How Many Basic Emotions Do You Have?
For years, prevailing wisdom in psychology has said that people have 6 basic emotions – anger, fear, surprise, disgust, happiness and sadness – the others are simply combinations of those. This year, a study has come out of Scotland that suggests that we have only four basic emotions. The researchers reached their conclusions by studying 42 facial muscles while people expressed a variety of emotions. They watched the muscle movement in faces and decided that fear and surprise share a common signal of eyes wide open which suggests they constitute one basic emotion, not two. Also, in reactions of anger and disgust, they found that subjects’ noses initially wrinkle, therefore, constituting only one basic emotion.
This leaves the 4 most basic emotions as: anger/disgust, surprise/fear, happiness, and sadness.
They are not saying that anger and disgust are the same. Instead, they suggest that anger and disgust become different after the facial emotion has been given time to evolve, which may be as short as a fraction of a second.
Lead author Dr. Rachael Jack believes that basic emotions have an evolutionary function:
“First, early danger signals confer the best advantages to others by enabling the fastest escape. Secondly, physiological advantages for the expresser–the wrinkled nose prevents inspiration of potentially harmful particles, whereas widened eyes increases intake of visual information useful for escape–are enhanced when the face movements are made early.”Facial emotions developed over time. “What our research shows is that not all facial muscles appear simultaneously during facial expressions, but rather develop over time…”