Season 1, Episode 8

Why facial expressions aren’t a true reflection of our emotions.

Marie [00:00:00] Think you’re good at reading emotions? Think again, today, we’re joined by a distinguished professor of psychology at Northeastern University, Dr. Lisa Feldman Barrett. We discuss how emotions are made and why some of our society’s core ideas about them are actually wrong. Dr. Barrett is amongst the top 1% most cited scientists for her revolutionary research in psychology and neuroscience. Learn what she’s uncovered about facial expression and reading emotions plus how her groundbreaking findings impact the workplace and our lives.

Welcome, Dr. Barrett, thank you so much for joining us.

Lisa [00:00:48] Oh, it’s my pleasure, thank you for having me on your podcast.

Ben [00:00:51] Thank you for being here today, this is Ben Palmer, Dr. Barrett, it’s fantastic to have you with us. Thank you.

Marie [00:0056] I have been listening to your TED talks in the car while I’ve been driving and learning a lot. You’ve done some groundbreaking research. Can you share with us what your top three things are about emotions that you’ve learnt from your research?

Lisa [00:01:11] Sure, the first is that emotions feel like they happen to you, but they’re actually made by you. They’re made by your brain in very situation specific ways. So emotions aren’t triggered in circuits that are buried deep inside some animalistic part of your brain. It feels like that to us. And that’s initially what the evidence seemed to suggest. But there’s now, I think, enough evidence that we can dispel that idea and understand that what our brains are doing are making emotions on the fly as we need them that’s number one.

The second thing I find really fascinating is that when we have an emotion and it’s a very strong emotion, it feels like we’re reacting to things in the world. So you see something and you react to it, you hear something and you react to it. Somebody does something in your workplace and you, you know, or maybe you have an interaction with your boss and you react to that. But actually, brains are not structured to react. They didn’t evolve to react. Actually, our brains predict everything. We see everything. We hear everything we do and everything we feel. And I think that’s pretty miraculous because it completely violates our sort of day-to-day experience of ourselves in the world. It feels like our eyes are a window on the world, but they’re not, really our brains are predicting everything we experience and everything we do.

And the third thing I think that I find really fascinating is in Western cultures like ours, we have a narrative that feels very true to us that emotions issue from some deep ancient circuits that we share with other animals. And we also have this more rational part of our brains, the neocortex and that these two parts of our brains are kind of locked in a mortal battle for control of our behaviour. And this is a very popular idea that can be traced all the way back to Plato. But actually, if you look at the data, there are no parts of your brain specifically for emotions and there are no parts of your brains specifically for cognition, and the two aren’t locked in mortal battle. So the narrative that problems arise from overactive emotional systems or underactive cognitive control is a myth. That’s how we experience it but that’s really not what’s happening under the hood and what’s happening under the hood is a lot more complicated and interesting. And once we understand that, then we have a whole new set of skills that we can practise to get better control of our emotional lives.

Ben [00:04:06] I’d like to come in with an example that might perhaps begin to unpack this further and bring it to life. Quite often when I’ve been minding our kids at home and my wife comes home from her day, she might, for example, criticise how I’ve been managing the kids because they’re a bit ratty and things like that. And when she does, I quite often start explaining to her in quite long-winded ways why the approach I’ve taken is the right approach. In fact, she said to me the other day, gee, you can be defensive. And I said to her, no, I’m not. And we both sort of paused and had a bit of a laugh. So, you know, in the classical view of emotions, I guess, to use that language. How I would describe that is the criticism triggers defensiveness if you like or the criticism, you know, hurts my ego and then therefore causes defensiveness. But that’s not really what’s going on, is there?

Lisa [00:04:57] No, I mean, the thing is that you’ve had many interactions with your wife, right and what’s really happening is that your brain is using whatever has just happened in the present moment to predict what’s going to happen next based on past experience. So if your wife has criticised you in the past, your brain will be predicting that that’s what she’s going to do in the future, in the immediate future.

