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Study shows that the basic emotions are four, and not six as was believed

Study shows that the basic emotions are four, and not six as was believed

April 20, 2024

The human being is of emotional nature , and the mood is usually reflected unequivocally in facial expressions.

Four basic emotions (and not six)

There is a popular belief, for years maintained, and that was proposed for the first time by the American psychologist Paul Ekman , says there is a total of six basic emotions or principals that are known worldwide and that are easily decipherable through specific facial expressions, independent of the culture or condition of the person. These emotions, according to Ekman, were: sadness , the happiness , the fear , the go to , the surprise and the disgust.


However, it seems that Ekman erred by including some of them. A recent study published in Current Biology and carried out by researchers from Glasgow University, in the United Kingdom, has changed the paradigm regarding what are the basic emotions of the human being. The study concludes that there are six core emotions, but only four .

The results were obtained by observing the different facial muscles, which scientists have called "Units of Action", involved in the signaling of various emotions, as well as the time during which each muscle performs a contraction or relaxation.

This research is a great start in the objective study of dynamics of facial expressions , and will probably emerge more in the future thanks to the analysis platform developed by Glasgow University.


What are the basic emotions?

The group of scientists from Institute of Neurosciences and Psychology has stated that, although the facial expression signals of happiness and sadness are manifestly different from beginning to end, fear and surprise share a basic signal, eyes wide open, at the beginning of both expressions .

Likewise, disgust and anger have a wrinkled nose in common in the first moments when they are issued . These signals could be adjusted to an ancestral signal that we emit when we are in danger.

The key to emotions is in evolution

The researcher Rachael E. Jack explained in a press release: "The results are consistent with the evolutionary predictions, that is, that the facial signals are designed by evolutionary pressures , both biological and social, in order to optimize its function ".


In addition, he affirms: "The signs of reaction to danger, early signs, confer an advantage, facilitating a quick reaction . On the other hand, the physiological advantages (the wrinkled nose does not allow the inspiration of harmful particles that float in the air, while the open eyes totally increase the perception of visual information that we will then use to flee) are greater when the facial expressions are made earlier. "

"With the passage of generations, and as man moved around the planet, socio-ecological diversity promoted the specialization of certain common facial expressions previously, affecting the variety and typology of signals through cultures," adds Jack.

Cutting-edge technology to analyze the facial movements involved in emotions

A software designed by Philippe Schyns, Hui Yu and Oliver Garrod, to which they gave the name of Generative Face Grammar, use cameras to capture a three-dimensional image of the faces of specifically trained people to mobilize the total forty two facial muscles in an independent way.

By compiling this information, a computer is capable of generating concrete or random facial expressions in a three-dimensional model, based on the activation of different Units of Action, to be able to reproduce any facial expression.

Study on basic emotions

The participants were asked to they watched the three-dimensional model while showing various facial expressions , and they should write down what emotion he was expressing on each occasion. The scientists discriminated Units of Action concrete that in each case the participants associated with a certain emotion.

With the analysis of these variables, they discovered that the facial signals of fear / surprise and anger / disgust tended to get confused in the early moment and only became recognizable a few moments later, when other Units of Action came into play.

Rachael Jack stated:

"Our study discusses the idea that interpersonal communication through emotions is made up of six fundamental, psychologically irreducible categories. Our investigation, then, suggests that there are a total of four fundamental expressions of emotion ”.

Cultural biases in the expression of emotions

Apparently, the architects of the research have proposed to develop this line of study analyzing facial expressions in different cultures, including some East Asian populations that, according to some academics, interpret some of the classic emotions differently , emphasizing the movements of the eye muscles instead of those of the mouth, in comparison with the execution of the emotional movement that we can observe in the West.

Undoubtedly, these new findings should be conveniently contrasted, and the cultural variable will play an essential role when it comes to being able to say with certainty what are the gestures associated with certain emotions. We'll be alert.

Bibliographic references:

  • Rachel E. Jack, Oliver G.B. Garrod, Philippe G. Schyns. Dynamic Facial Expressions of Emotion Transmit an Evolving Hierarchy of Signals over Time. Current Biology (2014). DOI: 10.1016 / j.cub.2013.11.064.
  • Video about the investigation:

Human Emotions Less Complex Than Previously Thought (April 2024).


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