Basic Human Emotions
Over the last 40 years, Paul Ekman, who is an American psychologist and anthropologist, has been a pioneer in the study of nonverbal communication and emotions and, in particular, their relationship to facial expression. Through a series of studies, he found a high level of agreement across members of Western and Eastern cultures, and even in isolated cultures, on selecting emotional labels that fit facial expressions.
The expressions that he found to be universal include those of anger, fear, disgust, happiness, sadness and surprise. It's now presumed that these are hardwired and physiologically distinctive.
You'll recognise these emotions yourself.
With anger, there's a flushed face, eyebrows move inwards, the nostrils flare and the jaw clenches.
With fear, eyes widen, pupils dilate, the upper lip rises and lips stretch horizontally.
With disgust, the nose screws up, the eyes screw up and the corners of the mouth turn down.
With happiness, the corners of the mouth rise up in a smile, the eyes lighten, the cheeks rise and the corners of the
With sadness, eyelids droop, the corners of the mouth drop and the corners of the brows rise.
With surprise, the eyebrows rise, eyes widen, forehead wrinkles and the jaw drops open.
These expressions are shown across the entire face, although these emotions can be shown as tiny expressions and sometimes they register only in parts of the face.
Subtle expressions may occur for many reasons. For example, the emotional experience may be very slight or the emotion may just be beginning.
Viewing and experiencing the facial expressions of others can lead to changes in your emotional experience.
Subsequently, Paul Ekman added another basic human emotion to the six that he originally identified, that of contempt or smugness.
Contempt is the only unilaterally expressed emotion as it only occurs on one side of the face. The eyes are neutral, the lips tighten but it's a unilateral smile with the lip curled up on one side of the face.
This emotion involves judgements and some feeling of superiority. There seems to be some debate as to whether this is a universal emotion but it seems to be universally expressed and it seems to be recognised by everyone.
More About Emotions
Charles Darwin first suggested that emotions are innate, inborn and rooted in our ancestry in his book "Expressions of Emotions in Man and Animals", published in 1872. Paul Ekman in the 60s showed, through his psychological and anthropological work looking at basic emotions, that six basic stereotypical emotional expressions - happiness, fear, anger, surprise, disgust and sadness - can be identified. This was his initial work and as we've seen he's added to this.
Since then the debate has opened up. Dozens of studies have produced similar results, but it's now thought that basic emotions include shame, indicated by a downturn head and bad posture, and pride, indicated by a puffed up chest and tall posture. These are social emotions.
Their expression resembles the dominance and submission postures of other social primates suggesting that they are inherited from very distant ancestors.
The Wheel of Emotion
Robert Plutchik's Wheel of Emotions extends the idea of basic emotions. This three dimensional model describes the relationships between emotions which is helpful in understanding the complexity of emotions as they interact and change over time.
The eight sections indicate eight primary emotion dimensions. These are the six basic emotions that we're familiar with, with the addition of two extra - anticipation and trust.
Each of these emotions has an opposite emotion.
The opposite of sadness is joy.
The opposite of anger is fear.
The opposite of anticipation is surprise.
The opposite of trust is disgust.
This makes a lot of sense.
At the top of the cone, and in the centre of the wheel, the emotions intensify. So, for example, disgust becomes loathing. If left unchecked emotions will certainly intensify. Moving from the centre towards the three dimensional cone's apex the emotions lessen so that disgust becomes boredom.
Finally, between the segments where the emotions have no colour, in the two dimensional model, the emotion is a mixture of the two primary emotions. So disgust and anger become contempt and disgust and sadness become remorse.
Emotions are often complex and interrelated and change over time, and this research goes some way to help our understanding.
The skill with working with emotions is to recognise your own feelings and emotions - what they are and what they mean.
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