Velvet Learning
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Velvet Learning

How Emotions Are Made: 11: Emotion & the Law

Here are my notes on the 11th chapter of “How Emotions Are Made” by Lisa Feldman Barrett.

  • The ultimate rules for emotions in any society are set by its legal system.
  • The U.S. is shaped by a classical view on emotions, and an essentialist view of human nature. Judges try to separate emotion and reason. Jurors look for “remorse”.
  • The law says you’re responsible for your actions if you haven’t been commandeered by your emotions
  • Free will, defendant’s feelings, just moral decisions, nature of harm (physical, tissue and emotional) are all born from essentialism. Neuroscience is debunking all of them.
  • There are common myths about emotions in the legal system that requires a biologically richer theory that is grounded in realistic neuroscience.
  • Rational killing is worse than emotional killing. 1st degree vs. 2nd degree. Heat of passion defense. This myth assumes there is one universal type of anger. The law assumes that cognitive control is rational thought, deliberate action/free will. It defines culpable as harmful action that you mean and do with free will. Debunk: Most instances of anger doesn’t lead to murder. Moments of emotions (even anger) are not synonymous with moments of out of control. Sometimes your control network plays a larger role in the construction process and other times its role is less but it is ALWAYS involved. Your brain uses sensory and motor neurons that interact with association neuros. Those association neurons have the ability to inhibit or stimulate a response.
  • You just don’t always feel in control. Your experience of being in control is just an experience.
  • The law defines deliberate choice/free will as whether you “feel” in control of your thoughts and actions. It fails to distinguish between your ability to choose, workings of your control network and subjective experience of choice.
  • Emotions are not temporary deviations from reality. They are your constructions of the world and no more out of control than thoughts, perceptions, beliefs or memories.
  • The law is based on what a “reasonable” person would do. This represents the norms of society. It is “Here is what we expect a human person to act like and we will punish you id you don’t conform.” It is a legal standard based on an average person that doesn’t exist. It is based on a stereotype with ideas about emotional expression.
  • Anger — There are different standards for women and men that are also based on stereotypes. These stereotypes impact how and for how long women are imprisoned. If a women shows anger vs. regret and grief she gets a longer sentence. This also impacts people with different skin colors.
  • When people perceive emotion in a man they usually attribute it to his situation. But with Women its connected to her personality.
  • There is no scientific justification for the laws view of men and women’s emotions. They come from an outdated view of human nature.
  • Sometimes biological problems can interfere with your brain’s ability to choose your actions with intent. But mere variability in the brain is not an extenuating circumstance for a crime. Variation is the norm.
  • There is NO objective criterion for anger, sadness, fear or any other emotion relevant to a trial.
  • Mental inference- Pervasive and automatic. It is a combination of other’s actions and concepts in your own brain.
  • Criminal intent- Can only be guessed at. Jurors infer intent usually in line with their own beliefs, stereotypes and current body stats.
  • Bias — Our brain is wired for us to see what we believe. It is usually outside of our awareness.
  • Affective realism — Influences the law. The Stand Your Ground and Conceal and Carry.
  • Our senses don’t reveal objective reality and this should influence our laws now.
  • Eye witnesses can’t access some unblemished version of reality. Witnesses and defendants do not report a collection of facts but a description of their own perceptions.
  • 70% of accused rapists were convicted based on an eyewitness and later exonerated by DNA evidence.
  • Memories are like simulations
  • MJ, OR & MA provide jurors with instruction on how memory can go wrong with witnesses, police officers and lawyers.
  • Judges think reason without emotions are better. Our brains don’t divide passion from reason.
  • No emotion = no affect which is biologically impossible without brain damage.
  • Mental and physical- there are porous differences
  • Mental anguish — and the law — practical reasons- hard to measure objectively.



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