Lisa Feldman Barrett, PhD, is University Distinguished Professor of Psychology and Director of the Interdisciplinary Affective Science Laboratory (IASLab) at Northeastern University (affective-science.org). She also holds research appointments at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH)/Harvard Medical School in the Psychiatric Neuroimaging Program in the Department of Psychiatry, and at the Martinos Center for Biomedical Imaging in the Department of Radiology. Her research focuses on how the human brain, in continual conversation with the human body and the world, regulates the body and creates mental events, such as episodes of emotion.
Dr. Barrett completed her undergraduate degree at the University of Toronto in 1986 with a major in psychology and minors in linguistics and anthropology. She was the first person in her extended family to attend university. To pay for her university education, she worked in a public library and several psychology laboratories simultaneously while going to school.
Dr. Barrett attended graduate school at the University of Waterloo, in Waterloo Ontario, where she trained as a clinical psychologist with the intent of becoming a therapist. During the first three years of graduate school, she conducted eight experiments on the nature of self-representations and their implications for emotional experience, trying in vain to replicate published psychology studies. These failures to replicate actually revealed a new discovery that set her on the path to her current research career. She completed her PhD in 1991 and her clinical internship at the University of Manitoba in 1992.
Dr. Barrett’s first academic job was as Assistant Professor of clinical psychology at the Pennsylvania State University where she remained for four years until 1996, followed by a job as Assistant Professor in Interdisciplinary Emotion Studies at Boston College, where she became Professor of psychology and remained until 2010. She spent much of the first decade of her career receiving additional training and expertise in psychophysiology (funded by an NSF CAREER award), and neuroanatomy and neuroscience (funded by a NIMH Independent Scientist Research K02 Award in 2002). She built a research program that focused on the nature of emotion from psychological and neuroscience perspectives. Her work was explicitly multidisciplinary and incorporated insights from anthropology, philosophy, linguistics, and the history of psychology.
During her career, Dr. Barrett has established her reputation as a methodological and theoretical innovator in psychology. She was an early adopter and innovator of experience-sampling methods and developed experience-sampling software that was made freely available to labs all around the world. In 2007, she received an NIH Director’s Pioneer Award for transformative research on the neurobiological basis of emotion. Her work quantified emotions as flexible biological categories filled with diverse, situated instances, and challenged the conventional scientific wisdom that emotions are universal patterns triggered by simple, dedicated neural circuits. This work produced several papers that are considered by some to be “modern classics” on the nature of emotion.
Dr. Barrett’s research on emotion provided the foundation to develop a broader scientific approach to understand the structure and function of the brain as predictive, rather than reactive. Dr. Barrett’s current research adds insights from evolutionary and developmental neuroscience, cultural evolution, and systems engineering, placing energy regulation and motivation at the core of the human brain function. Correspondingly, her work offers a trans-disorder approach to understand mental and physical health and illness. Dr. Barrett’s colleagues have called her research “groundbreaking,” “inspirational,” and “transformative,” and her IASLab has been continuously funded for more than 20 years by the US National Institute on Aging, the US National Institute of Mental Health, the US National Cancer Institute, the US National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, the National Science Foundation, and the US Army Research Institute for Behavioral Science.
Dr. Barrett is among the top 1% of the most-cited scientists in the world, according to Web of Science, with more than 250 peer-reviewed scientific papers and exceptional performance across several fields. (See h-index and citations on Google Scholar.) She has also edited five scientific volumes, including the 3rd and 4th editions of the Handbook of Emotion, published by Guilford Press.
Dr. Barrett has been called “the most important affective scientist of our time” and “the deepest thinker on [the nature of emotion] since Darwin.” She has been honored with election to numerous scientific societies, including the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the Royal Society of Canada.
Dr. Barrett has been honored with numerous awards for her research, including a Career Trajectory Award from the Society for Experimental Social Psychology (2006), a Diener Mid-Career Award in Social Psychology from the Society for Personality and Social Psychology (2014), and the McGovern Award Lecture in the Behavioral Sciences, American Association for the Advancement of Science (2020).
Dr. Barrett has also received awards for service to the field of psychology, including the Distinguished Scientific Contribution Award in Psychology (2021) and the Award for Distinguished Service to Psychological Science (2013), both from the American Psychological Association. She also received the Mentor Award for Lifetime Achievement from the Association for Psychological Science (2018). More than 60 of her current and former students, as well as younger colleagues, collaborated on her nomination letter for the Mentor Award, in which they describe Dr. Barrett as a “inspirational,” “generous” and “dedicated” mentor and role model who is “a brilliant intellectual,” and a “fearless” leader whose “passion is infectious and enticing.” Many of them are now professors at institutions in the US (such as Yale University, the University of North Carolina, the University of California, Davis and UCLA) and around the world (in Israel, Spain, the Netherlands and Japan, for example).
Dr. Barrett co-founded the Society for Affective Science (SAS) with Dr. James Gross, serving as its president in 2014-2015. She founded the journal Emotion Review, published by Sage, with Dr. James Russell and with him served as its Editor-in-Chief (2007-2012). She has served on the editorial boards of psychology’s most important journals, including Psychological Science (since 2007), Psychological Review (2007-2012) and Current Directions in Psychological Science (2020-2023). She also served as president of the Association for Psychological Science (APS) in 2019–2020. Her monthly columns in APS’s The Observer were widely read for their thought-provoking themes.
Dr. Barrett is also highly regarded for educating the public about science, publishing articles in The New York Times, Popular Science, Nautilus, Cosmopolitan, and Time magazine (for a full list, see LisaFeldmanBarrett.com). Her TED Talk, published in January 2018, has been viewed over 6 million times (as of March 2021) and was among the 25 most popular talks in 2018. Her research has been discussed in over 300 pieces published by major media outlets, including on NPR, NBC, and Invisibilia, and in The Wall Street Journal, WIRED magazine and Time. Dr. Barrett works with museums, such as the Boston Museum of Science, to help them utilize the most current scientific insights on emotion and neuroscience. She also educates lawyers, judges and other legal actors about emotion, neuroscience and the law as Chief Science Officer of the Center for Law, Brain and Behavior at MGH. In 2007, she testified before US Congress in support of basic behavioral research, and in 2016 she testified before the Massachusetts Supreme Court.
Dr. Barrett’s first popular science book, How Emotions Are Made: The Secret Life of the Brain, was published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in 2017 to much acclaim. It was described as “brilliant and original”, “mind blowing”, and “a delight to read,” and was chosen as a Best Book of 2017 by Kirkus Reviews. How Emotions Are Made was also a semi-finalist for the 2018 PEN/E. O. Wilson Literary Science Writing Award. In 2019, Dr. Barrett was named a Guggenheim Fellow for her 2020 book, Seven and a Half Lessons About the Brain; the book was also supported in part by a generous grant from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. She is currently working on an academic book for MIT Press with Dr. Barbara Finlay, describing an evolutionary and developmental neuroscience approach to understand motivation and affect.
Learn more at LisaFeldmanBarrett.com.
Campus-Wide Convocation Day Committee Members
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- Dr. Robert Congdon, Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics Division
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- Professor Gian Roma, Business and Public Services Division
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