2

Universal Emotion

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What are the universal emotions?

If, as Paul Ekman’s studies suggest, emotions are universal, which emotions can we expect to find throughout the human race. Are some emotions basic and others not?

The question of which emotions are basic — those that others derive from — has been a subject of intense debate in this scientific field. There are several schools of thought, and a body of recent research to resolve the question, including cross-cultural studies to see if an emotion is universal and cross-species studies to see if it occurs in primates-both indicators that a given emotion may have been essential in evolution.

Paul Ekman proposes that there are up to ten:

  • anger
  • fear
  • sadness
  • disgust
  • contempt
  • surprise
  • enjoyment
  • embarrassment
  • guilt
  • shame

Others have come up with different lists. Here are three.

Plutchik
McDougall
Izard
  • acceptance
  • anger,
  • anticipation
  • disgust
  • joy
  • fear
  • sadness
  • surprise
  • anger
  • disgust
  • elation
  • fear
  • subjection
  • tender-emotion,
  • wonder    
  • anger
  • contempt
  • disgust
  • distress
  • fear
  • guilt
  • interest
  • joy
  • shame
  • surprise

Each of these represents Western science's understanding of emotions. We’ll see in Lesson 4 that this list has several similarities to that from Buddhist psychology for mental states, but also some notable differences.