e. Basic Emotions Uncategorized

Basic Emotions

In this article, I discuss what are thought by most researchers to be our core or basic emotions: Joy, Anger, Sadness, Fear, Disgust and Surprise. Love is omitted by most but there is strong evidence that it too is a basic emotion. I have, therefore, included it at the end.


Joy is often cited as our only positive emotion. On the scale strong to weak, it can manifest as exhilaration, joy, happiness, pleasure, or satisfaction. When extreme, it is associated with positive stress and the release of hormones. We can then act precipitately and overconfidently. Facial displays of happiness signal approachability and can de-escalate tension.


Anger is a negative emotion associated with the harms caused specifically by people, or other agents with choice regarding their behaviour. It targets them with blame and will, for example, be aroused when we face an injustice. On the scale strong to weak, it can manifest as rage, anger, annoyance, or irritation. Facial displays of anger towards the target are a signal that alteration of their behaviour is required. When extreme, anger is associated with negative stress, the release of hormones, and precipitate behaviour. Because anger causes us to move towards its cause, it can result in aggression.


Sadness is another negative emotion but differs from anger in that it targets circumstances, rather than agents, with the blame. In situations where we are unable to experience anger, we will experience sadness. On the scale strong to weak, it can manifest as grief, sadness, or unhappiness. This, of course, suggests that it is the opposite of the positive emotion, joy. We can sometimes enjoy a mild state of sadness. This is because its contrast with happiness enables us to appreciate the latter emotion more fully. Facial displays of sadness, rather than signaling that the observer is the cause, can be a signal that we want them to make us happier. In the same way as other basic emotions, we can also experience empathic sadness and the facial display can also be a signal of this.


Fear is another negative emotion normally associated with threats to our more basic existence needs. Its strength varies on the scale: terror; fear; nervousness. When extreme, it is associated with negative stress, the release of hormones, and precipitate action. Fear triggers the fight or flight response in the face of a threat. Little is known about the signals given by its associated facial expression, but the purpose may be to alert others to the presence of a threat, to mitigate aggression, or both.


Disgust is also a negative emotion. It causes avoidance behaviour and is thought to have evolved as a defence against potential sources of illness or disease, e.g., spider bites or rotting organic material. However, disgust, in its learned form, can also target people who engage in harmful behaviour. It can even target oneself in the form of shame or guilt. It varies on the scale: abhorrence; disgust; aversion. Again, little is known about the purpose of the associated facial expression, but it seems likely that it signals to others the presence of a potential source of illness or disease. In its learned form it is likely that it signals unacceptable behaviour.


Surprise is probably regarded as basic because of its associated facial expression. It is an unusual emotion because it is neither positive nor negative. We can be surprised both by unexpected satisfiers and by unexpected contra-satisfiers. This results in greater attention being given to them. Thus, our facial expression, which can of course be feigned like that of any other emotion, is a signal of interest and attention. We can be very surprised or mildly surprised depending on how unexpected the cause is. We can also move quickly from surprise to the relevant positive or negative emotion. However, depending on the nature of the surprise, this will be at some point on their respective scales. Our response to surprise is learned depending on whether our experience has been largely positive or negative. Some of us will wish to avoid surprises if experience has been negative. Others will embrace them if it has been positive.


Until the mid-20th century, love was regarded as a core emotion, but, largely because it lacks an easily identifiable facial expression, it has since been omitted from the lists of most psychologists. They do not deny its existence, but rather believe it to be a combination of other emotions or not to be classified as an emotion at all. Nevertheless, it is popularly regarded as a core emotion. A more detailed discussion of this topic can be found in:

The word “love” is used in a wide variety of contexts. In its inherited form, it is a positive emotion associated with others. It varies on the scale: love; affection; liking. As we age, its focus moves from our parents to our siblings and close childhood friends, followed by our sexual partners in the form of romantic love, and finally to our children and grandchildren in the form of parental love. It generates true altruism, tolerance, and forgiveness. These create a strong social bond between the giver and receiver, facilitating the survival and propagation of our genome. It almost certainly has an evolutionary basis, therefore. Further evidence of love’s evolutionary basis lies in the fact that it is experienced as a “surge” or “upwelling” which seems to have a physical component.

It is possible that, in its learned form, it can also be an emotional attachment to places and objects of value.

The absence of a clearly identifiable facial expression can be explained by the fact that such expressions elicit a response. However, true altruism expects no response, except perhaps the absence of an injustice which might elicit anger, and a facial expression would have no purpose, therefore. Furthermore, unconscious facial expressions of love could also make us vulnerable to exploitation. For these reasons, a facial expression is unlikely to have evolved.