And you will already start to prepare ways of responding to that, and you’re not aware of that preparation. But it is happening in your brain, and this is something I think that’s really fascinating is that actions and experiences are being prepared before they come to fruition.

So right now, as we’re talking to each other, our brains are not just controlling these sounds and these facial movements and these vocalisations, they’re also preparing others in a probabilistic way and kind of selecting amongst them. And so that can happen up to, you know, half a second or a second before the actual actions and experiences take root. It’s very hard to explain this to people because it seems so preposterous, actually.

And I have to say as a scientist, if I didn’t see the data myself, I probably wouldn’t believe it because it just feels so preposterous. But there are really good examples that you can use with ball sports, where you can explain how brains are predicting and starting to prepare actions before they actually are executed, like up to a second before. And those kinds of examples seem to resonate, I think a little more with people because they seem more plausible. So I would say you and your wife have a pattern and you’re both predicting in this pattern and to disrupt the pattern, you know, something has to change.

Ben [00:07:11] You know, this example plays out in workplaces all the time. Let’s say I’m somebody who likes the detail. I’m a manager of people who likes detail, likes things to be properly thought out, I’m very methodical, calm and deliberate in how I make decisions. Yet I have, say, a manager who works for me, who is very conceptual, very task-focused, just wants to get things done. Once they understand 70% of it that’s enough for them. You can imagine that same sort of pattern of behaviour kind of emerging between two individuals like that. I need the detail. My staff member doesn’t deliver the detail. Therefore, I start to form a view and probably a set of emotion like frustration, for example, around that staff member. One of the things that I pick up from in the book is that we have these sort of culturally laden and emotion concepts, and we can see this pattern of them forming if you like. But we have the power to learn more. So how would you suggest someone like myself if I was that boss shifts that pattern becomes more aware of that pattern and perhaps tries to intentionally do something different with it?

Lisa [00:08:16] So whenever you want to shift a pattern that’s being repeated very automatically, it’s because both brains are in this dance of being able to predict.

So the first thing that I would do is I would forage for information, and I’d probably do it outside the situation where you’re looking for information from your employee. So I might actually talk to that maybe take that person out for coffee or go for a walk or, you know, just in a situation where that transaction isn’t going to happen and to say, you know, I sometimes really would prefer more detail than you’re giving me, and I’m wondering what I can do to make that easier for you.

 And the reason I phrase it that way is because if you say, I wonder what I can do to make this easier for you, the other person is more likely to respond with reciprocity and say, you could do these things and I think, I can do these things. And if they don’t, you can say, well, I’m wondering what you could do.

The second thing that I would do is I would try to create a context where they give you what you want because predictions are under the control of the context that’s why they feel automatic, because your brain is basically taking stock of how things are right now in the world and also in your own body to predict what’s going to happen next based on past experience.

So if you can create a context where that person gives you what you’re looking for, you’ve just created for yourself and for that person a new experience that then is learnt by both of your brains. And that’s an opportunity to basically cultivate a different future.

So before the interaction where that person is reporting to you, you can say like the day before or a few hours before, by the way, I just want to remind you, I’m going to be looking for this information. And, you know, being really explicit about the expectations changes the context.

Or if with your wife, for example, you know, I sometimes have to say to people, by the way, what I’m about to say is actually an explanation of my intention. I’m not upset. I’m not trying to justify anything, but I’m trying to give you information that I think might be useful for you.

Ben [00:10:53] I think what I’m hearing you say is become aware of the patterns that exist and aware of perhaps behaviour that feeds the pattern. I was thinking about what you said before, you know, if you would just to say to that staff member, you need to give me more detail. I see that as a behaviour, as a sentence stem if you like, that would feed that pattern of dysfunction as opposed to stepping back from it and thinking about how do I create a new pattern if you like?

Lisa [00:11:18] It is partly about creating a new pattern, but becoming aware of the pattern and attempting to create a new pattern, understanding that you are part of that dynamic. If you take the perspective that it’s all on the other person, you’re not going to get very far.

