The New Science of Emotion and Transformative Tech: Why it matters

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The New Science of Emotion and Transformative Tech: Why it matters

Emotion plays a major role in health, wellness, and change.

And as such emotion recognition shows up in a lot of tech products in our category. 

I once thought I knew a lot about emotions just because I have them. 🤣

But, if you’re like me and have been tracking it, you know that the Science of Human emotion has been turned on its head in the last few years, in no small part due to the work of Dr. Lisa Feldman Barett.

A few weeks ago, I asked 12 of you to join me in learning together by reading How Emotions are Made by Dr. Barrett. 

Below is what Isabel Barros, Jason Glickman, Craig Allen, Heather Nolan, Quintus Jett, Stephanie Dupont, Chad Olin, Susan Hamilton, Kevin Caldwell, Terri Persico, Malcolm Holmes, and I think matters for Transformative Tech.

You are far more powerful and responsible than you know.

Turns out that emotions are not universal. 

For example, there is no universal biologically derived facial expression or HRV signature for anger. 

There is however cultural and linguistic shorthand that any group of people might know and thus share.

But the meaning didn’t come from their cells.  

Dr. Barrett presents the theory of constructed emotion, which says that the emotions we feel are deeply personal and “constructed” based on our individual experiences, stimuli, and more.

This fundamentally flips the view that we have universal emotion templates like some factory setting that just reacts to stimuli. 

Instead, you construct each emotion you feel every time.

Even if you do it in nanoseconds because culture and language give you a Disneyland-like FAST pass. 

Big Ramifications for Transformative Tech.

How Emotions are Made is one of the most comprehensive and accessible scientific reviews of the new Science of Human Emotion. 

As such, it gives immense insight into next-gen transformative technologies and where to look for innovation.

For example:

  • If two people can have different expressions of the same emotion, how do you confirm this in the biosignal you are using?  Personalization and context become the key to accuracy.
  • Given construction, could we leverage emotion to get in deeper and intentionally train the brain’s predictive thinking processes?   And, how can a deeper understanding of these predictive systems be harnessed to more effectively support personal growth and emotional development?

Big Ethical Considerations for Transformative Tech.

Crucially, this has big implications for us. 

For example, as designers of real, hybrid, and/or fully simulated experiences, we could soon build tech that entirely rewires a person’s interoception network and prediction system. 

This has major, major ethical implications.

And possibilities.

This could increase mental fitness dramatically by changing a person’s experience of future emotion. 

Umm, Wow! 🤯

It could also change our internal sensitivities to certain emotions.

Umm, Boo 🤨

Below, find each team member’s takeaway that our community should have about the chapters in the ground-breaking book.

I would love to hear your thoughts on how these insights would change the way you view, use or create transformative technologies.


Nichol, and Isabel Barros, Jason Glickman, Craig Allen, Heather Nolan, Quintus Jett, Stephanie Dupont, Chad Olin, Susan Hamilton, Kevin Caldwell, Terri Persico, Malcolm Holmes

P.S. The next book is The Extended Mind with a 2-hour discussion with me on Friday, November 18th from 10-12 AM PST.   If you’d like to participate, sign up here.

