Lisa Feldman Barrett


Lisa Feldman Barrett is a distinguished professor of
psychology Psychology is the scientific Science (from the Latin Latin (, or , ) is a classical language belonging to the Italic languages, Italic branch of the Indo-European languages. Latin was originally spoken in the area around Rome, known ...

Northeastern University Northeastern University (NU or NEU) is a private university, private research university in Boston, Massachusetts. Established in 1898, the university offers undergraduate and graduate programs on its main campus in Boston as well as regional ca ...

Northeastern University
, where she focuses on
affective science Affective science is the scientific study of emotion Emotions are mental state, psychological states brought on by neurophysiology, neurophysiological changes, variously associated with thoughts, feelings, behavioural responses, and a degree of ...
. She is a director of the Interdisciplinary Affective Science Laboratory. Along with James Russell, she is the founding editor-in-chief of the journal '' Emotion Review''.


Barrett was born in 1963 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, to a working-poor family and was the first member of her extended family to attend university. After graduating from the University of Toronto with honors, she pursued a Ph.D. in
clinical psychology Clinical psychology is an integration of science, theory, and clinical knowledge for the purpose of understanding, preventing, and relieving psychologically-based distress or dysfunction Dysfunction can refer to: * Abnormality (behavior) * Dysfun ...
at the University of Waterloo with the goal of becoming a therapist, until a frustrating puzzle sidetracked her from a clinical career. As a graduate student, she failed eight times to replicate a simple experiment, finally realizing that her seeming failed attempts were, in fact, successfully replicating a previously undiscovered phenomenon. The resulting research direction became her life's work: understanding the nature of emotion in the brain. Following a clinical internship at the
University of Manitoba The University of Manitoba (U of M, UManitoba, or UM) is a non-denominational, Public Research University, public research university in the province of Manitoba, Canada.
University of Manitoba
Medical School, she held professorships in psychology at Penn State University, Boston College, and Northeastern University. Over two decades, she transitioned from clinical psychology into
social psychology Social psychology is the scientific Science () is a systematic enterprise that Scientific method, builds and organizes knowledge in the form of Testability, testable explanations and predictions about the universe."... modern scienc ...

social psychology
, psychophysiology,
cognitive science Cognitive science is the interdisciplinary Interdisciplinarity or interdisciplinary studies involves the combination of two or more academic disciplines into one activity (e.g., a research project). It draws knowledge from several other fie ...
, and cognitive neuroscience. Barrett is most inspired by
William James William James (January 11, 1842 – August 26, 1910) was an American philosopher American(s) may refer to: * American, something of, from, or related to the United States of America, commonly known as the United States ** Americans, citiz ...
Wilhelm Wundt Wilhelm Maximilian Wundt (; ; 16 August 1832 – 31 August 1920) was a German physiologist, philosopher, and professor, known today as one of the fathers of modern psychology Psychology is the science of mind and behavior. Psychology incl ...

Wilhelm Wundt
, and
Charles Darwin Charles Robert Darwin (; ; 12 February 1809 – 19 April 1882) was an English , and , best known for his contributions to the science of . His proposition that all species of life have descended from is now widely accepted and cons ...

Charles Darwin
. In 2019–2020, she served as president of the
Association for Psychological Science The Association for Psychological Science (APS), previously the American Psychological Society, is an international non-profit organization A nonprofit organization (NPO), also known as a non-business entity, not-for-profit organization, or no ...
. From 2018–2020, she was ranked in the top one percent of the most-cited scientists in the world over a ten-year period. In addition to academic work, Barrett has written two science books for the public, ''How Emotions are Made'' (2017) and ''Seven and a Half Lessons About the Brain'' (2020), and her TED talk was among the 25 most popular worldwide in 2018.

Professional history

Study of human emotions

At the beginning of her career, Barrett's research focused on the structure of
affect Affect may refer to: * Affect (education) * Affect (linguistics), attitude or emotion that a speaker brings to an utterance * Affect (philosophy) * Affect (psychology), the experience of feeling or emotion ** Affect display, signs of emotion, such ...
, having developed experience-sampling methods and open-source software to study emotional experience. Barrett and members at the Interdisciplinary Affective Science Laboratory study the nature of emotion broadly from social-psychological, psychophysiological,
cognitive science Cognitive science is the interdisciplinary Interdisciplinarity or interdisciplinary studies involves the combination of two or more academic disciplines into one activity (e.g., a research project). It draws knowledge from several other fie ...
, and neuroscience perspectives, and take inspiration from anthropology, philosophy, and linguistics. They also explore the role of emotion in vision and other psychological phenomena. In 1996, she joined the Psychology Faculty at Boston College. Before that she was an assistant professor of clinical psychology at the Pennsylvania State University. Her research has focused on the main issues in the science of emotions such as: * *What are the basic building blocks of emotional life? *Building blocks of emotional life *Why is it that people quickly and effortlessly perceive anger, sadness, fear in themselves and others, yet scientists have been unable to specify a set of clear criteria for empirically identifying these emotional events? *What roles do language and conceptual knowledge play in emotion perception *Are there really differences between the emotional lives of men and women (see )