Ben [00:11:36] That is a perspective that I try to let go of, yes.

Lisa [00:11:38] Yes and we all, you know, there’s a really great Buddhist saying, you know that I love, which is anger is a form of ignorance. And I love that saying because there is a real truth to it. You are angry by virtue of the fact that you cannot take the other person’s perspective. You’re only really seeing the situation from your own. And if you step back and you attempt to take the other person’s perspective, your anger will dissolve because your brain is now making different meanings of the interaction.

Ben [00:12:13] That gets me thinking about the work of Barbara Fredrickson and the broaden and build hypothesis. You know that pleasant feelings tend to broaden and build the way we think in the way we behave. Would you like to comment on that particular theory and aspect of what we’re talking about here?

Lisa [00:12:28] Sure, so Barb is a really good friend of mine. I’ve known her for, you know, almost 30 years and we kind of grew up together as scientists in a way. Barb doesn’t really go into the neurobiological underpinnings of upward spirals and broaden and build kinds of ideas, but I think she’s really on the mark in the sense that it’s all about creating opportunities for yourself to learn patterns that are productive for you and productive for the people around you.

And when things feel very automatic because your brain is just predicting very automatically, we have a sense of what’s called fluency in the scientific literature, but basically it feels like flow or pleasure. We just when something is easy, it feels good and we like it and we’ll do more of it.

I think the one place you know, what I would say is that sometimes working together is hard. And because we’re actually trying to maybe solve a problem that’s hard and not necessarily an interpersonal problem between the two of us, but maybe we’re working together on a project, which is challenging, it requires us to learn a lot of new things, not just about each other, but about the topic that we’re working on. And in those kinds of cases feeling unpleasant doesn’t mean that something is wrong. It just means that your brain is working hard.

When you exercise after about 20 minutes, you hit the threshold where you can’t expel carbon dioxide fast enough, and so it starts to build up and you start to feel a little bit unpleasant and the yuck factor in exercise goes up a little bit, you know, the longer you do it in a workout session. But that’s not evidence that something bad is happening that’s evidence that your brain and your body are working really hard. And as long as you replenish what you spend, that will actually be a great investment of your energy. And the same thing is true about learning a new skill. Sometimes it can feel unpleasant, and when you share in that unpleasantness with each other, not by taking things out on each other, but in a team where everyone knows that whatever the problem is that you’re working on at work is hard and it sucks sometimes, but you can share that with each other. Share the burden of that with each other that can actually be an opportunity for more trust and more teamwork, better teamwork.

Ben [00:14:59] Absolutely, my partner and I, my wife and I certainly reflect on that pattern that exists and talk about, you know, ways of changing it together. Marie, I feel like I’m hogging a lot of the airspace here. Would you like to jump in?

Marie [00:15:09] The scientists are having a wonderful time. I’m listening to you guys in my non-scientific brain is thinking; this sounds to me like predictive text. You know, when you’re sending a text message and then the phone starts to predict what you might want to say next. And if you were to rely on predictive text, you could end up in a lot of trouble. You got to go back to that message and review it and correct it before you hit send. And that, to me is when I think about the brain making predictions is that those predictions aren’t always right.

Lisa [00:15:38] That’s exactly correct, that’s a perfect analogy, and the interesting thing about the brain is that when your brain predicts it’s not some abstract thing that’s happening. A prediction is your brain is changing the firing of its own neurones to prepare an action, and an experience is preparing you to see and hear and smell and feel and taste and so on.

And when the information from the world and from your body comes to your brain, if it’s something unexpected, we call it prediction error. It’s just like, you know, when Siri or one of the other like automated machine learning little gadgets in your phone completes words for you that you didn’t say.

