The natural-kind view of emotion

When asked to explain in words what emotion is, we may come up with ideas that feel right, such as "sensitivity to events," or "your mind's reaction to experience," but fundamentally, emotions are intangible and the definitions offered are not good enough for science.

Words like "joy" and "rage" describe a set of complex processes in the brain and the body that are not always related.

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Critics state that facial expressions are not the measurement of emotions. Measuring what someone actually feels is difficult to do with anything other than self-report. However, even this methodology is inefficient since the memory for emotional experience is highly unreliable.

There is still no consensus on what emotions are. Scientists agree more on what emotion does than what it is.

There are six basic emotions

In the 1960s, researchers started to study facial expressions that matched six basic emotions: happiness, sadness, anger, surprise, fear, and disgust.

Some researchers now say there are fewer than six basic emotions, and others say there are more (up to 21). But the idea remains that emotions are biologically universal to all humans, and displayed through facial expressions.

  • In the 1950s, psychologists were focused on behaviourism while mostly ignoring emotions.
  • The word "emotion" did not exist in the English language until the early 17th century.
  • For centuries, the mental state to which "emotions" now refer were called either passions or affections.
  • In the early 19th century, Scottish philosopher Thomas Brown was the first to propose emotion as a theoretical category. However, he was unable to define it.

A 1980 study found that when people were shown photographs with posed pictures, people were 80 percent likely to label the expressions correctly. However, when they were shown photos of spontaneous emotions, the rate of recognition went down to 26 percent.

Psychologist Paul Ekman claims that microexpressions can show what people are feeling, even when they try to hide it.

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Human Emotions

An emotion is an objective state that exhibits itself in many ways like behavior, facial expression, heart rate, blood pressure, and stress-hormone levels. Broadly speaking, we know that there are a limited number of discrete human emotions, mainly joy, anger, sadness, fear, love, hate and desire.

New research on human emotions reveals that they are not isolated into fixed slots, but are fluid, subjective, and can take a cue from the way we describe them, altering themselves accordingly.

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Basic Emotions

There are many different types of emotions that have an influence on how we live and interact with others. 

The choices we make, the actions we take, and the perceptions we have are all influenced by the emotions we are experiencing at any given moment.

During the 1970's, pyschologist Paul Eckman identified six bacis emotions that he suggested were universally experienced in all human cultures.


Eye signals
  • Eye gaze: Directly eye contact indicates interest and paying attention. Prolonged eye contact can feel threatening.
  • Blinking:  People often blink more rapidly when they are feeling distressed or uncomfortable. 
  • Pupil size: Highly dilated eyes, for example, can indicate that a person is interested or even aroused. 

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