Why your Emotions Live Where they do

Emma Barnes
4 min readJul 3, 2023

In How Emotions are Made, Lisa Feldman Barrett describes “the classical view of emotion” and new consensus which she calls the “theory of constructed emotion”.

The classical view

This framework paints fear, anger, delight and joy as universal experiences: every person, from every culture, experiences these emotions because they are pre-determined, heritable features of human beings. Different cultures may describe them differently only because their language and culture imperfectly captures the emotions described by… um, the western canon.

The constructed view

This one doesn’t presume so much. It posits that we build our emotional fingerprints with stories and training, rather than leaving it entirely up to our genes. In a manner of speaking, cultural stories interact with our bodies to make our emotions.

For example, a Dane who experiences the warmth of hygge (“a quality of cosiness and comfortable conviviality that engenders a feeling of contentment or well-being”) does so in community with others who experience the same thing. And they experience it in the peculiar way that only a Danish people can, thanks to the stories and experiences of their childhood.

In short, The constructed view holds space for intercultural variation in a way the classical view cannot: Danes are not describing cosiness but with a Danish accent: They’re experiencing a different thing.



Emma Barnes

Autistic, trans, survivor, abolitionist @friedkrill on Twitstagram