The thing about the brain is that if you have the energy and motivation to learn the new information, the information that your brain didn’t predict. So that’s our fancy name for this prediction error, it’s called learning. You know.

if you learn it, then that’s new information that your brain can use to predict differently in the future. But it can happen that your brain decides not to learn for one reason or another. And then your brain still predicts your experience and constructs it. It’s just not tailored particularly well to what’s going on around you in the world. So someone can, you know, speak to you in somewhat clipped tones and you know, you’re predicting and that person is being short with you or being tense with you or being disapproving of you in some way and to you, it feels like you’re just reading that reaction from them, like you would read words on a page, but actually your brain is guessing. And the thing to do there is to ask.

Ben [00:17:37] Dr. Barrett in your book and in other places, you’ve talked about how organisations, investment companies have spent a lot of money trying to teach machines, how to read emotions in devices and things like that, and that’s a little bit of a fruitless endeavour. Would you like to expand on that for our audience a little bit?

Lisa [00:17:54] Well, I haven’t really said it’s a fruitless endeavour. I said that the way that it’s currently being approached is profoundly misguided. So right now, and of course, I can’t speak for every AI company in existence, but the big companies and the ones that I know something about are building machine learning tools to detect facial movements like a scowl or a smile, or a frown on the assumption that scowling is the expression of anger and smiling is the expression of happiness, and frowning is the expression of sadness and so on. And so when their algorithms have a good detection rate for a scowl or a smile or a frown, they say, ah, we can detect anger or happiness or sadness and that’s wrong that is just categorically wrong because while people do scowl more than chance when they’re angry, they also do many other things with their faces. So people on average scowl about 30% of the time when they’re angry, which means that they’re doing something else meaningful with their face to express anger 70% of the time and that’s low reliability. So that means that algorithm, because it’s confounding or conflating a scowl with anger, is going to be wrong, 70% of the time. And similarly, people scowl when they’re not angry; they scowl for all kinds of reasons that have nothing to do with anger. Like when they’re confused, when they’re concentrating really hard, when someone tells them a bad joke, when they have gas. I mean, people scowl for all kinds of reasons. And that’s what we would call low specificity. You don’t want people judging your outcomes on the basis of flawed technology. And so the idea that companies are over-claiming or mis-claiming what they’re doing is a different kind of a statement, I would say than to claim that it’s a misguided endeavour because I think there are possible ways to learn to infer someone’s emotional state. I just think it’s a much harder, more expensive and way more interesting problem than the way that these companies are approaching it.

Marie [00:20:23] What about if you added another form of expression, which is voice? Do you think that you’d be more accurate in determining symptoms?

Lisa [00:20:31] No.

Marie [00:20:33] Scowl and voice together, for example.

Lisa [00:20:36] No, here’s why, you might get a little more, but it’s not going to be much because think about what you’re doing right now. Your brain is taking in, you’re looking at my face and you’re listening to my voice. But actually, your brain is taking in a ton of other information. It’s taking in a whole pattern of information, which includes things like the temperature of the room, the internal state of your own body.

There’s also a temporal context. What just happened before, like, we had a conversation before the podcast began. And so all of these things are a context or context are information that your brain is using to figure out and make a guess at what my movements mean. I mean, even things like your brain can code the amount of red flush in my face because brains actually are sensitive to that and make inferences about what it means that I might have a little flush on my chest or a little flush on my cheeks.

So, I guess my point here is that I agree with where you’re going with this for sure, which is the idea that if we were to measure many signals in that pattern and we were to measure a single person across time in lots of contexts, could we actually get a good vocabulary of patterns for anger and sadness and fear and awe and gratitude and all of the emotions in our culture? And the answer is yes.

And I would guess that maybe you have three patterns for anger and five patterns for gratitude. And maybe Ben has, I don’t know, two patterns for anger and eight patterns for happiness. And maybe I have some number two. And our listeners may have now and maybe some of them overlap, and maybe they don’t. Maybe some of them are unique to you. And in fact, that is what we’re actually doing, research like this and that is actually what we’re finding and it’s actually doable now to do this kind of research if people permit it, right, if they give their consent because, you know, there are privacy issues with doing it. But if people give their consent, we have the technology and we have the modeling tools to do it. But that’s more than just two signals. I mean, adding face and voice and maybe body is better than a face alone, but it’s still not going to give you the amount of information that you need to make inferences accurately and robustly.

