At the Boston marathon bombings trial, the jury sentenced young convict Dzhokhar Tsarnaev of Chechnya to death, recounts Lisa Feldman Barrett, a neuroscientist and psychology professor. The rationale behind the jurors’ verdict was that despite his apologies and remorse, Tsarnaev was guilty because his face showed no emotion. “As a scientist, I have to tell you that jurors do not and cannot detect remorse or any other emotion in anybody ever. Neither can I, and neither can you, and that’s because emotions are not what we think they are. They are not universally expressed and recognised. They are not hardwired brain reactions that are uncontrollable,” explains Barrett in a TED Talk.
So, how do you exactly define emotion? Barrett answers, “Emotions are guesses. They are guesses that your brain constructs in the moment where billions of brain cells are working together, and you have more control over those guesses than you might imagine that you do.” Your brain basically uses past experiences to create images, or hallucinations, which is what neuroscientists term as “predictions”. She further explains, using examples, “Predictions are primal. They help us to make sense of the world in a quick and efficient way. So your brain does not react to the world. Using past experience, your brain predicts and constructs your experience of the world. The way that we see emotions in others are deeply rooted in predictions.”
In this deeply fascinating and informative video, she explains how you can gain control of your brain’s actions and interpretations. “If you are not at the mercy of mythical emotion circuits which are buried deep inside your brain somewhere and which trigger automatically, then who is responsible when you behave badly? You are. Not because you’re culpable for your emotions, but because the actions and the experiences that you make today become your brain’s predictions for tomorrow. Sometimes we are responsible for something not because we’re to blame but because we’re the only ones who can change it,” she concludes.