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  • Filiz Yönyüksel

Introduction to Emotions

Updated: Mar 4

General definition of emotion and similar terms

This illustration was taken from DrawKit

What are emotions?

Emotions are complex reaction patterns that have behavioral, psychological, and physiological outcomes [1]. There are different emotions, which have different reasons to appear and the way they are expressed can change.

Moods, emotions, and feelings

The terms mood, emotion, and feeling are similar to each other but have their differences. It is important to know them before learning more about emotions.


  • Short-lived,

  • Intense,

  • Likely to have a definite and identifiable cause.


  • A result of emotions,

  • Differs on our perception of the situation (the reason for same emotion yielding different feelings for different people) [3].


  • Temporary and relatively stable,

  • Mostly positive or negative [4],

  • The reason may be clear or not,

  • No specific reason is required [2].

Emotion theories

Paul Ekman defines 7 universal emotions. These emotions are joy, sadness, anger, disgust, fear, surprise, and contempt [5]. According to him every culture experience these emotions, but the way they are perceived and acted upon can differ. He also emphasizes the differences and similarities of facial expressions on emotional states, which is a very important topic for understanding emotions.

Plutchik adds trust, and anticipation to these, but subtracts contempt, as he considers it to be a complex emotion that stands between anger and disgust [6]. these emotions and proposes their intensities also make up for other emotions. Plutchik states that every emotion serves an evolutionary function and they are in strong relation to the body’s physiological responses [6]. There are three levels of intensity in Plutchik’s Wheel of Emotions [7]. Every emotion has one higher intensity and one lower intensity of emotion (Acceptance - Trust - Admiration etc.). Besides that, there are combinations of emotions that create other emotions. Now let’s learn about these emotions.

Definitions of emotions

Joy typically arises from a connection or sensory pleasure. According to Paul Ekman, relief, peace, pride, excitement, and some other positive pleasurable states share the same ground with enjoyment [8]. It is the opposite of sadness. Higher intensity shows ecstasy, lower intensity shows serenity [9].

Function of joy

  • Expressing enjoyment is an important role in signaling one is not a threat in a social context.

  • Enjoyable emotions are accepted as motivators for us to do things that are good for us as a community (species).

  • Some researchers agree that the pursuit of enjoyment is a primary motivation in our lives.

Common enjoyment triggers

  • Enjoyment derived through one of the five senses (touch, taste, smell, sight, sound),

  • Experiencing or witnessing something humorous or amusing,

  • Personal achievement or witnessing the achievements of a loved one,

  • Feeling connected (i.e., to yourself, other people, places, animals, nature, a cause, spirit, or religion) [8].

Expressions of joy