How many emotions are there? In what ways do they vary? There are dozens of emotions. They include anger, contempt, enthusiasm, envy, fear, frustration disappointing, embarrassment, disgust, happiness, hate, hope, jealously, joy, love, pride, surprise, and sadness. There have been numerous research efforts to limit and define the dozens of emotions into a fundamental or basic set of emotions. But some researchers argue that it makes no sense to think of basic emotions because even emotions we rarely experience, such as shock, can have a powerful effect on us. Other researchers, even philosophers, argue that there are universal emotions common to all of us. Rene Descartes, often called the founder of modern philosophy, identified six “simple and primitive” passions – wonder, love, hatred, desire, joy, and sadness – and argued that ‘all the others are composed of some of these six or are species of them. Other philosophers identified categories of emotions. Though these philosophers were helpful, the burden to provide conclusive evidence for the existence of a basic set of emotions still rests with contemporary researchers.
In contemporary research psychologists have tried to identify basic emotional by studying facial expressions. One problem with this approach is that some emotions are too complex to be easily represented on our faces. Take love, for example. Many think of love as the most universal of all emotions, yet it’s not easy to express a loving emotion with one’s face only. Also, cultures have norms that govern emotional expression, so how we experience an emotion isn’t always the same as owe we show it. And many companies today offer anger management programs to teach people to contain or even hide their inner feelings.
It is unlikely psychologists or philosophers will ever completely agree on a set of basic emotions, or even whether it makes sense to think of basic emotions. Still enough researchers have agreed on six essentially universal emotions anger, fear, sadness, happiness, disgust and surprise with most other emotions subsumed under one of these six categories. Some researchers even plot these six emotions along a continuum: happiness – surprise – fear – sadness – anger – disgust. The closer any two emotions are to each other on this continuum the more likely it is that people will confuse them. Or instance, we sometimes mistake happiness or surprise but rarely do we confuse happens and disgust. In additional, as we’ll see later on, cultural factors can also influence interpretations.
Some Aspects of Emotions
There are some other fundamental aspects of emotions that we need to consider. These aspects include the biology of emotions, the intensity of emotions, their frequency and duration the relationship between rationality and emotions, and the functions of emotions Let’s deal with each of these aspects in turn.
The Biology of Emotions: All emotions originate in the brain’s limbic system which is about the size of a walnut and near our brain stem. People tend to be happiest (report more positive than negative emotions) when their limbic system is relatively inactive. When the limbic system ‘heats up’ negative emotions such as anger and guilt dominate over positive ones such as joy and happiness. Overall, the limbic system provides a lens through which you interpret events. When it’s active, you see things in a negative light. Then, it’s inactive, you interpret information more positively.
Not everyone’s limbic system is the same. Moderately depressed people have more active limbic systems, particularly when they encounter negative information. And women tend to have more active limbic systems than men which some argue explains why women are more susceptible to depression than men and are more likely to emotionally bond with children. Of course, as always, these are average differences – women are more likely to be depressed than men, but naturally that doesn’t mean that all depressed people are women or that men are incapable of bonding with their kids.