Ben [00:23:11] Your research and theory, I think, has very broad implications for the concept of emotional intelligence and how we measure it and things like that. And I’d like to dive into that just a little bit with you if I can. If we take this emotional perception stuff that we’re talking about currently, if we look at the ability tests of emotional intelligence, a lot of them involve looking at faces and, you know, describing the emotion that you say, you’re looking at reading vignettes and, you know, saying what the right approach to take would be, how do you think your theory and findings fit with that kind of approach? Do you think that approach that’s a bit misguided or is sound?

Lisa [00:23:48] I think it’s misguided for the following reasons. Those faces that are used in those tests are caricatures. They’re stereotypes of Western expressions. When is the last time you saw someone win an Academy Award or an acting award, BAFTA, whatever, for like scowling in anger? Nobody scowls in anger unless they’re a cartoon figure.

Marie [00:24:15] I was going to say, yes.

Lisa [00:24:16] So my point is that those caricatures are posed, they’re exaggerated and they’re stereotypes. They reflect our beliefs, but they don’t reflect the range of what people do with their faces in real life. And that’s what we have to be teaching people. And actually, one of the reasons I wrote my first book, How Emotions Are Made, was because of that training. So everywhere in the Western world, there are little posters and books in every pre-school teaching children stereotypes of emotion that will not help them at all. And I came across a paper, a meta-analysis, which is just a big statistical summary of a bunch of studies showing that children on the autism spectrum are often trained to recognise these faces, these stereotypes, which is very hard. They work very hard and they can do it most of the time, but it doesn’t help them very much with their social adjustment. And I was thinking if I was a parent and I watched my kids struggle to do this, and I had such high hopes and then they did it, and then it didn’t help them at all. And then I learnt that the evidence had been there for 50 years, that it wasn’t going to help them. And so just the parent in me felt like compelled to say, okay, I really have to bring this evidence to the public and they can do with it what they want. They can take it seriously or not. It’s really up to them but at least somebody told them.

Marie [00:26:01] So put it in the context of the workplace, what are the implications of your research for the workplace?

Lisa [00:26:07] The implications are that, first of all, you don’t read anybody’s emotion, no matter how confident you are. I’m very confident that I’m very accurate. It doesn’t matter how confident you are. Nobody reads somebody else’s expression. Your brain is guessing and you can be wrong, so be humble and be curious that’s one lesson, I think. The second lesson is if you are predictable to other people, they will be predictable to you that has pros and cons. If you’re predictably helpful then people will respond. They’ll expect you, they’ll learn. They’ll learn to predict that you’ll be helpful. If you’re predictably an arsehole, they’re going to learn to predict that you’re going to be an arsehole. And it’s partly in your control. It’s not completely in your control, but it’s partly in your control what your stimulus value is for other people because all social interactions between buddies in the workplace, between managers and employees, between customers and people who work for a company, all of them are organised around this prediction. We are all influencing each other’s biology. We’re all regulating each other’s nervous systems, sometimes for better or for worse. You know, the best thing for a human nervous system is another human. The worst thing for a human nervous system is also another human. So you can figure out what kind of a human do you want to be with your co-workers. And the third thing I would say is that you have much more control over your emotions than you might think that you do. It might not be as much as you want, and it might not be the kind of control that you want, but you definitely have control over the emotions that your brain constructs even predictably. You just have to invest the time to practise certain skills to take that control.

Ben [00:28:01] One of the things I like to encourage people to do is to actively and intentionally engage in things that make them emotional. I love watching the talent shows, the golden buzzer moments in YouTube. I don’t know why, there’s something about achievement and seeing young people have a go, it just really moves me emotionally. And I think, I don’t know if I’m misguided or not. I’d be interested in your thoughts on that, Dr. Barrett. But I think it helps me regulate my emotions, learn more about my emotions and think more deeply about them.

