We Aren't Born with Emotions
There are decades and decades of research showing that we aren’t born with emotions that are built into our brains. Instead our brains build emotions as we need them in a way that’s very specific to the situation. In fear, your heart rate might go up, or it might go down. You might widen your eyes and gasp, but you also might smile or scowl. You might raise your eyebrows and widen your eyes; you might narrow your eyes in order to improve the acuity of your vision. You might run, but you might also attack, in fact you might stay very still, or you could laugh in the face of fear. What we find is that an emotion like fear isn’t a thing with a single physical fingerprint that is the same for everyone in the world. Instead, variation is the norm. In fact, even for you, fear has a category of instances that are variable. What fear looks like, feels like and how it is caused in your brain differs, depending on the situation. Fear is not universal. No emotion is universal, meaning some cultures have anger, sadness, fear, disgust, happiness and so on, and some cultures don’t.
For example, some cultures have a concept of sadness, but it means something different than it does in English. Some cultures have more than one concept for sadness. Some cultures have other emotion categories that we don’t have in English.
From “The Best Books on Sadness” by Lisa Feldman Barrett for Five Books; Photos by Meghan McCarron
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