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“Numerous experiments showed that people feel depressed when they fail to live up to their own ideals, but when they fall short of a standard set by others, they feel anxious.”
Lisa Feldman Barrett, How Emotions Are Made: The Secret Life of the Brain
“The word “smile” doesn’t even exist in Latin or Ancient Greek. Smiling was an invention of the Middle Ages, and broad, toothy-mouthed smiles (with crinkling at the eyes, named the Duchenne smile by Ekman) became popular only in the eighteenth century as dentistry became more accessible and affordable.”
Lisa Feldman Barrett, How Emotions Are Made: The Secret Life of the Brain
“It takes more than one human brain to create a human mind.”
Lisa Feldman Barrett, How Emotions Are Made: The Secret Life of the Brain
“An emotion is your brain’s creation of what your bodily sensations mean, in relation to what is going on around you in the world.”
Lisa Feldman Barrett, How Emotions Are Made: The Secret Life of the Brain
“But one thing is certain: every day in America, thousands of people appear before a jury of their peers and hope they will be judged fairly, when in reality they are judged by human brains that always perceive the world from a self-interested point of view. To believe otherwise is a fiction that is not supported by the architecture of the brain.”
Lisa Feldman Barrett, How Emotions Are Made: The Secret Life of the Brain
“Instead think, “We have a disagreement,” and engage your curiosity to learn your friend’s perspective. Being curious about your friend’s experience is more important than being right.”
Lisa Feldman Barrett, How Emotions Are Made: The Secret Life of the Brain
“The human brain is a cultural artifact. We don't load culture into a virgin brain like software loading into a computer; rather, culture helps to wire the brain. Brains then become carriers of culture, helping to create and perpetuate it.”
Lisa Feldman Barrett, How Emotions Are Made: The Secret Life of the Brain
“Simulations are your brain’s guesses of what’s happening in the world. In every waking moment, you’re faced with ambiguous, noisy information from your eyes, ears, nose, and other sensory organs. Your brain uses your past experiences to construct a hypothesis—the simulation—and compares it to the cacophony arriving from your senses. In this manner, simulation lets your brain impose meaning on the noise, selecting what’s relevant and ignoring the rest.”
Lisa Feldman Barrett, How Emotions Are Made: The Secret Life of the Brain
“Social reality is not just about words—it gets under your skin. If you perceive the same baked good as a decadent “cupcake” or a healthful “muffin,” research suggests that your body metabolizes it differently. Likewise, the words and concepts of your culture help to shape your brain wiring and your physical changes during emotion.24”
Lisa Feldman Barrett, How Emotions Are Made: The Secret Life of the Brain
“We already have intriguing evidence that some types of chronic pain work by prediction. Animals who have stress or injury early in life become more likely to develop persistent pain. Human infants who have surgery are more likely to have heightened pain in later childhood. (Incredibly, infants prior to the 1980s were routinely not anesthetized during major surgery, on the belief that they couldn’t feel pain!)”
Lisa Feldman Barrett, How Emotions Are Made: The Secret Life of the Brain
“My point is that bias is not advertised by a glowing sign worn around jurors’ necks; we are all guilty of it, because the brain is wired for us to see what we believe, and it usually happens outside of everyone’s awareness. Affective realism decimates the ideal of the impartial juror. Want to increase the likelihood of a conviction in a murder trial? Show the jury some gruesome photographic evidence. Tip their body budgets out of balance and chances are they’ll attribute their unpleasant affect to the defendant: “I feel bad, therefore you must have done something bad. You are a bad person.” Or permit family members of the deceased to describe how the crime has hurt them, a practice known as a victim impact statement, and the jury will tend to recommend more severe punishments. Crank up the emotional impact of a victim impact statement by recording it professionally on video and adding music and narration like a dramatic film, and you’ve got the makings of a jury-swaying masterpiece.45 Affective realism intertwines with the law outside the courtroom as well. Imagine that you are enjoying a quiet evening at home when suddenly you hear loud banging outside. You look out the window and see an African American man attempting to force open the door of a nearby house. Being a dutiful citizen, you call 911, and the police arrive and arrest the perpetrator. Congratulations, you have just brought about the arrest of Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr., as it happened on July 16, 2009. Gates was trying to force open the front door of his own home, which had become stuck while he was traveling. Affective realism strikes again. The real-life eyewitness in this incident had an affective feeling, presumably based on her concepts about crime and skin color, and made a mental inference that the man outside the window had intent to commit a crime.”
