How Emotions Are Made Book Summary By Lisa Feldman Barrett

*This post contains affiliate links, and we may earn an affiliate commission without it ever affecting the price you pay.

How Emotions Are Made is a book that dives deep into the ways in which emotional states are created and recognized by the brain, as well as how societal norms and values shape our emotional responses.

Each chapter brings to light an interesting new aspect about emotions: from understanding anger, fear, and joy to exploring the cultural influences behind them.

This book gives readers an in-depth look into why we feel the way we do, providing readers with valuable insights into their own inner workings and feelings.

As they go through it, readers will gain a newfound perspective on emotions and learn how to better control their reactions to any number of potential triggers.

How Emotions Are Made Book

Book Name: How Emotions Are Made (The Secret Life of the Brain)

Author(s): Lisa Feldman Barrett

Rating: 4.1/5

Reading Time: 17 Minutes

Categories: Psychology

Author Bio

In the book, "How Emotions Are Made", Lisa Feldman Barrett is the author.

She holds a distinguished professor of psychology at Northeastern University and also has appointments at Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital.

Her research on emotions in the brain has earned her the National Institutes of Health Director's Pioneer Award, and she has published over 200 peer-reviewed scientific papers in top psychology and cognitive neuroscience journals like Science, Nature, and Neuroscience.

The True Story Of Our Emotions: How Emotions Are Constructed By Us, Our Brains And Culture


We often think of our emotions as elemental forces that simply appear in us, and this is what we are encouraged to believe.

However, emotions are actually something made by our brains and our culture – a far more complex reality.

These sections will explore how this comes to be.

Through reading these sections, you’ll learn about the classical view of emotions, why tech companies’ investment in emotion-recognition systems might not work out, and how Tahitian culture views sadness.

Most importantly though, you’ll gain an understanding of how the brain and culture construct our emotions.

This knowledge can help you develop a greater capacity for managing your feelings on a daily basis.

Challenging The Classical View Of Emotions: Is It Possible For Humans To Control Their Feelings?

The popular classical view of emotions is that they are pre-wired into our brains and triggered automatically.

It’s based on the concept of essentialism, which suggests that each emotion has its own underlying “essence” – a set of properties or characteristics shared by everyone, regardless of culture.

This view is supported by a number of thinkers from across history, including Aristotle, Buddha, Darwin and Descartes.

And it’s reflected in the psychological textbooks used in universities to teach students about emotions.

According to this view, an emotion like anger will trigger certain “anger neurons” within our brains.

Similarly, sadness will trigger “sadness neurons” that produce physical responses – like creating tears when something bad happens.

This idea explains why we often recognize similar emotions in other people – because we share the same physiological triggers for those feelings that are hardwired into our brains.

So if you want to understand your emotions better, look no further than the classical view and its concept of essentialisms – it provides us with insight into how our response to events is largely determined by neural pathways on subconscious level!

The Classical View Of Emotion Is Being Challenged As Scientists Discover That Expressions Are Varied And Complicated

Scientific evidence has disproven the classical view of emotion and yet money is constantly being wasted on unnecessary research in this field.

It’s no surprise that government organizations like the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) have sunk hundreds of millions of dollars into “Screening Passengers by Observation Techniques” (SPOT) programs that try to identify emotions through physical clues, like facial expressions and body movements.

But at the end of the day, these approaches simply don’t work.

At the Interdisciplinary Affective Science Laboratory, neuroscientists examined brain imaging data from 1990-2011 and found that there is no single set response or brain region dedicated to any particular emotion.

In addition, each person’s individual expression of an emotion can vary widely from situation to situation as well.

This means that attempts to identify emotion by classifying singular emotional responses are doomed from the start — just because someone smiles doesn’t necessarily mean she is happy!

Ultimately, scientific evidence does not support this outdated view of emotions, yet there seems to be a stubbornness to abandon it in favor of more effective approaches.

Unfortunately, it’s costs taxpayers millions every year with very little return — something clearly needs to change soon.

The Theory Of Constructed Emotion: We Build Our Own Emotions With The Power Of Experience And Perception

Constructed Emotion

The author of How Emotions Are Made advocates for the theory of constructed emotion, which states that emotions are not fixed or innate but instead created spontaneously in various areas of the brain and based on individual experience.

According to this theory, each emotion is shaped by previous experiences and sensory inputs such as vision, taste, or hearing.

For instance, when it comes to expressing anger, we have a range of responses from scowling to smirkings to shouting or quieting down.

It’s normal to have a variation in emotions since our brain has selection mechanisms that evaluate the situation and choose the most appropriate response.

It’s much like when Darwin proposed his theory of evolution which undermined the concept of “biological essences” where every species has a specific set of attributes.

