How Many Emotions Are There?

atkins bookshelf wordsEmotions play a very critical role in how we think and behave. There are three parts to an emotion. The first is how we experience the emotion, the second is how our bodies react to the emotion (processed through the amygdala located in each of the temporal lobes), and how we express and behave in response to that emotion. To complicate matters, emotions are influenced by the ideas and expectations of specific cultures. In the mid 1990’s, the concept of emotional intelligence was developed to explain how identifying, understanding, and managing emotions impact decision-making. All of this begs the question: how many emotions are there?

In the 1st BC the Li Chi (the Book of Rites), Confucian texts of the Zhou Dynasty, identified seven feelings: anger, dislike, fear, fondness, joy, love, and sadness.

In the 4th BC, Aristotle, the legendary Greek philosopher who tutored Alexander the Great, believed there were 14 irreducible emotions: anger, calm, confidence, contempt, emulation, enmity, envy, fear, friendship, indignation, kindness, pity, shame, shamelessness.

In the 1600s, French philosopher Rene Descartes proposed six primitive passions: desire, joy, hatred, love, sadness, and wonder.

In 1980, American psychologist Robert Plutchik developed the psychoevolutionary theory of emotion that identified eight primary emotions that are biologically driven and have evolved to increase the fitness of humans and animals: anger, anticipation, disgust, fear, joy, sadness, surprise, and trust.

In the 1970s, American psychologist Paul Eckman developed the Facial Action Coding System to measure facial expressions. The 42 muscles in the human face can create more than 10,000 different facial expressions, and of those only 3,000 are relevant to emotion. Eckman discovered that there are seven emotions that are expressed through the same facial expressions throughout the world: anger, contempt, disgust, fear, happiness, surprise, and sadness.

In 2016, Tiffany Watt Smith, a research fellow at the Centre for the History of the Emotions at the Queen Mary University of London, decided to comb the literature on emotions to find unique names for emotions. Her book, The Book of Human Emotions, includes 154 words from around the world — from the idiosyncratic to the universal — that describe how we feel. Here are some fascinating entries:

Basorexia: the urge to kiss someone.

Depaysement: the feeling of being an outsider.

Dolce far niente: the pleasure of doing nothing.

Fago: the pity felt for someone in need, which compels the person to care for them while haunted by the sense that they will die soon

Gezelligheid: feeling warm and at home, surrounded by good friends

Read related posts: How Many Music Genres Exist?
When Power Corrupts, Poetry Cleanses
The Wisdom of the Ancient Greeks

For further reading: The Book of Human Emotions by Tiffany Watt Smith (2016)


Join the conversation

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.