Lisa Feldman Barrett, How Emotions Are Made: The Secret Life of the Brain
“The Nobel laureate and neuroscientist Gerald M. Edelman called your experiences “the remembered present.” Today, thanks to advances in neuroscience, we can see that Edelman was correct. An instance of a concept, as an entire brain state, is an anticipatory guess about how you should act in the present moment and what your sensations mean.12”
Lisa Feldman Barrett, How Emotions Are Made: The Secret Life of the Brain
“Some scientists refer to the control network as an “emotion regulation” network. They assume that emotion regulation is a cognitive process that exists separately from emotion itself, say, when you’re pissed off at your boss but refrain from punching him. From the brain’s perspective, however, regulation is just categorization. When you have an experience that feels like your so-called rational side is tempering your emotional side—a mythical arrangement that you’ve learned is not respected by brain wiring—you are constructing an instance of the concept “Emotion Regulation.”19”
Lisa Feldman Barrett, How Emotions Are Made: The Secret Life of the Brain
“I’ve said several times that the brain acts like a scientist. It forms hypotheses through prediction and tests them against the “data” of sensory input. It corrects its predictions by way of prediction error, like a scientist adjusts his or her hypotheses in the face of contrary evidence. When the brain’s predictions match the sensory input, this constitutes a model of the world in that instant, just like a scientist judges that a correct hypothesis is the path to scientific certainty.”
Lisa Feldman Barrett, How Emotions Are Made: The Secret Life of the Brain
“To make meaning is to go beyond the information given. A fast-beating heart has a physical function, such as getting enough oxygen to your limbs so you can run, but categorization allows it to become an emotional experience such as happiness or fear, giving it additional meaning and functions understood within your culture. When you experience affect with unpleasant valence and high arousal, you make meaning from it depending on how you categorize: Is it an emotional instance of fear? A physical instance of too much caffeine? A perception that the guy talking to you is a jerk? Categorization bestows new functions on biological signals, not by virtue of their physical nature but by virtue of your knowledge and the context”
Lisa Feldman Barrett, How Emotions Are Made: The Secret Life of the Brain
“Bullies intend to cause suffering, but is the intent to cause harm? We cannot know for sure, but in most cases I doubt it. Most kids are unaware that the mental anguish they inflict can translate into physical illness, atrophied brain tissue, reduced IQ, and shortened telomeres. Kids will be kids, we say. But bullying is a national epidemic. In one study, over 50 percent of children nationwide reported being verbally or socially bullied at school, or having participated in bullying another child at school, at least once in two months. Over 20 percent reported being the victim or perpetrator of physical bullying, and over 13 percent reported involvement with electronic bullying. Bullying is considered a serious enough childhood risk, with potential lifelong health consequences, that at press time, the U.S. Institute of Medicine and the National Research Council’s Committee on Law and Justice are producing a comprehensive report on its biological and psychological ramifications.64 If you suffer mental anguish in the moment, whether from bullying or another cause, should your suffering count as harm, and should the perpetrators be punished?”
Lisa Feldman Barrett, How Emotions Are Made: The Secret Life of the Brain
“But evolution has provided the human mind with the ability to create another kind of real, one that is completely dependent on human observers. From changes in air pressure, we construct sounds. From wavelengths of light, we construct colors. From baked goods, we construct cupcakes and muffins that are indistinguishable except by name (chapter 2). Just get a couple of people to agree that something is real and give it a name, and they create reality. All humans with a normally functioning brain have the potential for this little bit of magic, and we use it all the time.”
Lisa Feldman Barrett, How Emotions Are Made: The Secret Life of the Brain
“The distinction between “real in nature” versus “illusory” is a false dichotomy. Fear and anger are real to a group of people who agree that certain changes in the body, on the face, and so on, are meaningful as emotions. In other words, emotion concepts have social reality. They exist in your human mind that is conjured in your human brain, which is part of nature. The biological processes of categorization, which are rooted in physical reality and are observable in the brain and body, create socially real categories. Folk concepts like “fear” and “anger” are not mere words to be discarded from scientific thought but play a critical role in the story of how the brain creates emotion.”
Lisa Feldman Barrett, How Emotions Are Made: The Secret Life of the Brain
“No other animals have collective intentionality combined with words. A few other animal species do have symbolic communication of a sort. Elephants appear to communicate through low-frequency vocal rumblings that can travel over a mile. Certain great apes appear to use sign language in a limited way, on the order of a two-year-old human, usually linked in some way to securing a reward. But only human animals have both language and collective intentionality. The two abilities build on one another in complex ways, allowing a human infant to bootstrap a conceptual system into her brain, changing its wiring in the process. The combination also allows people to categorize cooperatively, which is the basis of communication and social influence.12”
Lisa Feldman Barrett, How Emotions Are Made: The Secret Life of the Brain
“In other words, the Himba participants categorized facial movements as behaviors rather than inferring mental states or feelings.”
Lisa Feldman Barrett, How Emotions Are Made: The Secret Life of the Brain
“It is actually a policy issue relevant to the First Amendment, which guarantees the right to free speech. The First Amendment was founded on the notion that free speech produces a war of ideas, allowing truth to prevail. However, its authors did not know that culture wires the brain. Ideas get under your skin, simply by sticking around for long enough. Once an idea is hardwired, you might not be in a position to easily reject it.”
Lisa Feldman Barrett, How Emotions Are Made: The Secret Life of the Brain
“The concept of “Emotion” itself is an invention of the seventeenth century. Before that, scholars wrote about passions, sentiments, and other concepts that had somewhat different meanings.”
