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Monday, 30 March 2015

Love and the 6-8 basic human emotions

In my recent March 27 blog I wrote that scientists distinguish 6 basic human emotions, being happiness, sadness, fear, anger, surprise and disgust. This is a commonly-held belief, first proposed by Dr Paul Ekman (see my earlier February 28 blog), which claims there are six basic emotions that are universally recognised and easily interpreted through specific facial expressions, regardless of language or culture.

This claim lingered on my mind for some time as I felt that something was missing. Suddenly I realised that love is not one of these 6 basic human emotions and that made me wonder why. Yesterday I was lucky to notice Dr. Helen Fisher in one of 5 interesting TED videos on this subject: the weird science of love (source:

Helen Fisher is a biological anthropologist who has conducted extensive research and written five books on the evolution and future of human sex, love, marriage, gender differences in the brain and how your personality style shapes who you are and who you love. Anthropologist research never found any society on earth that did not show signs of romantic love. Even animals show love. The emotion of love is deep down in our brain, way below our cognitive functions, below our emotions, and part of the core, reptilian, brain and associated with wanting, motivation, focus and with craving.

Clearly I have struck a difficult topic as Wikipedia states the following: "Emotion is difficult to define. In everyday speech, it is one's state of mind and instinctive responses, but scientific discourse has drifted to other meanings, but there is no consensus on a definition." Given this Wikipedia description of emotions it's easy to see where things went wrong. These 6 basic human emotions are in fact the 6 basic expressive human emotions. Any emotion that is in mind and does not leave a (facial) expression is not taken into account.

Robert Plutchik agreed with Ekman's biologically driven perspective but developed the "wheel of emotions", suggesting eight primary emotions grouped on a positive or negative basis: joy versus sadness; anger versus fear; trust versus distrust; and surprise versus anticipation.

In this concept, the basic emotions joy and trust result in love, with remorse as its opposite. 

It's no surprise to see submission being grouped next to love (see my earlier March 2 blog). 

It's a surprise to me to see only 3 positive and 5 negative emotions. This feels as food for thought in a next blog on emotions.

At least I'm glad to see that love is indeed a basic human emotion.