Emotion paradox

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Chapter 5 endnote 13, from How Emotions are Made: The Secret Life of the Brain by Lisa Feldman Barrett.
Some context is:

...prototypes might seem to be a good model for emotion concepts, if not for one paradoxical detail. When we measure actual instances of sadness using scientific tools, this frowning/pouting prototype of loss is not the most frequently or typically observed pattern. Everybody seems to know the prototype, but it’s rarely found in real life. [...] In my research, I call this state of affairs “the emotion paradox” (Barrett 2006b).

The emotion paradox calls attention to the disconnect between the experience of emotion and the science of emotion:

“People believe that they know an emotion when they see it, and as a consequence assume that emotions are discrete events that can be recognized with some degree of accuracy, but scientists have yet to produce a set of clear and consistent criteria for indicating when an emotion is present and when it is not ... Our everyday experiences of anger, sadness, fear, and several other emotions are compelling, but they are scientifically elusive and defy clear definition."[1]

Other scientists have repeated this observation:

"The paradox of emotions is that, on the one hand, they seem self-evident and obvious when examined introspectively; on the other hand, they have been extremely difficult to define in objective scientific terms. Attempts to achieve a consensus definition that is accepted across fields from neuroscience to psychology to philosophy have repeatedly failed"[2]

How does a person experience and perceive emotions like anger, sadness, and fear as distinct events that erupt to interfere with whatever you were thinking and doing a moment beforehand when there are no objective fingerprints to distinguish them in the face, body and brain?

That is what How Emotions are Made is about.


Notes on the Notes

  1. Barrett, Lisa Feldman. 2006. "Solving the emotion paradox: Categorization and the experience of emotion." Personality and Social Psychology Review, 10: 20-46.
  2. Anderson, David J., and Ralph Adolphs. 2014. "A framework for studying emotions across species." Cell 157 (1): 187-200.