Lisa Feldman Barrett

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Lisa Feldman Barrett
Born 1963
Toronto, Canada
Residence Boston, Massachusetts
Citizenship United States
Nationality Canadian
Fields Cognitive neuroscience, psychology
Institutions Northeastern University, Boston College, Pennsylvania State University
Alma mater University of Waterloo
Thesis  (1992)
Doctoral advisor Mike Ross
Known for Conceptual-act model of emotion
Notable awards NIH Director's Pioneer Award
Spouse Daniel J. Barrett

Lisa Feldman Barrett is a University Distinguished Professor of Psychology at Northeastern University,[1] where she focuses on the study of emotion.[2] She is director of the Interdisciplinary Affective Science Laboratory. Along with James Russell, she is the founding editor-in-chief of the journal Emotion Review.[3]


Born in Toronto, Canada in 1963, Barrett obtained her Bachelor of Science in Psychology with Honors at the University of Toronto. From there she completed a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology at the University of Waterloo, in Ontario, Canada, and a Clinical Internship at the University of Manitoba Medical School. During her graduate training, Barrett developed her current hypothesis on emotion, the conceptual-act model of emotion.

Professional history[edit]

At the beginning of her career, Dr. Barrett's research focused on the structure of affect, having developed experience-sampling methods[4] and open-source software to study emotional experience. Dr. Barrett and members at IASL study the nature of emotion broadly from social-psychological, psychophysiological, cognitive science, and neuroscience perspectives, and take inspiration from anthropology, philosophy, and linguistics. They also explore the role of emotion in vision and other psychological phenomena.

Emotion views[edit]

Previous views on emotion take a natural kinds approach, assuming that a stimulus evokes a discrete causal mechanism in the brain and body, producing a unique, response signature that can be readily recognized by others. In this perspective, emotions are innate, and all people are born with the capacity to feel the same core set of emotions. Barrett’s lab has conducted major reviews of the scientific literature showing that the majority of the existing research does not support the natural kind view. Her conceptual-act model of emotion holds that emotions are not biological entities that form the building blocks of our experience. Instead, the model hypothesizes that emotions are constructed events that arise from the simultaneous combination of three more basic psychological primitives:

Core affect
An omnipresent, neurophysiological state described by two properties, hedonic valence and arousal, that can be consciously accessed.
According to this model, perceptual information is one part of a distributed system that involves cortical areas of the brain, which are traditionally considered cognitive, and subcortical areas, which are traditionally considered affective. This model carries with it the additional implication that affect and cognition are co-constitutive of if not identical to one another.[5][6] The relevant cortical (cognitive) areas are the sensory cortices, the orbitofrontal cortex (OFC), the ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC), and the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC). Rather than these cortical areas cognitively regulating activity in the amygdala as is often conceived, they play a role in guiding motor responses on affective stimuli. Additionally, the traditional affective areas in the subcortex implicated in affective information, the amygdala and the nucleus accumbens (NAcc), play both excitatory and inhibitory roles in cortical (i.e. cognitive) processes through direct and reciprocal connections.
The dynamic interaction of the various systems creates an overall state that could be described as a “barometer” of sorts for the relation of the organism to its internal homeostatic condition and external relationship with the environment.[7][8] This “core affective state” literally plays a role in what one sees in the world around them.[9][10] The subcortical (i.e. affective) areas orient the organism toward the stimuli in the world that play significant roles in goal-seeking behavior. The cortical areas help associate stimuli with their affective value creating a kind of “working memory” as well as guiding appropriate responsive behavior, which further acts upon the subcortical areas for additional orientation. Things stand out as directly relevant or interesting as part of the act of seeing. All of this happens without any need for inferential thinking as what one sees and orients toward has already been determined by the processing in the core affect system. According to the primary proponents of core affect, there is a gate-like inhibition mechanism that serves as a central executive.[11][12]
Conceptualization (categorization)
The ability to automatically make meaning of sensory stimulation (from the world and/or the body) by bringing stored, situation-specific representations of categories (e.g., "anger") to bear.
Executive attention
Controlled attention, also referred to as "goal-directed," "top-down" or "endogenous" attention, that maintains or enhances the activation of some representations while suppressing others.

