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Discover what the Basic Emotions are and how they affect behavior

There are many types of emotions that influence the way we live and interact with others. At times, it may seem that we are governed by these emotions. The decisions we make, the actions we take and the perceptions we have are influenced by the emotions we experience at any given moment.

Psychologists have also tried to identify the different types of emotions that people experience. A few different theories have emerged to classify and explain the emotions people feel.

Cómo expresar tus emociones de manera saludable.

In the 1970s, psychologist Paul Eckman identified six basic emotions that, according to him, are universally experienced in all human cultures. The emotions he identified were happiness, sadness, disgust, fear, surprise and anger. Later, he expanded his list of basic emotions to include such things as pride, shame, embarrassment and excitement.

Psychologist Robert Plutchik proposed a “wheel of emotions” that worked something like the color wheel. Emotions can be combined to form different feelings, just as colors can be mixed to create other shades.

According to this theory, the most basic emotions act as building blocks. More complex emotions, sometimes mixed, are mixtures of these more basic ones. For example, basic emotions such as joy and trust can combine to create love.

A 2017 study suggests that there are many more basic emotions than previously thought. In the study published in Proceedings of National Academy of Sciences, researchers identified 27 different categories of emotions.

However, rather than being totally distinct, the researchers found that people experience these emotions along a gradient. Let’s take a closer look at some of the basic types of emotions and explore the impact they have on human behavior.


La felicidad según la psicología y su significado.

Of all the types of emotions, the happiness is often the most sought after. Happiness is often defined as a pleasant emotional state characterized by feelings of contentment, joy, satisfaction and well-being.

Research on happiness has grown considerably since the 1960s in several disciplines, including the branch of psychology known as positive psychology. This type of emotion is sometimes expressed through

  • Facial expressions: such as smiling
  • Body language: such as a relaxed posture
  • Tone of voice: an upbeat and pleasant way of speaking

Although happiness is considered one of the basic human emotions, the things we think of as creating happiness tend to be heavily influenced by culture. For example, pop culture influences tend to emphasize that achieving certain things such as buying a house or having a well-paying job will result in happiness.

The reality of what actually contributes to happiness is often much more complex and more individualized. People have long believed that happiness and health were connected, and research has supported the idea that happiness can play a role in physical and mental health.

Happiness has been linked to a number of outcomes, such as greater longevity and greater marital satisfaction. Conversely, unhappiness has been linked to a range of negative health outcomes.

Stress, anxiety, depression, and loneliness, for example, have been linked to such things as decreased immunity, increased inflammation, and reduced life expectancy.


Sadness is another type of emotion that is usually defined as a transitory emotional state characterized by feelings of disappointment, grief, hopelessness, disinterest and a dull mood.

Like other emotions, sadness is something that all people experience from time to time. In some cases, people may experience prolonged and severe periods of sadness that can develop into depression. Sadness can be expressed in a number of ways, including

  • Crying
  • Low mood
  • Lethargy
  • Silence
  • Withdrawal from others

The type and severity of sadness can vary depending on the cause of the sadness, and the way people cope with these feelings can also vary.

Sadness can lead people to adopt coping mechanisms such as avoiding others, self-medicating, and ruminating on negative thoughts. These behaviors can exacerbate feelings of sadness and prolong the duration of the emotion.


Fear is a powerful emotion that can also play an important role in survival. When one is faced with some type of danger and experiences fear, one goes through what is known as the fight or flight response.

Your muscles tense, your heart rate and breathing increase, and your mind becomes more alert, which prepares your body to flee from danger or to fight back.

This response helps you to be prepared to deal effectively with threats in your environment. Expressions of this type of emotion can include

  • Facial expressions: such as widening the eyes and tilting the chin backward
  • Body language: attempts to hide or run away from the threat
  • Physiological reactions: such as breathing and racing heartbeat

Of course, not everyone experiences fear in the same way. Some people may be more sensitive to fear and certain situations or objects may be more likely to trigger this emotion.

Fear is the emotional response to an immediate threat. We may also develop a similar reaction to anticipated threats or even to our thoughts about potential dangers, and this is what we generally think of as anxiety. Social anxiety, for example, involves an anticipatory fear of social situations.

On the other hand, some people seek out situations that provoke fear. Extreme sports and other thrills can induce fear, but some people seem to thrive on and even enjoy these sensations.

Repeated exposure to a fear-provoking object or situation can lead to familiarity and acclimation, which can reduce feelings of fear and anxiety.6

This is the idea behind exposure therapy, in which people are gradually exposed to things that frighten them in a controlled and safe manner. Over time, the feelings of fear begin to diminish.


Disgust is another of the original six basic emotions described by Eckman. Disgust can be manifested in a number of ways, including

  • Body language: turning away from the object of disgust
  • Physical reactions – such as vomiting or retching
  • Facial expressions: such as wrinkling of the nose and curving of the upper lip

This feeling of disgust can originate from a number of things, such as an unpleasant taste, sight or smell. Researchers believe that this emotion evolved as a reaction to foods that could be harmful or deadly. When people smell or taste food that has gone bad, for example, disgust is a typical reaction.

