Contrary to popular belief emotions are not the hardwired feisty collection of states we think they are and as such, they are not all they are cranked up to be and they certainly do not have the punchy power we have been educated to believe they have. They are not even a THEY. Recently, Neuro Scientist Lisa Feldman Barrett, after 20 years of research on the subject, has put the truth aka neuroscience of emotions out there and on the map, and quietly, putting old myths to bed. This revelation has stirred up quite the commotion. Sadly, many thought leaders, writers on the subject, educators and coaches alike will hang on to the old folk tales to protect their investments. But, unlike some who are struggling to deal with and make changes in view of the latest findings, others have updated, and are on board 100 percent! For the sake of progress in our social institutions, I do hope the rest catch up.
Studies on Prediction Error, and more recently the research on the construction of emotions has brought to the fore a Neuro-scientific theory about the structure of thinking, which consequently questions the validity of models such as the Meta-Model from NLP and Neurosemantics and others who dabble in a nonscientific understanding of the structure of thinking. Both of the latter schools of thought promote that we first experience the world, represent it by way of our senses while deleting, distorting and generalizing, weighing it up against past experience, arriving at a higher frame of mind with that information and then responding to the world. Neuro-scientific research does not, for the most part, align with that proposition. In short, research (mine included) has it that we first predict what will happen in the future and then experience the world. As we experience the world we are provided information through our senses that either confirms the prediction to be correct or to be a prediction error. If the prediction is correct we are satisfied with our genius and content to live our day and days out according to the newly formed concept. When the prediction is in error…Well, let me quote Lisa Barrett-Feldman “If the brain is a good scientist it will update the error, and if it is a bad scientist it won’t but will continue to operate with the prediction error in an assigned category but now as a concept for quick access in the process of self-regulation.”
If you haven’t worked it out already as to what the commotion is all about, here’s another reason why some thought leaders are up in arms. Recent research has concluded that there are no universal fingerprints for emotions. This means that there is no one facial expression for Anger, Happy, Sad, disgust etc…Oh and emoticons? – forget it. They’re A-Scientific too. To be more precise, they were introduced and taught to us. Also, in the early 1900s father of American psychology, William James was quoted as saying that there is “No one Anger” referring to the fact that there are many neural routes to feeling angry. But, then he was misquoted to align with what the then scientists wanted us to know which was of course what formed the classical view on emotions. This, of course, has put Paul Eckmans’ work on the chopping block. And, it also puts facebooks latest cool thing ‘facial recognition software for emotion recognition’ and its mega-dollar investment right next to Eckman. Interestingly enough, some Airlines already know this because after spending gazillions on facial recognition software in an attempt to detect the bad guys or girls – it flopped.
One final point that explains, in part again, the commotion and even some retaliation. Evidence suggests that what we currently know about the limbic system and in particular the role of the amygdala is inaccurate. To summarise, the amygdala’s function is not to house ready to dial up and dish out emotions. In fact, if its a house, then no-ones home. Its’ purpose and function is to deal with information that’s new or foreign to us. Barrett-Feldman’s findings state that there are at best only two basic emotions that we have onboard that came with the hardware – Valence and Arousal.
Given the scientific evidence, I hope those in commotion or experiencing a form of arousal (namely, agitation) have the courage to apply the scientific method to the commotion and employ their un-bias deductively, inductively and abductively to gain perspective. I also hope they harness the art of logic which is to be wrong with confidence – Unlike our predecessors.