How Emotions Work

by cauri jaye

Ever wonder how emotions really work? 

click through the slideshow above for a visual representation

(looks great full screen!)

The brain 

Your brain sits inside your skull, isolated from the world. Your senses feed it information from the outside world. This includes temperature, air disturbance, orientation, direction, light and other worldly effects that we sense.

In classical understanding, the brain responds to stimuli.

Stimulus: "Oh, something just happened." 

Response: "Okay, let's do something about it." 

This is wrong! 

As Lisa Feldman Barrett's and others' extensive research on the nature of emotion from the perspectives of both psychology and neuroscience has revealed, your brain predicts what it expects then tests it. 

Prediction: "I know what's gonna happen."

Validation: "Hey, you were right!" 

Your brain creates a model of the world from your life experiences. The model does not classify your past but it categorises it. It creates abstract concepts by blending these categories. Your brain then uses this conceptual map to make predictions. 

More concepts means more capacity to predict.

Emotion is a specialised abstract concept

We predict and then validate our expected emotions. For example:

Prediction: I fear pain when I touch the hot cup.

Expression: eyes squint, adrenaline pumps 

Action: touch the cup gingerly, ready to retract

(In)validation: cup's just warm, new learning for next time 

Our life experience enables our emotions. 


“Although DNA is a part of the story of your life, it is only a small part. The rest of the story involves the rich details of your experiences and your environment, all of which sculpt the vast, microscopic tapestry of your brain cells and their connections. What we think of as you is a vessel of experience into which is poured a small sample of space and time. You imbibe your local culture and technology through your senses. Who you are owes as much to your surroundings as it does to the DNA inside you.”

- David Eagleman 




Tags: Scientific principle, Humanity, emotions, nueroscience

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