Chapter TT Takeaway
Introduction, interpreted by Nichol Bradford
  • Emotions are constructed – there are no biological fingerprints – any two people can have different expressions of the same emotion – facial, blood pressure etc. 
  • Emotions are constructed based on our body traits, culture, and environment. 
  • Understanding this is shifting brain research – there are no dedicated areas.
Emotions Fingerprints, interpreted  by Isabel Barros
  • We can build tech to guide people to subtle experience
  • We can build tech to improve Interoception
  • The classical theory of emotion is trying to access an emotional fingerprint that is universal, and most of the emotion tracking tech today is based on this model of emotion. This theory is proving outdated. As the new theory of emotion evolves there is an evident need to account for more nuance, individual differences & personalization. 
Emotion Construction, interpreted  by Jason Glickman
  • It’s possible to self-influence your emotions based on the content you consume and experiences you create. Can media and tech play a role to assist?
  • Can intellectual understanding that the same physical body sensations cause different emotions based on context assist in meditation or mindfulness training in some way? Possibly incorporated into popular meditation apps?  
Myth of Universal Emotion, interpreted by Jason Glickman
  • Popular books, magazine articles, radio broadcasts, and TV shows falsely assume that everyone makes and recognizes the same facial configurations as expressions of emotion. Games and books teach preschool children these allegedly universal expressions. International political and business negotiation strategies are likewise based on this assumption. Psychologists use false theory to assess emotion deficits in patients.  How would correcting these assumptions improve society? 
  • Happiness is the one emotion category that people are able to perceive without the influence of emotion concepts: “Happy” might be the closest thing we have to a universal emotion category with a universal expression. Why is this, and what does it reveal about universal human nature?
Origin of Feeling, interpreted  by Craig Allen
  • As designers of real, hybrid and/or fully simulated experiences – we have the ability to influence or change people’s operating reality as emotionally believable simulations will provide a path to rewiring a person’s interoception network and prediction system.
  • We should consider ways common predictive system results could be utilized creatively to promote greater understanding for how emotions are linked to past experience in order to support personal growth and emotional development.
  • As we are architects of our reality – and knowing how A.I. combined with designer drugs and increasingly realistic simulations will shape our future and concept of reality – will we share a common reality or will individualized existence fragment into everyone living in their own personal Idaho? 
Concepts, Goals and Words, interpreted  by Heather Nolan
  • Purely mental goal-based concepts, like emotions, free us from the shackles of physical appearance. This requires words. Words are how we connect a variety of perceptual instances that may look and feel different.
  • The theory of constructed emotion says that you are also concepts every time you feel an emotion or perceive it in another person. Categorization constructs everything, including emotion.
  • We don’t see something (a snake), feel our bodies (a pounding heart), feel something (the urge to run), and then categorize those things (fear). Instead, we categorize sensations in order to see the snake, to feel our heart pounding, and to run. We predict the sensations and explain them with an instance of the concept of fear. This is how emotions are made.
How the Brain Makes Emotions, interpreted  by Quintus Jett, PHD
  • Since distinctions between in-person reality and virtual reality are getting more blurry, we must consider (and should be more intentional) about how Tech shapes (and transforms) not only our minds, but our emotions.
  • We should pay greater attention (and take more seriously) how humanity is increasingly shaped by the stimuli from virtual environments and our internal sensitivities to what we experience from the virtual spaces we occupy, follow, and interact with.
  • We should view Transformative Tech as a Social-Emotional-Kinetic force which shapes meaning for individuals, groups, and the human race as a whole. Today’s pervasive digital platforms and environments and the embedded virtualities (connections, relationships, and communities) each of us has throughout the world ARE a form of Transformative Tech.
Emotions , interpreted by Stephanie Dupont, PHD
  • Emotions as Social Reality
  • Having agency over words can be empowering individually and relative to social constructs
A new View of Human Nature , interpreted by Chad Olin
  • Your brain operates by prediction and construction, wiring itself through experience. If you change your experiences today, you change who you become (and the emotions you feel) tomorrow.
  • Human beings have more control over their feelings and reactions than previously understood – thus human nature is fundamentally different from the classical view
  • Tools that provide us with more data / awareness of our biology and psychology are very valuable
Emotions and Illness , interpreted by Susan Hamilton
  • The same systems in the mind / body that construct emotion also construct illness, where variation is the norm.
  • A chronically imbalanced body budget and severe inflammation is at the root of many illnesses. A prolonged imbalanced body budget sculpts the brain, changing the interoceptive network and making connections atrophy.
  • Our current environment and social factors, particularly for young people, leads to a chronically out of whack body budget and could explain the magnitude of our mental health epidemic. 
Emotion and the Law, interpreted  by Kevin Caldwell
  • Neuroscience and its education in society are critical to the future stability of our legal system.
  • Emotional well-being is critical to our individual and societal health and longevity. 
  • Humanity on average are flawed decision makers and easily influenced/manipulated when it comes to creating social realities – we need to think critically about how irresponsible actors building tech/media could exploit humanity to self-interested goals.
Is a Growling Dog Angry, interpreted  by Terri Perisco
  • Personalization is key to applications!  Perception is personal and technology presents a unique opportunity to “customize” user experience in such a way as to increase relevance and increase adoption, and thus impact. 
  • Personality and other aspects of individual mental construct should be considered alongside transient variables such as emotion, in addition to cultural and external variables that impact behavioral tendencies. 
  • Bias is inevitable but firstly understanding self can go a long way to improve our understanding of others – it is critical to understand the lens through which we perceive the world and others in it. 
From Brain to Mind, interpreted by Malcolm Holmes
  • Construction means experience can change (even significantly): technology can be used to help people learn how
  • Essentialism creates immovability. Construction opens up the possibility of change, an opportunity that TransTech can take advantage of
  • The Big Question: How do we use technology to help people see the truth and opportunity that construction unveils???

P.S.S.  Here’s the rest of the series:

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