Primary Emotions (A Comprehensive Guide)

Our living habits and responses to others are influenced by various types of emotions.

Various emotions affect our behaviors differently.

Sometimes, these emotions even rule our minds. At a certain moment, the emotions that we are experiencing are the reasons for our choices, our actions, and our opinions.

We are sometimes being slaves of our own emotions.

Learning about the various kinds of emotions that people experience during their lifetime, is a very interesting subject for psychologists.

There are many different theories that categorize and explain the emotions of people. In this article, we will discuss the primary emotions.

Primary Emotions:

Mr. Paul Eckman, a very well known psychologist from the 1970s’ wrote about the six primary emotions.

He said that all human cultures on this earth experience these primary emotions.

He recognized those Primary emotions like happiness, sadness, disgust, fear, surprise, and anger.

He further added some more emotions to his primary emotions lists, such as pride, shame, embarrassment, and excitement, which makes his list extended to ten primary emotions.

 Merging Emotions:

A psychologist named Robert Plutchik Introduced a wheel that worked liked a color wheel and named it a “wheel of emotions” or ‘Feelings Wheel‘.

As we create new shades from mixing different colors, emotions can also be combined to develop new or different feelings.

If we follow this theory, it will result that more primary emotions that can be found or build like a building of blocks.

It becomes more complex, when some mixed emotions make combinations of these more elementary ones.

As an example, we can say that joy and trust can make a combination to create love.

Although love is primarily considered as a choice but in this case it can be considered as an emotion.

People maintain an emotion chart to understand their emotions better, which helps in their daily life.

Previously, the experts believed that there are only a few primary emotions, but the latest study, held in 2017, discovered that there are many more basic emotions.

During this study, researchers, who conducted this study, and the study was published in a journal, Proceedings of National Academy of Sciences, have claimed to identify 27 different categories of primary emotions.

The researchers found that people experience their emotions as an incline instead of being completely different.

To understand this situation we need to have a closer look at these basic emotions.

This will help us to discover the influence of these emotions on our social behavior.


One of the most desirous types of emotion that people want more is pleasure or happiness.

Happiness is a very pleasant emotional state of mind. It can be best defined by its basic characters that are the feelings of gladness, enjoyment, fulfillment, and welfare.

Since the 1960s’, researchers have significantly increased their research on happiness in a countable number of disciplines.

A new branch of psychology, known as positive psychology, is also introduced in this regard.

Emotions like this are expressed in various ways, some of which are as follows;

Ø  Facial Expressions.

Ø  Body Language.

Ø  Pleasant Voice Tone.

The things that in our perceptions, can create emotions of happiness, are widely influenced by our culture and customs.

Although happiness is considered as an elementary human emotion, it is different in every culture.

For example, in some cultures, peoples love to live in big families, as it gives them happiness and satisfaction, while in some other cultures, people feel happy and satisfied when they leave their parents’ home and start living alone or with their pair.

Actually, it is more complex than it looks like to understand the reasons that give happiness to the people.

It also varies from person to person as per their needs and cultures and other factors. 

It is an old belief that happiness and health are connected. Recent studies have proven this idea.

Studies confirmed that happiness plays a vital role in both physical and mental health.

It is a saying that there is no health without mental health.

We can easily prove the link of happiness to various positive health outcomes; on the other hand, unhappy feelings can be linked to so many negative health outcomes.

For example, low immunity increased irritation, and decreased life probability can be caused due to stress, anxiety, depression, and solitude.


Another very important emotion or feeling is Sadness.

It is a very strange and dangerous feeling or emotion.

It is often defined by the feelings of dissatisfaction, sorrow, uselessness, and dampened the mood.

People often experience this emotion as they experience other emotions. Sometimes their sad feelings prolonged and these prolonged periods of sadness became the cause of depressions.

Emotions of Sadness can be expressed in various ways including;

  • Crying
  • Dampened mood
  • Lethargy
  • Quietness
  • Withdrawal from others

The root cause plays a very important role in the kind and harshness of sadness.

People’s way of dealing with such feelings can be different too. Sadness becomes the cause of very strange behaviors of people.

They engage themselves in various behaviors in order to cope with such feelings, for example, avoiding relations, self-medication, and negative thoughts are common behaviors.

Sadness could be prolonged and become worse due to such behaviors.


One of the most powerful emotions, that play a vital role in our life for survival, is fear.

If a person finds himself in danger or faces some uncertain unwanted circumstances, he or she will experience fear.

This feeling puts him or her in flight or fight mode.

In such a situation our whole body will start responding immediately.

Increasing heartbeat, growing respiratory and tense muscles are the immediate responses of fear.

