What are primary emotions?

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In this blog we will discuss what primary emotions are.

We will also briefly discuss what emotions are and the structure of emotion, how to differentiate between primary and secondary emotions, and how one can manage emotions. 

What are primary emotions?

Primary emotions can be understood as the direct response to an event or stimulus. These emotions are distinct and very transient which makes them easier to understand. 

These emotions are the first thing we feel directly connected to an event as as time passes between the event and the present, it cannot be replicated or it is more difficult to connect with the same emotion felt. 

These emotions were based on evolution and were primary automatic in response to internal and external enviroments. 

The most prominently known primary emotions refer to the six basic emotions of Dr. Paul Eckman, who started his research into emotions during the 1950s, leading him to research emotions during this study of non-verbal behaviours from 1965 onwards. 

It was then he identified  six basic emotions that he suggested were universal- emansing that these emotions, thought with different names, were experienced in all human cultures. 

The basic emotions he identified were:

  • Happiness
  • Sadness
  • Disgust
  • Fear
  • Surprise
  • Anger. 

What are emotions?

 In the simplest words, emotions are physiological reactions to stimuli that are either internal or external.

Emotions, according to various researchers, understand it as an episode of various interrelated changes in response to one’s evaluation of an external or internal stimuli.

Emotions have five major components according to Scherer (2001):

  • Emotion Component which is simply the experience of feelings. 
  • Action tendency component which involves our behavioural reaction to the stimuli.
  • Appraisal component which involves cognitively analysing the stimuli causing the emotion. 
  • Motor Component which involves how we express what we are experiencing
  • Physiological Component involves the chemical reaction that our body experiences as a result of the stimuli. 

While the components of the emotions we feel are present in all individuals, the intensity and expression of these emotions differ from one person to another. 

The conceptualisation of the Structure of emotions

The first mention of the word emotions can be traced back to Thomas Brown in the 1800s who coined the term “emotion”.

In the later half of the 1800s William James proposed four basic emotions: fear, grief, love, and rage based on physical responses. 

However, it was in the 1970s that the conceptualisation of the structure of emotions began with psychologist Paul Eckman.

Paul Eckman’s Basic Emotions

Dr. Paul Eckman started his research into emotions during the 1950s, leading him to research emotions during this study of non-verbal behaviours from 1965 onwards. 

It was then he identified  six basic emotions that he suggested were universal- emansing that these emotions, thought with different names, were experience in all human cultures. 

The basic emotions he identified were:

  • Happiness
  • Sadness
  • Disgust
  • Fear
  • Surprise
  • Anger. 

In the 1990s, the list was expanded to include other emotions that did not have to do with facial muscles as the first six were, these emotions include:Amusement, Contempt, Contentment, Embarrassment, Excitement, Guilt, Pride in achievement, Relief, Satisfaction, Sensory pleasure, and Shame.

Complex emotions

Now, to understand that these were “basic emotions” pushes the idea that there are also “complex emotions” which were further conceptualised and this led researchers to clarify them into primary, secondary, and tertiary emotions. 

This approach was first mentioned in 1987 this approach was described and illustrated as a tree shape. The individual personality was the trunk and the  primary, secondary, and tertiary emotions extending like branches. 

  • Primary emotions can be understood as the direct response to an event or stimulus. These emotions are distinct and very transient which makes them easier to understand. 

These emotions are the first thing we feel directly connected to an event as as time passes between the event and the present, it cannot be replicated or it is more difficult to connect with the same emotion felt. 

  • Secondary emotions are emotions or feelings that people have about their primary emotion. These emotions are not unconscious or innate but rather they are learned over time via association. These emotions tend to last longer and can affect one’s reaction and responses to other stimuli.

For example, you feel angry over something and then you feel ashamed of your anger because you have begun to learn that anger is frowned upon in general. 

Wheel of emotions

The next formulation of the Structure of emotion was the Wheel of emotions was developed by Robert Pluchik, a psychologist who introduced the psycho-evolutionary theory of emotions. 

The Wheel of emotions or the feelings wheel was developed based on his own theory that there are eight basic/primary emotions that serve as the foundation for all others. 

These primary emotions are: joy, sadness, acceptance, disgust, fear, anger, surprise, and anticipation which branch out into more emotions which were grouped into polar opposites:

  • joy and sadness
  • acceptance and disgust
  • fear and anger
  • surprise and anticipation

How To Tell The Difference Between Primary and Secondary emotions?

Here are a few ways you can differentiate primary emotions from secondary emotions:

Is it a reaction or not?

The first thing you can do is to identify whether the emotion you felt is a direct reaction or not. If it is a direct reaction then it is a primary emotion meaning that the emotion you felt came on strongly and immediately as a reaction to what happened. For example, you feel surprised.

