Book Review: ‘How Emotions Are Made: The Secret Life of the Brain’ Part II

By Lisa Feldman Barrett

The British Psychological Society recently published two interesting articles that tied into my previous post on Feldman’s new book and the Theory of Constructed Emotions.  The first was “My-side bias” makes it difficult for us to see the logic in arguments we disagree with.   The second article was A cartography of consciousness – researchers map where subjective feelings are located in the body.

I then realised that after having published my review of Feldman’s book that I had failed to define the Theory of Constructed Emotions.  So let me remedy that error now.

The theory states that in every waking moment, your brain uses past experience, organized as concepts, to guide your actions and give your sensations meaning. When the concepts involved are emotion concepts, your brain constructs instances of emotion.  Instances of emotion are constructed throughout the entire brain by multiple brain networks working in collaboration.  Ingredients going into this construction include interoception, concepts, and social reality.

Interoception is defined as the sense of the internal state of the body.  Interoception is involved in many different physiological systems like the cardiorespiratory system, gastrointestinal system, nociceptive system, endocrine and immune systems.    It encompasses the brain’s process of integrating signals relayed from the body into specific subregions—like the brainstem, thalamus, insula, somatosensory, and anterior cingulate cortex—creating a continuously updated nuanced representation of the physiological state of the body.  This is important for keeping the body’s systems in balance.  Interoceptive predictions provide information about the state of the body and ultimately produce basic, affective feelings of pleasure, displeasure, arousal, and calmness summarised as your mood or affect.

Concepts are mental representations, abstract objects or abilities that make up the fundamental building blocks of thoughts and beliefs.  Concepts include embodied knowledge (from your culture), including emotion concepts.

Social reality may be considered as consisting of the accepted social tenets of a community, involving thereby relatively stable laws and social representations.  Social reality provides the collective agreement and language that make the perception of emotion possible among people who share a culture.

So in the first article the “my-side” bias is easily explained by our previous constructed emotional concepts overriding our logical thinking.  In the second article the conclusion is “the human mind is strongly embodied.”  In the Theory of Constructed Emotions interoception plays a major role creating emotional concepts.  If you read the second article you will note that it first uses the Theory of Six Basic Emotions (anger, fear, disgust, surprise, happiness and sadness) and then says each emotion is associated with a unique set of body sensations.  This hypothesis is completely counter to the Theory of Constructed Emotions.  According to that theory emotions are not located in various parts of the brain e.g. the amygdala is not the seat of fear.  Instead the brain contains a mass of mainly learned predictions including emotional concepts distributed across the 100 billion neurons of the human brain and it selects the predictions that best fits the current situation.

This blog was first published on LinkedIn



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