A highlight from #336: How Your Emotions Are Made | Lisa Feldman Barrett
Ten percent happier. Podcast i'm dan harris. Hey team i've i've often joked that as a man emotions have not always been the most appetizing subject for conversation. However as i've learned the hard way and repeatedly emotions are there whether you want to look at them or not. And if you choose the path of denial or compartmentalization you will inevitably be owned by those neglected and overlooked emotions. But what our emotions. Anyway how are they different from feelings. Why did we evolve to have emotions in the first place. And what does science say about how we can manage emotion skillfully rather than being yanked around by them all the time my guest today is at the forefront of understanding all of these questions from a scientific standpoint. She is dr lisa feldman barrett. A university distinguished professor of psychology at northeastern with appointments at harvard medical school and massachusetts general hospital. She's written several books. Including how emotions are made the secret life of the brain and seven and a half lessons about the brain in this conversation. We talk about how we can deconstruct term our own emotions and we talk about the overlap between her research findings and buddhism before we get to that. Here's just one quick item of business next monday april twelfth. We are launching at ten percent happier a two week series about hope. We're at an interesting and exquisitely mom when it comes to hope. There are a lot of reasons to believe that we're emerging out of this pandemic but there are also still lots of variables out there including new variants of the virus that we cannot control. So how do we skillfully engaged with hope without setting ourselves up for massive disappointment. We'll be exploring the notion of hope as a skill here on the podcast but we also have new bespoke meditations from our podcast guests and teachers that will be dropping in the ten percent happier app. So you could actually as i said before practice. Hope as a skill if you don't already have it go get the app. Now you're ready to do the meditations that will be combined with the episodes that will be dropping in mid april download. The ten percent heavier app for free wherever you get your apps to get started. Okay having said all of that. Let's dive in now with dr lisa feldman barrett lisa feldman barrett. Thanks for coming on. Appreciate it pleasure. Let's start with a little background. I'm curious how did you get interested in emotions. She's laughing already then. Rueful laugh a little bit a little bit. How did i get interested in emotions. I suppose i got interested in emotions because it was a perplexing problem. When i was in graduate school i was doing research. You know i had my own little replication crisis. When i was in graduate school in that i was attempting to replicate published research findings. Which is what you do as a graduate student. At first before you conduct your own experiments you try to replicate experiments that have already been published. Peer reviewed someone and i wasn't able to replicate eight experiments in a row which led me to think that maybe i was trying to have the wrong career and there wasn't really cut out for science but when i looked closely at all of the evidence when i discovered is that the measures of emotion weren't functioning the way that they should have been functioning based on everything that i had read and so the more i dug into it the more i realize there. Were these really interesting paradoxes. In the emotion research literature that no one was paying very much attention to and i found it super intriguing but i thought really optimistically that i would just you know. Take a couple of months away from my main dissertation topic and kind of solve this emotion emotion measurement problem which is how i was thinking about it and then i would get back to my main topic my dissertation and then you know fast forward almost thirty years and here we are so so. The interest in emotions grew out of some personal fascination. They often say researchers me search. It sounds like it was quite a technical thing. I also trained as a therapist and one of the things that i am really good at is detecting what people say what people tell themselves isn't necessarily what the evidence from their own life indicates so when there's a disconnect between what people believe and what the evidence shows in their own life i'm really always drawn to that as therapist i was always drawn to it as a person in my own life. I'm drawn to it and as a scientist drawn to it so really. What happened was in the emotion literature. Scientists were writing about emotion in a particular way but then when you actually dug into the data it didn't match what the scientists were saying. And i found this to be really fascinating and also really like perplexing a scientific problem that there were these massive questions that were unanswered. That other people didn't even seem to notice for questions. And this to me just seem completely fascinating and i just was hooked. What were the questions that people were overlooking well for example pick up any introductory textbook in psychology or you pick up many many popular books about emotion. Many many research papers and it will tell you that every emotion has its own signature in the body right the anger and fear and sadness and so on can be distinguished from one another by just looking at people's heart rates and how much they're sweating and you know they're respiration patterns and so on and that really that this idea that each emotion category has fingerprint. Comes from william james. The great william james who is considered one of the founders of american psychology. You go read william james. He didn't say that. In fact he said the exact opposite of that. I mean it literally the exact opposite he said there's no physical entity for anger. Anger can be many things that can feel like many things. Your face can do many things. Your heart will do anything you know. So i mean. Think about it. Dan when you're angry. How often do you give that stereotypical scowl. That's supposed to be the universal expression of anger. Do you scowl frequently. When you're angry. Um well i get angry a lot.