However, if the emotion came on as a response to another emotion, it is most likely to be a secondary emotion. 

How long it lasts

It is important to take notice of how long the emotion lasts, if it lasts for a long time after the event and affects other connected events, then it is likely to be a secondary emotion. 

For example, you feel ashamed of your angry outburst and this shame affects your behaviours etc. here, the shame is a secondary emotion. 

How to manage emotions?

Here are a few things you can do to manage your emotions:

Journaling

One way you can deal with your emotions, especially if you are unfamiliar with them, is to write them down on paper- word for word about how you feel and how these feelings are affecting you. 

Taking the time to vent out your feelings or reflect on positive experiences and positive feelings can be a great place to start and eventually when you are ready you can take a look back at the entries to understand  your own patterns and emotions.

Mindful Meditation

Learning how to mediate or become mindful can be a great way to help you create space between your emotions and your responses to these emotions.

Taking time to meditate and be aware of your present state can help you develop awareness of what is affecting you, what your feelings are, and your responses to these feelings.

Educate yourself

Another thing that you can do is to learn about emotions. Educate yourself about what emotions are and how it affects you.

Let these learnings be part of your itinerary in helping yourself deal with your emotions in more effective ways. You can consider reading boos, watching videos, or getting yourself engage with a workbook to regulate emotions 

Express your emotions

If you find it difficult for you to verbalise how you  feel to other people as well as to yourself, you can seek to express your emotions through other mediums such as music, art, writing etc. Allow yourself to experience these emotions using these mediums and seek to understand them.

Seek professional help

It can be a daunting task to start learning about emotions and managing these emotions all on your own so you take the step to seek out support in learning and managing your own emotions with the help of a counsellor, a therapist and the mental health professionals. 

These professionals can help you learn about emotions, help you gain an insight into how these emotions impact you, your life, and also help you to learn how to manage emotions in effective ways. 

Conclusion

In this blog we will discuss what primary emotions are.

We will also briefly discuss what emotions are and the structure of emotion, how to differentiate between primary and secondary emotions, and how one can manage emotions

What are 5 primary emotions?

Five Primary emotions include sadness, happiness, fear, anger, surprise and disgust.

What are primary and secondary emotions?

Primary emotions can be understood as the direct response to an event or stimulus. These emotions are distinct and very transient which makes them easier to understand. 

These emotions are the first thing we feel directly connected to an event as as time passes between the event and the present, it cannot be replicated or it is more difficult to connect with the same emotion felt. 

Secondary emotions are emotions or feelings that people have about their primary emotion. These emotions are not unconscious or innate but rather they are learned over time via association. These emotions tend to last longer and can affect one’s reaction and responses to other stimuli.

For example, you feel angry over something and then you feel ashamed of your anger because you have begun to learn that anger is frowned upon in general. 

Is anxiety a primary emotion?

Anxiety is a common secondary emotion as it is a common response to other emotions an individual feels but finds it hard to explain or express. 

Is jealousy a primary emotion?

Jealousy is not considered to be a primary emotion, rather it is a complex emotion – secondary emotion as it has to do with an emotional response to the threat of losing a value. So it is the secondary response to fear of that threat.

How many primary emotions are there?

Depending on the theorist, the number of primary emotions differs. One of the first conceptualisations by Dr. Paul Eckman identified six:

  • Happiness
  • Sadness
  • Disgust
  • Fear
  • Surprise
  • Anger. 

References

Primary Emotions. APA Dictionary of Psychology. Retrieved on 21st Feb 2022. https://dictionary.apa.org/primary-emotion

Khan.N.What Are Primary And Secondary Emotions. Betterhelp. Retrieved on 21st Feb 2022.https://www.betterhelp.com/advice/general/what-are-primary-and-secondary-emotions/

Katz.D. Knowing the Difference Between Primary and Secondary Emotions Could Be the Key to Fighting Fairly with Your Partner. PureWoW. Retrieved on 21st Feb 2022. https://www.purewow.com/wellness/primary-and-secondary-emotions

Cherry.K. The 6 Types of Basic Emotions and Their Effect on Human Behavior. Verywellmind. Retrieved on 21st Feb 2022. https://www.verywellmind.com/an-overview-of-the-types-of-emotions-4163976#:~:text=Primary%20emotions%20such%20as%20love,are%20known%20as%20tertiary%20emotions.

Scherer, K. R. (2001). Appraisal Considered as a Process of Multi-Level Sequential Checking. En K.R. Scherer, A. Schorr y T. Johnstone (eds.), Appraisal Processes in Emotion: Theory, Methods, Research. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 92–120.

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