Brief book review: How emotions are made (Barrett)

51H-78xDdqL._SX323_BO1,204,203,200_ For outsiders, a lot of neuroscience research can feel like it’s only interesting as foundational/basic research, while the interpretation of social neuroscience, which is presented as being more relevant, can be really frustrating (such as when meaning is assigned to the “activation” of a certain brain area based on what these areas have been linked to in the past — which isn’t appropriate!). The research presented in this book provides a good accessible example of the complementary value of neuroscience research in providing support for a theory that is relevant to our understanding of how we think and feel in our everyday lives.

Having said that, the writing was a tad bit repetitive to me — even beyond the fact that it was written to be accessible for readers with not much knowledge of neuroscience. While mentioning nitpicky points, some of the illustrative examples didn’t quite work for me (although I was able to picture more plausible examples for myself, so these aren’t terrible faults). I’m also unsure about how critically the author looked at studies that she cites to support points that she made outside the context of her own research expertise. For example, she mentions a study on hungry judges several times, although a closer look at the study should prompt skepticism (see this post by Daniel Lakens for the implausibility of the effect size + links to plausible mechanisms/other criticisms). As such, I would be more careful about accepting some of her supporting arguments and recommendations as readily as the ones directly derived from research that she is actually active in. As with the illustrative examples, however, this shouldn’t be seen as a major flaw.

The main point of the book is of course the description of emotions that the author would like to propagate, and the proposed framework definitely provides a lot of food for thought. I must also laud the amount of work that she invested, not just into the extensive references (which should be a given for any serious science writer), but especially into the additional explanations (e.g., of basic neuroanatomy) AND the supporting website that explains some of the points that she makes in even further detail. See

How emotions are made: The secret life of the brain (Lisa Feldman Barrett)

Further reviews/ratings on Goodreads

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