Lisa [00:28:32] I think that’s exactly right. Whenever we build a skill, what do we do, we usually practise it. So, you know, cultivating opportunities to practise regulation is a really good idea. You know, I remember when my daughter was a very small girl, she was like four years old and she loved dinosaurs. You know, she went through the stage of a lot of little kids go through. She loved dinosaurs. And so for whatever reason that I can’t really quite capture now, my husband and I thought it was a very good idea for her to watch the Disney movie called Dinosaur, which is actually really scary. She cried all the way through it. She would not allow us to turn it off as she cried all the way through it. And then she asked to see it again and again and again. And what she was doing in this case is she was practising calming herself down.

Ben [00:29:21] So for the manager in the workplace, who’s a bit pushy and a bit impatient, who’s a bit domineering, or perhaps even a little bit John McEnroe, they often get themselves into a fair bit of trouble at work. For somebody like that, what would be your advice in terms of, say, becoming better with emotions?

Lisa [00:29:41] I would say be aware. So, you know, we haven’t really talked very much about how your brain is making emotions, how it’s constructing emotions. I would say you should try to be aware of the patterns that lead your brain to construct particular emotions just in the way that we talked about earlier, Ben. So for example, when your brain is constructing an emotion, it’s making sense of what is going on inside your body in relation to what’s going on around you in the world. So if you wake up in the morning and you haven’t got enough sleep or you’re, you know, dehydrated or, you know, you have a lot on your mind because of other things going on in your life, your nervous system is going to be like a little more compromised. You’re going to be metabolically a little more compromised and you’re going to feel unpleasant. And you’re that’s just a perfect opportunity to make a lot of different kinds of negative emotions.

Ben [00:30:37] Be a little bit more with John McEnroe, perhaps.

Lisa [00:30:39] Yes, exactly and so what I would do is I would try to become aware of that, and I would also let my employees know. And I think this is particularly for high-performing bosses where you’re multitasking a lot, you have a lot of balls in the air and you’re trying to track a lot of things that’s a perfect opportunity to feel like crap because you’re really overextended to some extent. And there’s a metabolic consequence to that that you’re going to feel as mood or affect this feeling of feeling unpleasant, that your brain, it’s just an invitation to become angry at someone or to become irritated or to become worried about something or, you know, any kind of negative emotion. And so one thing that you can do is you can try to take care of your nervous system, try to get enough sleep, try to do one thing at a time, if you can, you know, instead of multitasking. Try to get enough exercise. Don’t get dehydrated. It sounds crazy, but actually, the research shows in the workplace these kinds of tending to your physical needs, sleep, hydration, nutrition actually make a huge difference in work productivity, like the emotional climate of a workplace. But on days where you know you just don’t really have the spoons because something’s happened or you didn’t get enough sleep or whatever, you can just tell people.

Ben [00:32:01] Very good strategy, I didn’t sleep well, I’m going to be cranky and irritable today, don’t take it out on me.

Lisa [00:32:06] I am cranky and irritable. Don’t take it personally. It’s not about you. The other thing that you can do is you can cultivate moments in the day to give your nervous system a little break.

Ben [00:32:16] Six to eight breaths.

Marie [00:32:17] But what if that’s your default mood? Or what if that’s your personality? What if you know someone might be that way 99% of the time and you might tell me I haven’t slept and I’m, you know, I’m really cranky and whatever. But if I’ve heard that way too many times, I really don’t care from a workplace perspective.

Ben [00:32:35] You’re reinforcing a pattern that you commonly see.

Marie [00:32:37] And so from it, overall culture perspective from the way that person is perceived, is there something that the rest of the workplace can do, can think in order to manage a situation like that? Is it even fair, Dr. Barrett? Is it even fair that the rest of the organisation has to put up with this behaviour?

Lisa [00:32:58] Well, I think you should keep in mind that when I use this example, I wasn’t thinking of the case where someone is chronically sleep deprived or chronically cranky or chronically salty. I was thinking about the case where, well, if this happens occasionally to everybody, the sign of success often is that you have too much to do and not enough time to do it. So that’s a recipe for, you know, feeling cranky a lot and a lot of the time.

