You may be thinking the number of emotions humans are able to express is in the single-digits — but a new UC Berkeley study has identified a whopping 27 distinct emotions.
For the study, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers gathered emotional reactions from more than 800 men and women to in excess of 2,000 video clips designed to provoke a response. The subjects were divided into three groups and viewed footage ranging from births, weddings and sex acts to natural disasters, death and suffering.
The first group was able to freely label their reaction to each clip, which, according to lead author Alan Cowen, resulted in “a rich and nuanced array of emotional states, ranging from nostalgia to feeling grossed out.” Groups two and three were asked to rate their reactions based on specific parameters — which ultimately helped researchers narrow down the wide array of responses to 27 emotions that are universally identifiable.
As part of the study, researchers created a multidimensional, interactive map identifying all 27 emotions, including admiration, aesthetic appreciation, anxiety, craving, sexual desire and nostalgia. In addition, the map shows that emotions do not exist remotely on an “island” — rather, they are all interconnected.
“We don’t get finite clusters of emotions in the map because everything is interconnected,” Cowen said. “Emotional experiences are so much richer and more nuanced than previously thought.” Which seems like such a no-brainer, right?
Previous research on the subject, which identifies six base emotions — anger, disgust, fear, happiness, sadness and surprise — dates back to the 1970s, when American psychologists Paul Ekman and Wallace V. Friesen studied the isolated Fori tribe in Papua New Guinea. When being shown photographs, this tribe was able to accurately identify these emotions. Similarly, when people of other races and cultures were presented with tribe members’ photos mimicking these emotions, they labeled emotions correctly, confirming that these emotions are universal.
According to Cowen, through its findings, the team hopes to help other scientists and engineers accurately capture the emotional states that underlie moods, brain activity and expressive signals. A more wholesome understanding of emotions has the potential to improve psychiatric treatments and create technology that is responsive to our emotional needs, among other benefits. Fingers crossed!
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