What are emotions?
“Emotions are a process, a particular kind of automatic appraisal influenced by our evolutionary and personal past, in which we sense that something important to our welfare is occurring, and a set of psychological changes and emotional behaviors begins to deal with the situation." - Paul Ekman, PhD
In other words, emotions prepare us to deal with important events without having to think about them. These emotional responses are an unbidden occurrence, meaning that we don’t choose to feel them, they just happen to us automatically. Of all the human emotions we experience, there are seven universal emotions that we all feel, transcending language, regional, cultural, and ethnic differences
Each of the universal emotions has distinctive signals, physiologies and timelines. While they vary in their onset duration and decline, emotions typically don’t last longer than an hour. If an emotion persists for an extended amount of time without interruption, it’s more likely that the emotion can be categorized as a mood or a disorder.
How many emotions are there?
While there are differing views among experts, most emotion scientists agree that there are at least five core emotions. Dr. Ekman’s research shows the strongest evidence to date of seven universal facial expressions of emotions.
Which emotions are universal?
Even though the images below depict the seven universal emotions separately, no emotion exists as a single affective or psychological state. Instead, emotions are comprised of a family of related emotional states which are variations on a shared theme.
What makes us emotional?
Emotions occur in response to some kind of stimulus (actual, imagined, or re-lived) such as:
- a physical event
- a social interaction
- remembering or imagining an event
- talking about, thinking about, or physically reenacting a past emotional experience
What actually makes us emotional, however, varies person to person based on our shared evolution, cultural influences, and unique personal experiences. So, even though we can't choose the emotions we feel, we can choose the ways in which we respond through emotional awareness.
What is emotional awareness?
In order to have more choice about our emotional reactions, we must first build awareness of the emotional behaviors, experiences and triggers that we, and others, face. This process allows us to find insight in awareness to help shape our emotional reactions in more thoughtful and constructive ways.
How do we practice emotional awareness?
As we’ve learned, we do not choose the emotions we experience. However, our emotional responses shape our experience of the world. In order to choose our responses wisely, we must first become more aware of and familiar with our own emotional experiences.
Dr. Ekman, one of the world’s leading experts in the field of emotions has devoted his life to researching emotions and developing tools to help us better understand the emotional lives of ourselves and others.
Learn to recognize and respond to the emotional expressions of others with our online micro expressions training tools to increase your ability to detect deception and catch subtle emotional cues.
Expand your knowledge of emotional skills and competencies with in-person workshops offered through Paul Ekman International.
Build your emotional vocabulary with the Atlas of Emotions, a free, interactive learning tool created by Drs. Paul and Eve Ekman at the request of the Dalai Lama.
Introduce the world of emotions to children in a fun way with Dr. Ekman's official guide to Disney•Pixar's Inside Out.
Frequently Asked Questions
What are the six basic emotions according to Paul Ekman?
Dr. Ekman identified the six basic emotions as anger, surprise, disgust, enjoyment, fear, and sadness. His research shows the strongest evidence to date of a seventh emotion, which is contempt.