Ben [00:33:25] Pushy, impatient and domineering.

Lisa [00:33:28] But I think that if somebody is actually in a negative mood a lot of the time, the thing to do is to talk to that person and say, what can I do to be helpful because if their answer is nothing, then that means that they have to do something instead.

And sometimes you have to have a conversation with someone where you say, and, you know, as an underling, I’m not sure right, so if I’m a subordinate. If this is my boss, maybe it’s not my boss. Maybe I shouldn’t be having this conversation with my boss. Maybe it should be, you know, that person’s boss. You know, I think that occasionally you have to explain to someone what their stimulus value is. You know that they’re impacting their team in a particular way that is not productive and problem solve with them.

If you take the strategy that this is a joint problem to be solved, then you’re more likely to get a beneficial result than if you point a finger at someone and say you’re a nasty person, fix your personality.

One of the hardest things that we have to realise in our lives is that because we have more control over our emotions than we realise, that means we also have more responsibility. And, you know, if something really bad has happened to you, if you’re suffering from depression or another, you know, really challenging illness, it doesn’t mean that you’re responsible, that you’re culpable, you’re not responsible for the illness having been caused, but you are responsible for dealing with it only by virtue of the fact that nobody else can in the end, it has to be you. And that’s a really hard thing to realise but when you do, it’s very empowering to people.

Marie [00:35:23] You know what is really fascinating to me when I listen to both yourself and Ben speak about the science of emotion, and I don’t know if I’m oversimplifying it, but when it seems that it seems to me that one of the ways that you manage emotion is by actually not being emotional in your reaction. And actually, I feel like the word emotional being emotional has got such a bad rap over time, as almost like being emotional is actually more about being reactive. When you talk. Dr. Barrett, you gave that example of the, you know, the challenging situation at work. The response is about being mindful and taking stock, maybe slowing things down a bit and considering and then communicating effectively around the situation.

Lisa [00:36:12] What you’re doing there, though, when you’re mindful, literally what you’re doing is changing the context that you’re in because even though you physically might be in the same situation, in the same like physical environment, you are being mindful means, you’re paying attention to different features in that environment, which means that from your brain’s perspective, the situation has changed and it’s taken the cascade of predictions in a completely different direction that’s really what you’re doing when you’re being mindful. The key, I think, is to have a lot of flexibility in how your brain makes sense of what’s going on inside your body, meaning it has lots of opportunities to make lots of different emotions. And maybe sometimes the most emotionally intelligent thing to do is to not make an emotion. It’s to understand your experience in some other way.

Ben [00:37:05] We probably got time for one last wrap up question, I think, is there anything, Dr. Barrett, that you’d like to end with as a message for everybody out there listening today?

Lisa [00:37:13] I would say that, you know, it’s a challenging time for people right now. In most countries around the world, it doesn’t really matter where you are, there’s a lot going on and it’s really important to be compassionate with yourself and with other people. If you do that, your emotional life will be more pleasant and easier to manage.

Ben [00:37:35] Thank you very much. I think it is a very emotional time, and I think that any little things that we can do to be more compassionate towards each other and to ourselves is a very fruitful endeavour. I was reading the other day actually about the benefits of indoor plants. I don’t know if you’ve ever come across this research, but even caring for plants, talk about being compassionate, seems to be good for your own happiness and well-being so I’m led to believe.

Lisa [00:37:57] Indeed, there is fantastic research about the importance of greenery in general.

Marie [00:38:02] Well no plant has survived around me, so I don’t know what that says about me.

Ben [00:38:07] Slow down and become more aware.

Lisa [00:38:09] It means somebody needs to buy you a watering can, probably.

Marie [00:38:13] Well, maybe I should stick to the plastic variety. Thank you so much for your time. It’s been an absolute pleasure chatting with you.

Ben [00:38:22] Thank you, Dr. Barrett.

Lisa [00:38:23] My pleasure.

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