In the model, these psychological ingredients not only combine to create "emotions," but also are general ingredients of the mind, important for creating "memories," "thoughts," "beliefs," "perceptions," "attitudes," "the self," and so on.

Honors and awards[edit]

Selected publications[edit]

  • Barrett, L. F., & Bar, M. (2009). See it with feeling: Affective predictions in the human brain. Royal Society Phil Trans B, 364, 1325-1334.
  • Barrett, L. F., & Bliss-Moreau, E. (2009). Affect as a psychological primitive. Advances in Experimental Social Psychology, 41, 167-218.
  • Barrett, L. F., Lindquist, K., Bliss-Moreau, E., Duncan, S., Gendron, M., Mize, J., & Brennan, L. (2007). Of mice and men: Natural kinds of emotion in the mammalian brain? Perspectives on Psychological Science, 2, 297-312
  • Barrett, L. F., Lindquist, K., & Gendron, M. (2007). Language as a context for emotion perception. Trends in Cognitive Sciences. 11, 327-332.
  • Barrett, L. F. (2006). Emotions as natural kinds? Perspectives on Psychological Science, 1, 28-58.
  • Barrett, L. F. (2006). Solving the emotion paradox: Categorization and the experience of emotion. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 10, 20-46.
  • Barrett, L. F., & Barrett, D. J. (2001). Computerized experience-sampling: How technology facilitates the study of conscious experience. Social Science Computer Review, 19, 175-185.
  • Feldman, L. A. (1995b). Valence focus and arousal focus: Individual differences in the structure of affective experience. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 69, 153-166

See also[edit]

External links[edit]


  1. ^ Northeastern University Psychology Department
  2. ^ "The Faces and Minds of Psychology," The Association for Psychological Science
  3. ^ Emotion Review
  4. ^ Hektner, Joel M.; Jennifer A. Schmidt; Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (September 2006). Experience Sampling Method: Measuring the Quality of Everyday Life.. SAGE Publications. p. 37 et al. ISBN 1-4129-4923-8. 
  5. ^ Pessoa, L. (2008). On the relationship between emotion and cognition. Nature Reviews Neuroscience , 148-158.
  6. ^ Duncan, S., & Barrett, L. (2007). Affect as a form of cognition: A neurobiological analysis. Cognition and Emotion, 21 , 1184-1211.
  7. ^ Barrett, L. (2009). The Future of Psychology: Connecting Mind to Brain. Perspectives on Psychological Science , 326-339.
  8. ^ Barrett, L. (2006). Solving the emotion paradox: Categorization and the experience of emotion. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 10 , 20-46.
  9. ^ Pessoa, L. (2010). Emotion and cognition and the amygdala: From "what is it?" to "what's to be done?". Neuropsychologia , 3416-3429.
  10. ^ Pessoa, L. (2005). To what extent are emotional and visual stimuli processed without attention and awareness? Current Opinion in Neurobiology , 15, 188-196.
  11. ^ Dalgleish, T., Perkins, N., Williams, J., Golden, A.-M., Barnard, P., Au-Yeung, C., et al. (2007). Reduced specificity of autobiographical memory and depression: The role of executive processes. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 136 , 23-42.
  12. ^ Pessoa, L. (2009). How do emotion and motivation direct executive control? Trends in Cognitive Sciences , 160-166.
  13. ^ APA Award for Distinguished Service in Psychological Science
  14. ^ Excellence in Research and Creative Activity Awards 2012
  15. ^ Arts in Academics award
  16. ^ Kavli Frontiers of Science
  17. ^ Pioneer award announcement
  18. ^ 2006 Career Trajectory Award
  19. ^ Fellow status in APS