Conventional science says we have six ‘classic’ emotions. Happy, surprise, fear, sad, disgust and anger. Emotion at its most simplistic. A new study out of Glasgow is claiming that really, it’s probably only four. Surprise/afraid and anger/disgust provoke more or less identical physical responses. By physical response, they’re referring to facial expressions. Their reasoning is that our core emotional responses are centred on survival. It is social factors that led to greater distinction between our emotions over time.

Personally, I struggle with trying to simplify our emotions. In reality, it’s the complexity that makes it fascinating. How we express emotion through our limited facial muscles doesn’t necessarily reflect the true physiological response that’s taking place in our brains.

There is no way of knowing whether the first men and women on this planet shared our exact emotional palette. It stands to reason that emotion, like intelligence, has evolved over time. But I’m not prepared to so easily accept that we only had four building blocks to work from. We know, after all, that love is the strongest emotion of all. All it takes is a nanosecond of attraction to kick-start that intense emotion. And from there the emotional pot gets seriously stirred.

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Kevin Roberts

Kevin Roberts is founder of Red Rose Consulting; business leader and educator; author and speaker; adviser on marketing, creative thinking and leadership.


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