RRI Rounds

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Date(s) - 16/03/2015
3:30 pm - 4:30 pm

Baycrest - Classroom ABC


How Emotions Are Made

Lisa Feldman Barrett, PhD

University Distinguished Professor

Northeastern University

Research Neuroscientist

Massachusetts General Hospital/Harvard Medical School

Presentation Abstract:

Several decades of research in psychology and neuroscience are creating a paradigm shift in how scientists map mental and behavioral categories to brain function.  The science of emotion nicely illustrates these recent advances. In this talk, I will illustrate three key examples: (1) an emotion word (like fear) does not name a physical type (a response with a physical fingerprint, such as one particular facial expression, physiological response, and behavior); instead, an emotion word refers to a conceptual category that is populated with unique instances that are tailored to the specifics of the immediate situation. (2) Instances of an emotion category (e.g., all instances of fear within one person, or across different people) do not share a common physical essence (e.g., they are not all caused by one common neural circuit); instead, instances of emotion both within the same category and across different categories are constructed within the brain’s functional architecture of domain-general core networks. (3) To understand how an instance of emotion is constructed, a holistic approach is required: the workings of each network must be understood within the momentary context of the rest of the brain (its neural context), the body (its physiological context), and the broader situation (the social context).  These three themes — population thinking (vs. typologies), domain-general core systems (vs. essentialism), and holism (vs. reductionism) – offer a new brain-based epistemology for the scientific study of emotion that creates new opportunities for answering questions about how emotions contribute to health and disease.  This approach collapses the artificial boundaries between cognitive, affective, and social neuroscience and provides a common framework for understanding mental disorders, neurodegenerative disorders, and even physical illness.

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