction between neurophysiology, personality, personal history, culture, and context. Context includes physical, internal, and social elements, among others.
Emotions don't happen to us, we make them, and we have at least some choice as to how we go about it."

The author is to be congratulated for unhorsing straw men and putting her finger on the blindingly obvious.

Any additional comments?

If you can get past the above deficiencies, the basic information is actually of great value.

34 of 42 people found this review helpful