Theory of constructed emotion

Barrett developed her current theory of constructed emotion originally during her graduate training. According to Barrett, emotions are "not universal, but vary from culture to culture" (see
Emotions and culture According to some theories, emotion Emotions are mental state, psychological states brought on by neurophysiology, neurophysiological changes, variously associated with thoughts, feelings, behavioural responses, and a degree of pleasure or suff ...
). She says that emotions "are not triggered; you create them. They emerge as a combination of the physical properties of your body, a flexible brain that wires itself to whatever environment it develops in, and your culture and upbringing, which provide that environment." The theory denies "essentialism" of affect, such as the seven primary affective systems proposed by the affective neuroscientist
Jaak Panksepp Jaak Panksepp (June 5, 1943 – April 18, 2017) was an Estonian neuroscience, neuroscientist and psychobiology, psychobiologist who coined the term "affective neuroscience", the name for the field that studies the neural mechanisms of emotion. He w ...
. Panksepp summarized the theory of constructed emotion as an "attributional–dimensional constructivist view of human emotions
postulates that positive and negative core affects are the basic feelings—the primary processes—from which emotional concepts are cognitively and
socially constructed Social constructionism is a theory of knowledge in sociology Sociology is the study of society, human social behaviour, patterns of social relationships, social interaction, and culture that surrounds everyday life. It is a social scien ...

Honors and awards

* Independent Scientist Research (K02) Award,
National Institute of Mental Health The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) is one of 27 institutes and centers that make up the National Institutes of Health The National Institutes of Health (NIH ) is the primary agency of the United States government The fede ...
, 2002–2007. * Fellow, Association for Psychological Science, 2003. * Fellow,
Society for Personality and Social Psychology The Society for Personality and Social Psychology (SPSP) is an academic society for personality Personality is defined as the characteristic sets of behavior Behavior (American English) or behaviour (British English; American and British Eng ...
, 2005. * Fellow, American Psychological Association, 2005. * Career Trajectory Award, Society of Experimental Social Psychology, 2006. *Cattell Fund Fellowship, 2007–2008. * NIH Director's Pioneer Award, 2007–2012, to study how the brain creates emotion. * Kavli Fellow, United States National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Sciences, 2008. * Elected Fellow, American Association for the Advancement of Science, 2008. * Arts in Academics award, University of Waterloo, 2010. * Excellence in Research and Creative Activity Award, Northeastern University, 2012. * Elected Fellow, Royal Society of Canada, 2012. * Award for Distinguished Service in Psychological Science, American Psychological Association, 2013. * Elected Fellow, Society of Experimental Psychologists, 2013. * Diener Award in Social Psychology, Society for Personality and Social Psychology, 2014. * Heritage Wall of Fame, Foundation for Personality and Social Psychology, 2016. * Mentor Award for Lifetime Achievement, Association for Psychological Science, 2018. * Elected Fellow, American Academy of Arts and Sciences, 2018. * President, Association for Psychological Science, 2019–2020. * Guggenheim Fellowship in neuroscience, 2019. * John P. McGovern Award in the Behavioral Sciences, American Association for the Advancement of Science, 2020. *APA Award for Distinguished Scientific Contributions, American Psychological Association, 2021.


* ''Seven and a Half Lessons About the Brain''. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2020. . * ''How Emotions are Made: The Secret Life of the Brain''. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2017. .

See also

* Sapir–Whorf hypothesis * List of University of Waterloo people


External links

* TED talk
"You Aren't at the Mercy of your Emotions: Your Brain Creates Them"
(2018) * TEDx talk
"Cultivating Wisdom: The Power of Mood"
(2018) * Talks @ Google
"Can Machines Perceive Emotion?"
(2018) * Burak President's Distinguished Lecture
"Why Words Matter: Lessons from Neuroanatomy"
(2018) * Cinematic Lecture
"How Emotions are Made"
(2020) * American Association for the Advancement of Science McGovern Award Lecture
"Variation is the Norm: Population Thinking in the Science of Emotion"
(2020) {{DEFAULTSORT:Feldman Barrett, Lisa A American women psychologists American psychologists Canadian women psychologists Emotion psychologists American women neuroscientists American neuroscientists Cognitive neuroscientists Northeastern University faculty Harvard Medical School people 1963 births Living people Scientists from Toronto University of Toronto alumni University of Waterloo alumni American women academics 21st-century American women