Emotions Are Real

Department of Psychology, Northeastern University, Boston, MA 02115, USA.
Emotion (Impact Factor: 3.88). 06/2012; 12(3):413-29. DOI: 10.1037/a0027555
Source: PubMed


It is obvious that emotions are real, but the question is what kind of "real" are they? In this article, I outline a theoretical approach where emotions are a part of social reality. I propose that physical changes (in the face, voice, and body, or neural circuits for behavioral adaptations like freezing, fleeing, or fighting) transform into an emotion when those changes take on psychological functions that they cannot perform by their physical nature alone. This requires socially shared conceptual knowledge that perceivers use to create meaning from these physical changes (as well as the circuitry that supports this meaning making). My claim is that emotions are, at the same time, socially constructed and biologically evident. Only when we understand all the elements that construct emotional episodes, in social, psychological, and biological terms, will we understand the nature of emotion.

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    • "Because social-emotional feelings are so heavily dependent on interpretation and inference, it is possible that they may not be as tightly tied to visceral reactions as are other feelings. It is also possible that individuals construct social-emotional feelings in culturally variable ways (Barrett, 2012; Immordino-Yang, 2013), and that neural activity may therefore correlate with feelings differently across cultural groups. These issues have not been investigated, despite their implications for neurobiological and psychological models of emotional feelings and sociality. "
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    ABSTRACT: The anterior insula (AI) maps visceral states and is active during emotional experiences, a functional confluence that is central to neurobiological accounts of feelings. Yet, it is unclear how AI activity correlates with feelings during social emotions, and whether this correlation may be influenced by culture, as studies correlating real-time AI activity with visceral states and feelings have focused on Western subjects feeling physical pain or basic disgust. Given psychological evidence that social-emotional feelings are cognitively constructed within cultural frames, we asked Chinese and American participants to report their feeling strength to admiration and compassion-inducing narratives during fMRI with simultaneous electrocardiogram recording. Trial-by-trial, cardiac arousal and feeling strength correlated with ventral and dorsal AI activity bilaterally but predicted different variance, suggesting that interoception and social-emotional feeling construction are concurrent but dissociable AI functions. Further, although the variance that correlated with cardiac arousal did not show cultural effects, the variance that correlated with feelings did. Feeling strength was especially associated with ventral AI activity (the autonomic modulatory sector) in the Chinese group but with dorsal AI activity (the visceral-somatosensory/cognitive sector) in an American group not of Asian descent. This cultural group difference held after controlling for posterior insula activity and was replicated. A bi-cultural East-Asian American group showed intermediate results. The findings help elucidate how the AI supports feelings and suggest that previous reports that dorsal AI activation reflects feeling strength are culture related. More broadly, the results suggest that the brain’s ability to construct conscious experiences of social emotion is less closely tied to visceral processes than neurobiological models predict and at least partly open to cultural influence and learning.
    Frontiers in Human Neuroscience 09/2014; 8:728. DOI:10.3389/fnhum.2014.00728 · 3.63 Impact Factor
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    • "This may not count as a classic example of mental causation (i.e., mental events causing physical events). Yet both Parkinson (1995) and Barrett (2012) have added that once people think they have a certain emotion (e.g., " I am angry " ) this may influence their behavior (e.g., they may become more aggressive) and this does seem to be a classic case of mental causation. "
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    ABSTRACT: Appraisal theories of emotion have two fundamental assumptions: (a) that there are regularities to be discovered between situations and components of emotional episodes, and (b) that the influence of these situations on these components is causally mediated by a mental process called appraisal. Appraisal theories come in different flavors, proposing different to-be-explained phenomena and different underlying mechanisms for the influence of appraisal on the other components.
    Emotion Review 09/2014; 6(4). DOI:10.1177/1754073914534477 · 2.90 Impact Factor
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    • "egorize atypical ' fuzzy ' instances of emotions and to differentiate between instances within an emotion cat - egory is important for mental health because it supports identifying and changing dysfunctional patterns of behavior ( e . g . Beck and Dozois , 2011 ; Masley et al . , 2012 ) . It may also help resolve anxiety and stress ( Lindquist and Barrett , 2008 ; Demiralp et al . , 2012 ) . A single word ( e . g . fear , happiness , or sadness ) is often used to refer to the many different instances of an emotion category , which may explain why it is routinely assumed that within - category variability either does not exist or that it is unimportant ( in contrast , the different instances of concrete categories often "
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    ABSTRACT: The tremendous variability within categories of human emotional experience receives little empirical attention. We hypothesized that atypical instances of emotion categories (e.g. pleasant fear of thrill-seeking) would be processed less efficiently than typical instances of emotion categories (e.g. unpleasant fear of violent threat) in large-scale brain networks. During a novel fMRI paradigm, participants immersed themselves in scenarios designed to induce atypical and typical experiences of fear, sadness or happiness (scenario immersion), and then focused on and rated the pleasant or unpleasant feeling that emerged (valence focus) in most trials. As predicted, reliably greater activity in the ‘default mode’ network (including medial prefrontal cortex and posterior cingulate) was observed for atypical (vs typical) emotional experiences during scenario immersion, suggesting atypical instances require greater conceptual processing to situate the socio-emotional experience. During valence focus, reliably greater activity was observed for atypical (vs typical) emotional experiences in the ‘salience’ network (including anterior insula and anterior cingulate), suggesting atypical instances place greater demands on integrating shifting body signals with the sensory and social context. Consistent with emerging psychological construction approaches to emotion, these findings demonstrate that is it important to study the variability within common categories of emotional experience.
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