Cover Image: Emotional


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Member Reviews

This is a history of research on emotion, an explanation of the current appreciation of its importance, and even some tips on how to regulate your own emotions.

The historical overview alerts us to the pioneering work of seventeenth century Thomas Willis, and the early nineteenth century lectures of Thomas Brown which effectively originated the study of ‘emotions.’ We hear of Charles Darwin’s late nineteenth century work focusing on 6 basic emotions, and the story of discovery is brought into the current decade with an account of Kent Berridge’s work separating the concepts of dopamine driven “likes”, and opiate driven “wants.” 

Until relatively recently people had a crude view of emotional development. Instincts and reflexes were replaced by more flexible emotions, which allowed a greater range of responses to situations. In humans, a “good” reasoning provided a way of controlling “bad” emotions.

The inadequacy of this approach is shown with some case studies. We see how a pilot followed orders and shot down a Korean airliner, whilst Stanislav Petrov, followed his emotions, and ignored orders, and possibly saved the world from nuclear holocaust in 1983.

At the heart of the book is an overview of Lisa Feldman Barrett’s work on ‘Core Affect’ which shows that emotions help to manage the body’s current and predicted energy needs, so that it can maintain an equilibrium (or homeostasis). Emotions put our bodies into operational modes, which we can accept, or reject.

Towards the end of the book we are given some reasons for why we might want to manage our emotions. The risks of “emotional contagion” are explained, and the way that we can literally ‘catch’ emotions from each other. 

Insights like this bring us to the book’s final section which looks at ways of managing our emotions through strategies of acceptance, re-appraisal and expressing them.

During the course of the book we hear how Societies have vastly different understandings of emotion. English includes more than 100 different words for emotions, yet some Malay languages include only 7 words. We are also introduced to some of the philosophical issues. Do people get ‘raw’ emotions, or are all our emotions influenced by an interpretative mind (ie constructionism). The author inclines to the latter.

The book gives a range of interesting statistics about the consequences of ignoring core affect and emotions. For example, parole decisions are granted around 60% of the time when a case is heard first thing in the morning, but when the case is heard at the end of the morning when a judge is hungry, the chances drop to almost nil (Kindle 28%).

We also hear that in a study of smoking, those who had mindfulness training to help them manage their emotions were around two thirds more likely to reduce their smoking over a two week period, than those without the training (Kindle 62%)

Altogether the book is very informative and it is a well written enjoyable read. At times it felt a little one sided. Yes, research on emotions is important and it has a lot to tell us. But there are also some limitations and problems in some of the research, with dissenting voices about its implications. It would have been helpful to flag that up to the reader. 

These are honest comments on an Advanced Review Copy of the text.
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You make hundreds of decisions every day, from what to eat for breakfast to how to influence people, and not one of them could be made without the essential component of emotion. It has long been held that thinking and feeling are separate and opposing forces in our behaviour. But as best-selling author Leonard Mlodinow tells us, extraordinary advances in psychology and neuroscience have proven that emotions are as critical to our well-being as thinking
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I was offered this book as an ARC via NetGalley and found it to be a fascinating insight into how our emotions work. This is coupled with advice on how to improve your motivation, basic questionnaires that help you to work out what emotions you tend towards naturally so that you can take an objective look at your own behaviours. Self-awareness is usually seen as the first step towards changing any behaviour you dislike in yourself. Understanding the underlying biological and psychological mechanisms is always fascinating to me and helps to implement change.

One of these was that I found interesting was 'The Oxford Happiness Questionnaire' purely as it is very difficult to score highly if you have a chronic health condition. Admittedly illness and pain are not particularly pleasant but it is not impossible to be happy and find meaning in your life in general. This is a quirk of the quiz but interesting philosophically, one could argue that good health certainly makes it easier to be happy but I would posit that this is only true if you appreciate how good your health is. Page 178 discusses how when taking the survey, incredibly rich people do not score significantly higher than average citizens. I wonder whether the same experiment was done with those who had had time to come to terms with their diagnoses would rank similarly to their 'healthy' counterparts were the health questions removed seeing as there were no financial questions in the questionnaire. Perhaps this research has already been done and I am just unaware of it?
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Not having read Lisa Feldman Barrett’s best selling ‘How Emotions Are Made’, and with so much talk about logic versus emotion, I enjoyed reading Leonard Mlodinow’s new book ‘Emotional’ which opens with stories of his mother’s sometimes extreme behaviour and his realisation that, first of all, not all mothers were like this and secondly, that not all people who had experienced trauma in their lives reacted to it in the same way.

The subject of affective neuroscience has become one of the hot academic fields and new research is reshaping the way scientists view emotion. They have been able to identify that each basic emotion is not a single emotion but a whole spectrum and that each is not necessarily distinct from one another. The concept of five basic emotions is no longer held, going beyond to include social emotions such as pride and embarrassment and even feelings previously thought of as drives such as hunger and sexual desire.

We can’t put away our emotions and they are essential to basic human behaviour. Mlodinow asks and explores the questions of what exactly are emotions?, why we have them, and how they arise in our brains. He also explains how they affect our thoughts, judgements, motivations and decisions, and how we can control them.
The book then explores how we can take charge of our emotions and why this is more difficult for some than others. He tells stories where emotion affected life altering outcomes and others, such as the experienced traders who recognise the need to accept their emotions and understand their benefit versus those less experienced traders who try not to feel.

Ultimately, Mlodinow says, we need to stop fighting against our emotions and let them guide us. Complex fast decisions ultimately do not respond to cold hard reason and we are lead in these cases by our heart, and not by our heads.
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