Lack of hygiene, infections, blood, putrefaction and death can also trigger a disgust response. This may be the body’s way of avoiding things that may carry communicable diseases.

People may also experience moral disgust when they observe others engaging in behaviors that they consider disgusting, immoral, or evil.


Anger can be an especially powerful emotion characterized by feelings of hostility, agitation, frustration, and antagonism toward others. Like fear, anger can play a role in your body’s fight or flight response.

When a threat generates feelings of anger, you may be inclined to defend yourself from danger and protect yourself. Anger is often manifested through

  • Facial expressions: such as frowning or staring
  • Body language: such as taking a firm stance or turning around
  • Tone of voice: such as snapping or shouting
  • Physiological responses: such as sweating or turning red
  • Aggressive behaviors: such as hitting, kicking or throwing objects

Although anger is often thought of as a negative emotion, sometimes it can be a good thing. It can be constructive in helping to clarify your needs in a relationship, and it can also motivate you to take action and find solutions to things that bother you.

However, anger can become a problem when it is excessive or expressed in ways that are unhealthy, dangerous, or harmful to others. Uncontrolled anger can quickly turn into aggression, abuse or violence.

This type of emotion can have both mental and physical consequences. Uncontrolled anger can make it difficult to make rational decisions and can even impact physical health.

Anger has been linked to heart disease and diabetes. It has also been linked to health risk behaviors such as aggressive driving, alcohol consumption and smoking.


Surprise is another of the six basic types of human emotions originally described by Eckman. Surprise is usually quite brief and is characterized by a physiological startle response following something unexpected.

This type of emotion can be positive, negative, or neutral. An unpleasant surprise, for example, might consist of someone stepping out from behind a tree and startling you as you walk to your car at night.

An example of a pleasant surprise would be coming home to find that your closest friends have gathered to celebrate your birthday. Surprise is usually characterized by:

  • Facial expressions: such as raising your eyebrows, widening your eyes, and opening your mouth
  • Physical responses: such as jumping backwards
  • Verbal reactions : such as shouting, screaming, or gasping

Surprise is another type of emotion that can trigger the fight or flight response. When startled, people can experience a burst of adrenaline that helps prepare the body to fight or flee.

Surprise can have important effects on human behavior. For example, research has shown that people tend to fixate disproportionately on surprising events.

Thus, surprising and unusual events in the news tend to stand out in memory more than others. It has also been found that people tend to be persuaded by surprising arguments and learn more from surprising information.

The six basic emotions described by Eckman are only part of the many different types of emotions that people are capable of experiencing. Eckman’s theory suggests that these basic emotions are universal in all cultures around the world.

However, other theories and new research continue to explore the different types of emotions and their classification. Eckman later added other emotions to his list, but suggested that, unlike his original six emotions, not all of them could necessarily be encoded through facial expressions. Some of the emotions he subsequently identified were

  • Amusement
  • Contempt
  • Satisfaction
  • Embarrassment
  • Excitement
  • Guilt
  • Pride of accomplishment
  • Relief
  • Satisfaction
  • Shame

As with many concepts in psychology, not all theorists agree on how to classify emotions or what the basic emotions actually are. Although Eckman’s theory is one of the best known, other theorists have proposed their own ideas about which emotions constitute the core of human experience.

For example, some researchers have suggested that there are only two or three basic emotions. Others have suggested that emotions exist in a kind of hierarchy. Primary emotions, such as love, joy, surprise, anger, and sadness, can be divided into secondary emotions. Love, for example, is composed of secondary emotions, such as affection and nostalgia.

These secondary emotions can be further broken down into what are known as tertiary emotions. The secondary emotion of affect includes tertiary emotions, such as liking, fondness, compassion, and tenderness.

A more recent study suggests that there are at least 27 distinct emotions, all of which are highly interconnected. After analyzing the responses of more than 800 men to more than 2,000 video clips, the researchers created an interactive map to demonstrate how these emotions relate to each other.

“We found that it took 27 different dimensions, not six, to account for how hundreds of people reliably reported feeling in response to each video,” explained lead researcher Dacher Keltner, faculty director of the Greater Good Science Center.

In other words, emotions are not states that occur in isolation. Instead, the study suggests that gradients of emotion exist and that these different feelings are deeply interrelated.

Alan Cowen, lead author of the study and a doctoral student in neuroscience at UC Berkeley, suggests that better clarifying the nature of our emotions can play an important role in helping scientists, psychologists and clinicians learn more about how emotions underlie brain activity, behavior and mood. By better understanding these states, he hopes researchers can develop better treatments for psychiatric illnesses.

Ismael Abogado

Ismael Abogado

Psychologist and constant learner of the mind and soul.

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