Why our emotions are cultural – not built in at birth

“There is no scientific evidence that we are hardwired with emotions, says Lisa Feldman Barrett. They develop as we grow.”

“Emotions are thought to be a kind of brute reflex, very often at odds with our rationality. This internal battle between emotion and reason is one of the great narratives of western civilisation. It helps define you as human. Without rationality, you are merely an emotional beast. This view of emotions has been around for millennia. Plato believed a version of it. So did Hippocrates, Aristotle, the Buddha, René Descartes, Sigmund Freud and Charles Darwin. Today, prominent thinkers such as Steven Pinker, Paul Ekman and the Dalai Lama also offer up descriptions of emotions rooted in the classical view.

“And yet there is abundant scientific evidence that this view cannot possibly be true. Research has not revealed a consistent, physical fingerprint for even a single emotion. When scientists attach electrodes to a person’s face and measure muscle movement during an emotion, they find tremendous variety, not uniformity. They find the same variety with the body and brain. You can experience anger with or without a spike in blood pressure. You can experience fear with or without a change in the amygdala, the brain region tagged as the home of fear.”


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