Emotions can be described as consistent responses to internal or external events which have a particular significance for the organism. They consist of a coordinated set of responses, which may include verbal, physiological, behavioral, and neural mechanisms. It is generally considered that emotions are both biologically given and a result of evolution because they provided good solutions to ancient and recurring problems that faced our ancestors.

The six basic emotions

When classifying emotions, the research done started from two fundamental presuppositions: that emotions are discrete and fundamentally different constructs and that they can be characterized on a dimensional basis in groupings.

Paul Ekman, Ph.D who has been at the forefront of researching and classifying emotions has concluded that there are six basic human emotions: anger, disgust, fear, happiness, sadness and surprise. These are also the six emotions that our system uses.

For more than 40 years, Dr. Paul Ekman has supported the view that emotions are discrete, measurable and physiologically distinct and he has backed up this idea with extensive research. His most famous work demonstrated that certain emotions appeared to be universally recognized, even in isolated cultures that could not have learned associations for facial expressions through the media.  Moreover, another study of his found that when participants contorted their facial muscles into distinct facial expressions (e.g. sadness, disgust) they reported subjective and physiological experiences that matched that particular facial expression.

Robert Plutchik, Ph.D agreed with the idea that emotions are biologically driven, and in his book ‘Nature of emotions’ (2002) stated that some of the basic emotions can be modified to form complex emotions. These could be the result of cultural conditioning or association combined with the basic emotions. In a similar way to how the primary colors combine, primary emotions could blend to form the full spectrum of the human emotional experience. For example, anger towards a person and disgust could blend to form contempt. Relationships exist between basic emotions, resulting in positive or negative influences.

When developing our system we have looked also at the different studies and more complex classifications of emotions, some of the most important being Dr. Robert Plutchik ‘wheel of emotions’ (1980), where he demonstrated how different emotions can blend into one another and create new emotions, and the ‘classification of emotions’ by W. Gerrod Parrott, Ph.D, in which he identified over 100 emotions and conceptualized them as a tree structured list, in his book ‘Emotions in social psychology’ (2001).

Although Parrott considered love as a primary emotion, we have decided not to include it on the list of basic emotions that our system detects. This is because most contemporary emotion theorists (such as Ekman, Frijda, Izard, Oatley, and Johnson-Laird) do not include love in their classifications of basic emotions. A consequence to this is the fact that love receives less attention from emotion researchers than its place in everyday life would lead one to expect. However, theorists do offer several reasons for excluding love: it is a mixture of other emotions such as joy, anxiety, and jealousy (Izard, 1991); it is a sentiment or attitude rather than an emotion (Ekman, 1992; Frijda, Mesquita, Sonnemans, & van Goozen, 1991); that, unlike happiness, sadness, and irritability, it cannot occur without an “object” (Oatley & Johnson-Laird,1987); and that it is, much like jealousy and certain other states, a multi-person “plot” rather than a basic emotion (Ekman, 1984,1992)

Below you can see a list of how different emotion researchers classified the basic emotions, as collated by Ortony, Ph.D and Turner, Ph.D in their book ‘What’s basic about basic emotions?’ (1990).

Theorist Basic Emotions
Plutchik Acceptance, anger, anticipation, disgust, joy, fear, sadness, surprise
Arnold Anger, aversion, courage, dejection, desire, despair, fear, hate, hope, love, sadness
Ekman, Friesen, and Ellsworth Anger, disgust, fear, joy, sadness, surprise
Frijda Desire, happiness, interest, surprise, wonder, sorrow
Gray Rage and terror, anxiety, joy
Izard Anger, contempt, disgust, distress, fear, guilt, interest, joy, shame, surprise
James Fear, grief, love, rage
McDougall Anger, disgust, elation, fear, subjection, tender-emotion, wonder
Mowrer Pain, pleasure
Oatley and Johnson-Laird Anger, disgust, anxiety, happiness, sadness
Panksepp Expectancy, fear, rage, panic
Tomkins Anger, interest, contempt, disgust, distress, fear, joy, shame, surprise
Watson Fear, love, rage
Weiner and Graham Happiness, sadness


Plutchik’s wheel of emotions:



 W. Parrot’s classification of emotions:




Examples of IntenCheck text analysis results for emotions

Analysis results showing that the predominant emotion is anger:

“If your doctor’s a jerk, it might be dangerous to your health. Many nurses are reporting that hostile, harried physicians often ignore their summons—or make them hesitant to questions in the first place. This “health care equivalent of road rage” causes errors, dangerous complications, and sometimes the patient’s death, reports the New York Times.

The medical profession can cause enough stress to make anyone snippy from time to time, but 40% of hospital staff have been so intimidated by doctors that they avoided pointing out medical mistakes. The stories are harrowing, but hope is on the horizon: More medical schools teach good communication and leadership, and some hospitals are pushing anger-management courses on crabby MDs.”

Joy: 0.87%, 1

Anger: 6.09%, 7
avoid, complication, dangerous (2), harry, rage, stress

Fear: 1.74%, 2
death, intimidate


Analysis results showing that the predominant emotion is joy:

“When it comes to laughs, the bigger the better, at least if you want it to spread. In one of those science-confirms-the-obvious studies, researchers found that open-mouth laughs in which people use their vocal chords in “vowel-like bursts” are the most contagious, LiveScience reports. And the longer they last, the more listeners like it (the laughter got ranked by college students). Breathy “courtesy” laughs or quiet chuckles got lower grades.”

Joy: 7.14%, 5
good, laugh (3), laughter

Anger: 1.43%, 1

Sadness: 1.43%, 1




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  3. Ekman, P., Friesen, W. V., & Ellsworth, P. (1982). What emotion categories or dimensions can observers judge from facial behavior?
  4. Ekman, Paul (1992). “An argument for basic emotions”.
  5. Plutchik, Robert (1980), Emotion: Theory, research, and experience: Vol. 1. Theories of emotion 1, New York: Academic
  6. Plutchik , R. (2002). Nature of emotions. American Scientist
  7. Parrott, W. (2001), Emotions in Social Psychology, Psychology Press, Philadelphia
  8. Oatley, K., & Johnson-Laird, P. N. (1987). Towards a cognitive theory of emotions. Cognition & Emotion
  9. Frijda, N.H., Mesquita, B., Sonnemans, J., & Van Goozen, S. (1991). The duration of affective phenomena or Emotions, sentiments and passions. In K.T. Strongman (Ed.), International Review of Studies on Emotion, vol. 1. New York: Wiley.
  10. Izard, C. E. (1991). “The Psychology of Emotions”.
  11. Ortony, A., & Turner, T. J. (1990). What’s basic about basic emotions? Psychological Review
  12. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emotion
  13. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Contrasting_and_categorization_of_emotions#Plutchik.27s_wheel_of_emotions
  14. http://www.theemotionmachine.com/classification-of-emotions
  15. http://www.newser.com/story/44256/obnoxious-docs-linked-to-dangerous-mistakes.html
  16. http://www.newser.com/story/105648/for-contagious-laughs-open-your-mouth.html