Lisa Feldman Barrett, How Emotions Are Made: The Secret Life of the Brain
“This is another basis for my frequent claim, “You are an architect of your experience.” You are indeed partly responsible for your actions, even so-called emotional reactions that you experience as out of your control. It is your responsibility to learn concepts that, through prediction, steer you away from harmful actions. You also bear some responsibility for others, because your actions shape other people’s concepts and behaviors, creating the environment that turns genes on and off to wire their brains, including the brains of the next generation. Social reality implies that we are all partly responsible for one another’s behavior, not in a fluffy, let’s-all-blame-society sort of way, but a very real brain-wiring way.”
Lisa Feldman Barrett, How Emotions Are Made: The Secret Life of the Brain
“Your brain is shaped by the realities of the world that you find yourself in, including the social world made by agreement among people. Your mind is a grand collaboration that you have no awareness of. Through construction, you perceive the world not in any objectively accurate sense but through the lens of your own needs, goals, and prior experience (as you did with the blobby bee). And you are not the pinnacle of evolution, just a very interesting sort of animal with some unique abilities.”
Lisa Feldman Barrett, How Emotions Are Made: The Secret Life of the Brain
“I developed an awe-inspired concept of being enveloped within nature and feeling like a tiny speck. This concept helps me change my body budget whenever I want. I can notice a tiny weed forcing its way through a crack in the sidewalk, proving yet again that nature cannot be tamed by civilization, and employ the same concept to take comfort in my insignificance.”
Lisa Feldman Barrett, How Emotions Are Made: The Secret Life of the Brain
“When you create social reality but fail to realize it, the result is a mess. Many psychologists, for example, do not realize that every psychological concept is social reality. We debate the differences between “will power” and “tenacity” and “grit” as if they were each distinct in nature, rather than constructions shared through collective intentionality. We separate “emotion,” “emotion regulation,” “self-regulation,” “memory,” “imagination,” “perception,” and scores of other mental categories, all of which can be explained as emerging from interoception and sensory input from the world, made meaningful by categorization, with assistance from the control network. These concepts are clearly social reality because not all cultures have them, whereas the brain is the brain is the brain. So, as a field, psychology keeps rediscovering the same phenomena and giving them new names and searching for them in new places in the brain. That’s why we have a hundred concepts for “the self.” Even brain networks themselves go by multiple names. The default mode network, which is part of the interoceptive network, has more aliases than Sherlock Holmes.”
Lisa Feldman Barrett, How Emotions Are Made: The Secret Life of the Brain
“That’s what the history books say . . . but history books are written by the victors. The official history of emotion research, from Darwin to James to behaviorism to salvation, is a byproduct of the classical view. In reality, the alleged dark ages included an outpouring of research demonstrating that emotion essences don’t exist. Yes, the same kind of counterevidence that we saw in chapter 1 was discovered seventy years earlier . . . and then forgotten. As a result, massive amounts of time and money are being wasted today in a redundant search for fingerprints of emotion.”
Lisa Feldman Barrett, How Emotions Are Made: The Secret Life of the Brain
“Is this for the 1 percent?” (by which he meant my scientific colleagues, as opposed to a general audience), although now I am more likely to smile when my brain is simulating it. Among his many superpowers is the ability to simultaneously edit this book, soothe my worries, rub my back, cook dinner, suspend our entire social life without a trace of bitterness, and collect enough takeout menus to sustain us during my final months of writing. He never flinched, not once, even after it became clear that I had gotten us into something much more challenging than either of us knew at the outset. Dan’s other superpower (beyond his uncanny ability to choose the right-sized Tupperware every time) is that he can make me laugh when no one else can, because he knows me in a way that no one else does. I awaken every day of my life filled with gratitude and awe that he is beside me.”
Lisa Feldman Barrett, How Emotions Are Made: The Secret Life of the Brain
“Western culture has some common wisdom associated with these ideas. Don’t be materialistic. What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger. Sticks and stones. But I am asking you to take this one step further. When you are suffering from some ill or insult that has befallen you, ask yourself: Are you really in jeopardy here? Or is this so-called injury merely threatening the social reality of your self ? The answer will help you recategorize your pounding heartbeat, the knot in the pit of your stomach, and your sweaty brow as purely physical sensations, leaving your worry, anger, and dejection to dissolve like an antacid tablet in water.40”
Lisa Feldman Barrett, How Emotions Are Made: The Secret Life of the Brain
“When you categorize something as “Not About Me,” it exits your affective niche and has less impact on your body budget. Similarly, when you are successful and feel proud, honored, or gratified, take a step back and remember that these pleasant emotions are entirely the result of social reality, reinforcing your fictional self. Celebrate your achievements but don’t let them become golden handcuffs. A little composure goes a long way.”
Lisa Feldman Barrett, How Emotions Are Made: The Secret Life of the Brain

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