Our minds will become more active and will decide to face fear or run from it according to the situation.

Response to fear feelings ensures our planning to deal with threats effectively while staying in our environment.

Expressions of this sort of feeling can comprise:

It is obvious that everyone will not experience fear in the same way.

Less sensitive people are likely to react less to the fear of feeling.

While some others that are more sensitive, will react more to the fear feeling, certain situations and objects are also likely to trigger this emotion.

To any immediate threat, our emotional response is fear. 

As a reaction to expected threats or our negative thoughts about possible danger, we create a reaction the same as fear.

This is in general called anxiety.

For instance, if we are involved in a possible fear of social situations, it is called social anxiety.

The fear feeling is a kind of emotion that is not very much welcome by people.

But there are some people out there, who actually enjoy this feeling and seem to thrive for it.

They use this feeling in their favor. Extreme sports, hill climbing, and some other thrilling activities are such situations in which people actually seek fear-provoking conditions, because, in such cases, fear feeling helps them to win or overcome the situation.

Fear, feeling, and anxiety would be reduced if we will face the same situation again and again.

Experts use exposure therapy on people to overcome the fear of feeling in a controlled and safe manner.

In this, they make people face the things that frighten them, gradually and again, and again while controlling other factors like duration and others.

Ultimately, their fear of emotion starts to decrease, and finally it will be controlled.


Out of other primary emotions, disgust is another as described by psychologists. Is can be expressed in many ways including;

  • Body language:
  • Physical reactions:
  • Facial expressions:

Feelings of disgust can be initiated due to various things and factors.

It can be originated due to some unpleasant tastes, sights, or smells.

It is also believed by some researchers that some harmful or fatal foods might react to the initiative factor of this emotion.

When people taste or smell rotten foods, it causes some chemical reactions into their bodies, which becomes the reason for this emotion.

Some other factors that might be the reasons for triggering this emotion included poor hygiene, infection, blood, and death.


Anger is the most powerful emotion of the primary emotions.

Its characters include hostility, agitation, frustration, and antagonism towards others.

This feeling also puts people in flight or fight mode just like fear feelings.

Emotions of anger can be expressed by:

  • Facial expressions:
  • Body language:
  • The tone of voice:
  • Physiological responses:
  • Aggressive behaviors:

Although anger is always considered as a negative emotion, in some conditions it is good to be angry.

Anger could play a very constructive and helping role to clarify our needs in a relationship.

It is also a motivating power to find solutions to the problems that bother you.


Out of other primary emotions, as described by psychologists, the surprise is the most important and enjoyed emotions.

Its characters are very brief. Its psychological responses are sometimes very unexpected.

This emotion can be expressed positively, negatively, neutrally, and unpleasantly as well.

Surprise can be expressed by the following:

  • Facial expressions:
  • Physical responses:
  • Verbal reactions:

This emotion is also a kind of emotion that triggers the fight or flight response.

These emotions can affect human behavior very importantly. Surprise news and unusual events are very important because surprises have a very profound and long-lasting effect on memory.

Studies found that surprising arguments and surprising information tend to be more influenced by people.

Other Types of Emotions:

Eckman has described six Primary Emotions, but people are experiencing many more different types of emotions, Eckman’s described motions are only a portion.

Through-out the world, in all cultures, Eckman’s theory can be considered as a universal theory.

Researchers are still learning to explore the new various kinds of emotions.

They are also learning how to classify them in different categories.

Researchers have classified some emotions as secondary emotions, these emotions are not essentially identifiable by facial expressions.

A shortlist of these emotions included the following;

  • Amusement
  • Contempt
  • Contentment
  • Embarrassment
  • Excitement
  • Guilt
  • Pride in achievement
  • Relief
  • Satisfaction
  • Shame

FAQ about Primary emotions. 

 Describe the 4 primary emotions?

There are 4 basic emotions that are also called primary emotions; these emotions are happy, sad, afraid, and angry according to a study.

Differentiate between primary and secondary emotions?

It is very easy and simple to understand Primary emotions.

Primary emotions are actually our reactions to outer happenings. Sometimes, some unwanted events trigger our emotions.

When we feel about the primary emotions itself, this feeling is called secondary emotions.

For instance: if we are being hurt, and we feel anger about it, or we feel anxiety and then feel shame about being anxious.

Is love an emotion or feeling?

Love is not either an emotion nor a feeling, in fact, it is a choice.

But when we choose to love and fall in a warm relationship, we experience primary emotions and feelings.

Our physical experiences are the basic reasons for our emotions and feelings like anger, happiness, sorrow, excitement, etc.

References: “an overview of the types of emotions”.

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