In the next few articles, I will discuss the part that emotions play in our decision making and behaviour, including how we can be influenced by external factors.

e. Individuals, Generations, Age-groups, and the Prioritisation of Needs

Individuals, Generations, Age-groups, and the Prioritisation of Needs

Pursuing the satisfaction of our natural human needs is what motivates us. However, much effort is involved in doing so. It is a lifelong process, and we meet many challenges on the way. If we can overcome those challenges, then this contributes to a general sense of happiness and wellbeing. Happiness is a relatively short-lived emotion that we experience from time to time. However, wellbeing is a state of mind which persists for so long as we are satisfied. On the other hand, if we encounter insurmountable obstacles, then we can experience frustration, a low sense of wellbeing, ill health or even death.

Maslow’s theory maintains that needs lower in the hierarchy must be largely satisfied before we can move on to higher needs. However, as explained in an earlier article, there is little evidence that we do actually prioritise our needs in this way. There is not a simple correlation between age and the hierarchy of needs. Rather, several other factors can cause significant differences between generations and age-groups. They can also cause significant differences between individuals from the same generation and age-group. Examples of these factors include:

  1. Biological Factors. For example, our individual capabilities and the physiological and health risks that we face in childhood, as a parent, or in old age.
  2. Social Role. At different stages in our lives, society provides us with different forms of support and demands different forms of contribution. Some are common to all societies. For example, in childhood our existence needs are provided for by our parents. However, support and demands also vary according to the nature of our society, our gender, and our socio-economic status. Social support and demands are significant factors in deciding how we prioritise our needs at different stages in our lives.
  3. Cultural Change. The culture of a society can alter rapidly from generation to generation, and the prevailing culture in our formative years will affect our priorities in later life. Thus, different generations can be typified by different priorities, irrespective of age. Today, cultural change is far more rapid than it has been in the past and is, therefore, having a much greater influence.
  4. Significant Events. World Wars, epidemics, and economic depressions, when they occur, can reshape the priorities of all generations. However, if they occur during our formative years, they can have a particularly long-lasting effect on our priorities. This can cause different generations to be typified by different priorities.
  5. Time to Learn. It can take considerable time and effort to learn how to satisfy a need, sustain that satisfaction and deal with the difficulties associated with doing so. The natural world and human society are both extraordinarily complex. Understanding them and learning successful behaviour requires much effort, therefore, and whilst making that effort we age.

Thus, whilst there is a general trend in the way that different age-groups prioritise their needs, there is also considerable variability as different generations come to occupy an age-group. There is also considerable variability between individuals within an age-group.

Some examples from Western society may serve to demonstrate how the above factors interact to cause a general trend in the priorities of different age groups. Whilst this trend may be true of humanity in general it is not necessarily so for the individual.

  1. When we are born, we aspire to satisfy our existence needs, i.e., food, warmth, shelter, etc. Satisfiers are, of course, provided by our parents and we must merely cry or smile when a need arises. Our social skills are innate, and we have yet to develop the cognitive skills to pursue higher needs.
  2. In our teens and early twenties, security in the provision of our basic needs continues to be provided by our parents, and so, our aspirations focus on social relatedness. Historically, we would seek a partner and reproduce in our teens and early twenties, so biological factors may also have a part to play.
  3. Later, as we raise children, our existence needs must be secured for us to do so successfully. An example is the desire to own a home of our own because, in most cases, our need for shelter will previously have been satisfied in a less secure way by living with our parents or by renting.
  4. It has been suggested that our large brains evolved to enable successful social interaction. However, these brains also bestow on us the ability to safeguard the satisfaction of our existence and relatedness needs. This is where our aspirations are next likely to be focused, therefore. However, the way in which we satisfy this need is also affected by our cultural upbringing. In some cases, it may be by accumulating wealth and property. In other cases, it may be by building strong social connectedness and support networks.
  5. Our large brains also give us a need for meaning in our lives, curiosity, creativity, and an ability to master complex skills.  It is to these that we turn when other needs are largely satisfied. Due to the time involved in learning how to satisfy all our needs, these tend to come to the fore as we become older. It is notable, however, that some creative people will forego the satisfaction of lesser needs.
  6. A culture can assign different roles to different genders. Furthermore, hormones are known to affect the state of mind of both sexes. It is conceivable, therefore, that there are gender differences in the way that we prioritise and satisfy our needs. Unfortunately, little objective research has been done on this subject.
  7. Finally, evidence from surveys shows that the need for safety or freedom from existential threat is a more significant aspiration amongst older people.

In very general terms then, but with much variance, the Western trend in priorities can be summarized as: the satisfaction of existential needs as a small child; relatedness needs in our teens and early twenties; safety and procreation needs in later adulthood; and security, safety and growth needs thereafter.