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Cambridge University Science Magazine
AS THE KIND of neuroscientist who spends her days in the world of single neurons, I dived into Lisa Feldman Barrett’s How Emotions are Made to explore the level above - cognition, emotion and behaviour. What I found not only overturned my intuitive beliefs on emotions, but also with a greater feeling of knowledge about myself. 

The book opens with the influential theories that have shaped not only our scientific understanding of emotions, but also our cultural and social norms. Their flaws are exposed as they are deconstructed, replaced by a more powerful model that places us much more in control of our emotional experiences. No longer are emotions mere reflexes, with universal signatures in our facial expressions and behaviour. Instead, each instance of emotion is an intensely personal product of context and upbringing that has shaped each of our minds differently. I began to stop and think each time I felt an emotion, seeking its meaning in my mind. Her personal touch is woven throughout with anecdotes, where she has faced up to the challenge of convincing a scientific community that resists change. I found the greatest power in the final chapters, where the practical consequences of her new theory are brought to light. We realise just how deeply outdated emotional science is ingrained into such salient topics as legal systems – with the literal power to make life or death decisions. If those in positions of power took this theory on board, the consequences would be drastic. 

At times her writing may be a little repetitive, but when proposing a model so counterintuitive to our everyday experiences, it hammers home the message even further. Feldman Barrett sets out on a mission to overturn major stereotypes that have held us back for too long. Though I have now put down this gripping book, its compelling message will stay with me.

Article by Rachel Mckeown