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Humans Have 27 Distinct Emotional States

11 September 2017

From Berkeley News:

The Emoji Movie, in which the protagonist can’t help but express a wide variety of emotions instead of the one assigned to him, may have gotten something right. A new UC Berkeley study challenges a long-held assumption in psychology that most human emotions fall within the universal categories of happiness, sadness, anger, surprise, fear and disgust.

Using novel statistical models to analyze the responses of more than 800 men and women to over 2,000 emotionally evocative video clips, UC Berkeley researchers identified 27 distinct categories of emotion and created a multidimensional, interactive map to show how they’re connected.

. . . .

“We found that 27 distinct dimensions, not six, were necessary to account for the way hundreds of people reliably reported feeling in response to each video,” said study senior author Dacher Keltner, a UC Berkeley psychology professor and expert on the science of emotions.

Moreover, in contrast to the notion that each emotional state is an island, the study found that “there are smooth gradients of emotion between, say, awe and peacefulness, horror and sadness, and amusement and adoration,” Keltner said.

“We don’t get finite clusters of emotions in the map because everything is interconnected,” said study lead author Alan Cowen, a doctoral student in neuroscience at UC Berkeley. “Emotional experiences are so much richer and more nuanced than previously thought.”

“Our hope is that our findings will help other scientists and engineers more precisely capture the emotional states that underlie moods, brain activity and expressive signals, leading to improved psychiatric treatments, an understanding of the brain basis of emotion and technology responsive to our emotional needs,” he added.

. . . .

Themes from the 2,185 video clips — collected from various online sources for the study — included births and babies, weddings and proposals, death and suffering, spiders and snakes, physical pratfalls and risky stunts, sexual acts, natural disasters, wondrous nature and awkward handshakes.

Three separate groups of study participants watched sequences of videos, and, after viewing each clip, completed a reporting task. The first group freely reported their emotional responses to each of 30 video clips.

“Their responses reflected a rich and nuanced array of emotional states, ranging from nostalgia to feeling ‘grossed out,’” Cowen said.

. . . .

“We sought to shed light on the full palette of emotions that color our inner world,” Cowen said.

Link to the rest at Berkeley News

You can play with the emotions map described in the OP at the link. It’s not immediately intuitive (at least for PG), but if you over your cursor over the numerous little letters in the center, you’ll see one of the 2,185 videos used in the study. At the top left of the map, you’ll see the combination of emotions that the video induced in study participants.

PG says this may permit authors to break away from old emotions for their characters and use brand new emotions.

Or not.

Authors have managed to do quite a bit with happiness, sadness, anger, surprise, fear and disgust without (in PG’s emotionally humble opinion) exhausting all the possibilities.

Books in General

4 Comments to “Humans Have 27 Distinct Emotional States”

  1. I was taught in psychology class that humans have only two emotional states: excited and not excited. Lust, fear, anger, joy are all labels we attach to the excited state.

    Not saying that what I learned then was right, but it’s a helluvalot easier to remember than 27.

    • This makes me think of Twilight (probably because I just rewatched those movies) and how in the books, Stephanie Meyer tries to explain how Jasper can control emotions by saying it’s a physical control (he affects their bodies). Which has problems, lore-wise, even if that’s true, but the relevant point here is that it’s not. Exactly because of what you’re saying. For example, fear looks a lot like lust if you’re looking at it as a purely physiological reaction. And when it comes to causing people to feel emotions (which Jasper can do)… If my heart suddenly starts beating fast, I don’t become joyous or fearful or whatever. I wonder why my heart’s beating so fast and if I’ve ingested too much caffeine lately. I have a similar problem with the Mercy Thompson series, where werewolves can literally smell things like emotional states and lies.

      I think this is something that writers of fantasy (or other such superhuman type characters/races) need to keep in mind. Emotions are far more than the physiological symptoms associated with them, and when you pretend like there’s a one-to-one correlation that can be detected/caused with extreme accuracy, you start to break down your reader’s suspension of disbelief.

  2. I find the gradations into different emotions and the proximities interesting. Also the mixtures of emotions. Helps visualize why emotions can be so confusing. I love it in stories when characters wrestle with emotional complexity. I also love it when authors show appreciation for the fact that any given experience can trigger different emotions depending on the interpretations (thoughts) of the character, especially when characters re-think their initial interpretations and thereby change the emotions and possible responses. Growth in such thinking is also cool to see. Keeps me interested in the story. When a one-trick pony of an emotional character just goes around doing stuff, it gets boring quick.

  3. My first thought was to wonder how many of those states were…chemically assisted… 😀

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