This book is so dense with ideas that my tightly typed summary covers 22 pages. From the first chapters, where Feldman Barrett explores what do we mean by emotion? are they universal? I was hooked.
"How Emotions are Made" lifts the curtain on our own emotional creation and describes a world where emotions are constructed. We create mental concepts and categories to help us navigate the world. Emotions are not reactions to the world, they are our constructions of how we will react to the world.
Most striking is her description of our brain as a scientist, trapped in a dark box, it uses the data we provide to form predictions about how to keep us safe, what is happening and what we need to do about it. Her approach is that we construct our emotions - we do not react to stimuli but we are responsible for how we feel about other people and events. As she points out, if we just reacted to things, we would be dead. It is too slow a way to function effectively.
Just like a scientist sometimes our brain gets the prediction or hypothesis wrong. If our brain is a good scientist then it will re-calibrate and try again. If it is a bad scientist, it will be selective about the data it uses or even worse ignore the data.
Why do we invest all this effort into the brain and its predictions? because the brain is trying to keep us alive. It is managing our body budget which monitors all of our systems to keep us functioning. When we are not in balance our brain will search for an explanation and a plan of action.
One key lesson is that she warns we must give up on the fiction that we know how other people feel, as she puts it "being curious is more important than being right".