Instead, he showed that species are populations with individuals that vary depending on their environment.

The same applies to our emotions; they are not static, but rather we construct them ourselves as architects of our own experience.

Interoception: How Our Autopilot System Unconsciously Creates Emotions From Internal And External Experiences

Our bodies have a predictive system in place that helps keep us functioning well – including predicting our emotions.

This is called interoception, and it’s what allows us to act with muscle memory without thinking much about it.

Interoception takes in both external and internal stimuli and processes them into emotion.

There are two affects at play here: pleasure/displeasure and agitation/calmness.

When you experience a pleasant feeling from the sun warming your skin or an uncomfortable stomachache, you’re experiencing the affects but not yet an actual emotion.

We can thank science for this knowledge of interoception because it actually forms shortly after birth.

Babies are hard-coded with this innate understanding, allowing them to experience pleasure or displeasure right away – allowing their cries to express what they cannot.

It’s fascinating how our bodies work together to create emotion, without us even having to think about it!

How The Interoceptive Network Balances Your Body Budget And Regulates Emotions

Our bodies are constantly using up resources, whether we’re lying on the sofa or running a marathon.

It’s thanks to our interoception system that we have the ability to monitor and regulate those expenses.

The interoceptive network in our brains contains two components—the body-budgeting region and the primary interoceptive cortex—that work together to figure out how our bodies should be spending its resources.

The body-budgeting region uses previous experiences to determine what the body needs, while the primary interoceptive cortex senses internal sensations like a pounding heart beat.

Together, these two parts form a feedback loop that helps regulate our body budget, which controls resources like glucose, cortisol, and heart rate.

Similarly, this state also influences how we experience emotions; when our body budgets become unbalanced due to low resources in certain situations, our brain tries interpreting them with feelings.

So if you’re looking for an explanation as to why your feeling stressed or upset in certain situations, it could just be down to your body budget and its regulation by your interoception system!

Cultural Agreements Shape Our Reality And Emotions

Cultural Agreements

It’s no surprise that our emotions are constructed around cultural beliefs – just think about the muffin-cupcake debate.

To us, there is a clear distinction between the two.

One is dessert, the other breakfast.

The real difference comes from social reality – objects become infused with meaning by what we agree on as a society.

And this doesn’t stop at baked goods – it applies to emotion concepts too.

Take smiling for example.

Nowadays, it is associated with happiness, but before the Middle Ages it had no such connotation.

There wasn’t even a word for “smile” either in Ancient Greek or Roman culture!

It was only after dentistry became more accessible that the smile came into popular usage in Europe and began to be connected with joy and pleasure.

So yes, emotion concepts are indeed culturally constructed beliefs about emotions.

While an emotion itself is universal, how we perceive and interpret them can vary greatly between cultures – just like smiling did centuries ago!

We Can Cultivate New Experiences To Grow Our Emotional Capacity

From the moment we’re born, our parents and society are teaching us emotionally-laden concepts.

For example, when a baby screams, they might be asked if they’re angry or sad.

Through experiences like these, we learn that certain experiences are tied to emotions like anger or sadness.

But as adults, we are capable of learning new concepts and feelings.

Take for instance the English word for feeling pleasure at someone else’s misfortune – Schadenfreude – which had to be imported from German because there wasn’t an existing word for it in English.

As we keep hearing the term Schadenfreude more frequently, it is easier for us to identify it in our own experience and feel it more often.

By investing in cultivating new experiences, we can also learn to better distinguish among various feelings such as distress and discomfort.

We know as adults that a dead leg won’t last long, but as children that sensation could have been both frightening and unfamiliar.

We learn on an emotional level from birth; however, we have the power to discover more emotion concepts if we invest in experiences that will lead to growth.

With practice, we become better able to differentiate between anything related to emotions – making them all easier to regulate overall.

Wrap Up

This book, How Emotions Are Made, has taught us a lot about how our brains create emotions and the complex system that regulates our body’s energy levels.

We now know that what appears to be an “inborn” emotion is really a construction made by culture, brain activity, and interpretations of bodily sensations.

The book ends with actionable advice to help rebalance the body’s budget when you are feeling down: take a nap or go for a walk.

This will help restore your energy levels and reframe your mind’s focus which can lead to changed feelings.

Overall, this book provides an eye-opening insight into how emotions are created and gives practical tips on how we can manage our emotions for better wellbeing.

Arturo Miller

Hi, I am Arturo Miller, the Chief Editor of this blog. I'm a passionate reader, learner and blogger. Motivated by the desire to help others reach their fullest potential, I draw from my own experiences and insights to curate blogs.

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.