Distinctions between body and mind

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A note for Lesson no. 6, "Brains Make More Than One Kind of Mind," in Seven and a Half Lessons About the Brain by Lisa Feldman Barrett.
Some context from page 103–104 is:

For example, many Western cultures draw strong dividing lines between the mental and the physical. [...] But in some Eastern cultures, such as those that practice Buddhism, mind and body are much more integrated.

In many Western cultures, such as those found in the United States, we make big distinctions between bodies and minds. We mentalize our physical experiences: “That ache was caused by anxiety.” Or, “that shortness of breath was caused by lust.” We even consider it an error for someone to have a psychological symptom but think it’s just physical. Western psychologists and psychiatrists call this “somatization,” and variations of this disorder have been listed in diagnostic manuals like the DSM and ICD for many years.

Not all cultures make this mind-body distinction, however; some examples are found in Papua New Guinea, China, aboriginal Australia, and the Anlo Ewe group of West Africa.[1][2][3]

Sometimes it’s useful to think about physical changes as being caused by psychological changes. If you have a stomachache every time your boss walks by, those two events might be related. But in the final analysis, psychological events do not cause physical changes separately from their own physical manifestation. So idea that you could “misperceive” anxiety as a stomachache is biologically incorrect and philosophically problematic, because it assumes a mind-body dualism made famous by the philosopher Rene Descartes, aptly called “Cartesian dualism.” As I explained in my previous book, How Emotions are Made: The Secret Life of the Brain,[4] no physical change in your body has an objective psychological meaning. Your brain makes the meaning in the moment by prediction (as you learned in lesson no. 4).


  1. Mesquita, Batja and Nico Fridja. 1992. “Cultural Variations in Emotion: A Review.” Psychological Bulletin 112 (2): 179–204.
  2. Russell, James A. 1991. “Culture and the Categorization of Emotions.” Psychological Bulletin 110 (3): 426–450.
  3. Chentsova-Dutton, Yulia E., and Vivian Dzokoto. 2014. “Listen to Your Heart: The Cultural Shaping of Interoceptive Awareness and Accuracy.” Emotion 14 (4): 666–678.
  4. Barrett, Lisa Feldman. 2017. How Emotions are Made: The Secret Life of the Brain. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.