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Study suggests human only have four basic emotions

Human Emotions Less Complex Than Previously Thought, Study Suggests

As humans we tend to consider ourselves to be unique snowflakes, all with our own distinct feelings and emotions -- but a new study says we may not actually have that many emotions to choose from.

The research from the University of Glasgow says that humans have just four basic emotions: that's down from the six humans were believed to have.

Traditionally, those included happiness, surprise, fear, disgust, anger and sadness - but after observing reactions to faces exemplifying those emotions, researchers now say there's some overlap.

To get to their findings, researchers had participants examine computer-generated facial-animations, then categorize them into one of the six emotions.

What they found was anger and disgust, as well as fear and surprise, looked very similar to the participants at first glance - and it took a minute to discern the difference.

So, what does that tell the researchers?

According to a writer for The Atlantic, researchers surmised that humans only have four biologically-based facial signals, with additional nuances evolving in response to social cues.

She quotes the study authors who wrote, "Our data reflect that the six basic facial expressions of emotion, like languages, are likely to represent a more complex set of modern signals and categories evolved from a simpler system of communication in early man."

According to the study, that leaves us with the four basic emotions of:
1) Happiness
2) Sadness
3) Hybrids of fear and surprise
4) Hybrids of anger and disgust

Their research was published in the journal Current Biology.

Join the discussion

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eulerckt February 07 2014 at 5:28 PM

Relable (redefinization) and get your thesis rubber stamped and waste grant money at the same time. Sad thing is that someone will fall for it.

Flag Reply +2 rate up
mcclishmd February 07 2014 at 11:36 PM

Well, using simple probability(4x4x4x4), there are 256 possible combinations of these four basic emotions, and that is not even taking into account the intensities possible.

Flag Reply +1 rate up
2 replies
RUTHANN mcclishmd February 07 2014 at 11:56 PM

IDIC...infinite diversity infinite combinations

Flag Reply +1 rate up
Brian Hope mcclishmd February 07 2014 at 11:59 PM

So what's the combination of happiness and anger/disgust?

Flag Reply +2 rate up
2 replies
mark and sheri Brian Hope February 08 2014 at 12:29 AM


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Brian Hope Brian Hope February 08 2014 at 12:38 AM

Ehhhhhhh . . . could be.

Flag +1 rate up
Melanie February 07 2014 at 10:49 PM

so maybe there are 4 main facial expressions, but that doesn't equal only 4 emotions. just because the onlooker can't SEE the emotion sure doesn't mean someone isn't feeling it. Can't believe money was wasted on such a useless study. who cares about the findings? no one

Flag Reply +2 rate up
charlesjbarneysr February 07 2014 at 3:56 PM

What difference does it make if we have four emotions or a thousand emotions. I have lived for about 58 years so far and it has never been an issue for me. How about you?

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1 reply
hrshead charlesjbarneysr February 07 2014 at 4:06 PM

you make me angry disgusted and surprised and i fear i may never recover

Flag Reply 0 rate up
canyonmanb February 07 2014 at 4:31 PM

bull puckey

Flag Reply +1 rate up
Authority1982 February 07 2014 at 4:42 PM

The presence of four emotions was my theory after taking Introductory Psychology. Taking a look into the neuroscience associated with emotion would answer several questions for anyone.

Flag Reply +1 rate up
2 replies
dickn2000b Authority1982 February 07 2014 at 5:05 PM

You will, of course, use one of those emotions, when I tell you that you, AND those Glasgow researchers all need good enemas. The only thing you're an authority on is ignorance.

Flag Reply +2 rate up
flagwaver2 Authority1982 February 07 2014 at 6:36 PM

did one intro to psych class make you an authority?

Flag Reply +2 rate up
thetreeman February 07 2014 at 8:45 PM

This is a study that is wrong. who ever paid for it wasted their money. Just because those doing the study took longer to distinguish the difference between the emotions doesn't mean the differences do not exist. So they say there are less. Maybe the researchers should not get any more grant money because they are "slow to learn" idiots,

Flag Reply +3 rate up
suziebisback February 07 2014 at 5:23 PM

Gee... I wonder how much money was wasted on THAT study?

Flag Reply +1 rate up
Iris February 07 2014 at 8:28 PM

Who gave the funding for this study?

Flag Reply +4 rate up
green gate farm February 07 2014 at 8:22 PM

Stupid article and an even more stupid study. I can't believe people actually get paid to come with this stuff.

Flag Reply +3 rate up
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