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Emotions are not built-in, we build them

Lisa Feldman Barrett’s talk on emotions is well worth your time (even more so if you use Ted’s acceleration options at the bottom of the video  – I listened at 1.5 times the speed very comfortably).

Here are some of my highlights:

  • emotions are not built-in, we build them
  • we have a quick and efficient system for predicting future experiences based on past experiences (we don’t react based on the past, we predict based on the past)
  • any emotions we perceive in others come out of our head, we’re not “reading” them on their faces**. This is also true for our own emotions: we’re predicting them based on our past experience
  • we ARE having sensations (calm, agitated, etc – Submodalities in NLP terms), and we interpret those sensations as feelings and then as emotions – e.g. a churning stomach has different meanings when you’re walking past a bakery (Yum, I’m hungry) than it does when you’re awaiting test results (oh no, i’m nervous / anxious)
  • While emotions seem to happen to us, they are in fact “made” by us – and we can change the ingredients and teach our brains to predict differently, becoming the architect of our own experience
  • what if those nerves before a test or a talk are us preparing to go into battle?
  • when your mind is racing, it’s prediction
  • Always worth checking if intense distress could be a physical distress
  • we have way more control over emotions than we imagine, and this is also a responsibility
  • The actions and experiences you make today are important because you’re teaching your brain to make predictions tomorrow

** This made me think of some Dan Ariely research looking at how guilt is assigned / predicted in police interviews. Where juries are shown video with the interviewee only in frame they think people are “more” guilty / less reliable than when the interviewer and the interviewee are in the same frame. I think it’s in the Honest Truth about Dishonesty.

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