We don’t just feel emotions. We make them.


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How do you feel right now? Excited to listen to your favorite podcast? Anxious about the state of American politics? Annoyed by my use of rhetorical questions?

These questions seem pretty straightforward. But as my guest today, psychologist Lisa Feldman Barrett, points out there is a lot more to emotion than meets the mind.

Barrett is a superstar in her field. She’s a professor of psychology at Northeastern University, holds appointments at Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital, and has received various prestigious awards for her pioneering research on emotion. Her most recent book How Emotions Are Made: The Secret Life of the Brain argues that emotions are not biologically hardwired into our brains but constructed by our minds. In other words, we don’t merely feel emotions — we actively create them.

Barrett’s work has potentially radical implications. If we take her theory seriously, it follows that the ways we think about our daily emotional states, diagnose illnesses, interact with friends, raise our children, and experience reality all need some serious adjusting, if not complete rethinking.

If you enjoyed this episode, you should check out:

A mind-expanding conversation with Michael Pollan

The cognitive cost of poverty (with Sendhil Mullainathan)

Will Storr on why you are not yourself

A mind-bending, reality-warping conversation with John Higgs

Book recommendations:

Naming the Mind by Kurt Danzinger

The Island of Knowledge by Marcelo Gleiser

The Accidental Species by Henry Gee

Sense and Nonsense by Kevin L. Laland

Want to contact the show? Reach out at ezrakleinshow@vox.com

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Producer and Editor - Jeff Geld

Researcher - Roge Karma

Recording engineer - Cynthia Gil

Field engineer - Joseph Fridman

The Ezra Klein Show is a production of the Vox Media Podcast Network

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278 episodes