Ekman's Six Basic Emotions: List, Definitions & Quiz
In this lesson, we'll discuss Paul Ekman and how he discovered the six basic emotions universal across all cultures. You can view images and read descriptions of these emotions, and then you can test your knowledge with a quiz.
Who is Paul Ekman?
After his mother developed a mental illness and committed suicide, psychologist and behavioral scientist Paul Ekman dedicated his life to psychotherapy and helping people with mental disorders. He first began his research in nonverbal communication in the 1950s, developing systematic ways to measure body language. In the process, he discovered that, through empirical research, he could consistently identify facial expressions created by the movement of muscles in the face. And so, Ekman extended his research to include facial expressions and their meanings.
The Six Basic Emotions
Before Ekman hit the scene, it was widely believed (by anthropologists including Margaret Mead) that facial expressions and the emotions they represent were determined by culture - that people learned to make and read facial expressions from their societies. Ekman set out to test this notion in 1968. He travelled to Papua New Guinea to study the facial expressions of the secluded Fore tribesmen, where he learned that they could consistently identify emotion in facial expressions by looking at photos of people from other cultures, even though the tribe had not been exposed to any outside cultures.
It became evident, then, that facial expressions are cross-cultural; his research revealed that there is a universal set of certain facial expressions used in both the Western and Eastern worlds. This list of universal facial expressions, which Ekman published in 1972, comprises the six basic emotions. Take at look at the list, as well as images, definitions and muscular movements of these emotions, below:
|Emotion||Picture||Definition||Facial Muscular Movements|
|Anger|| ||Antagonism toward a person or object often felt after you feel you've been wronged or offended||Lowering eyebrows, tightening and narrowing lips, glaring eyes, tightening lower eyelids; less commonly, thrusting jaw forward|
|Happiness|| ||Pleasant feeling of contentment and well-being||Smiling - pulling up corners of mouth, contracting large orbital muscles around eyes|
|Surprise|| ||Feeling of upset or surprise at an unexpected occurrence||Raising eyebrows high (which may cause wrinkles across forehead), opening eyes wide, dropping jaw so mouth is agape|
|Disgust|| ||Intense displeasure or condemnation caused by something offensive or repulsive||Narrowing eyebrows, curling upper lip, wrinkling nose|
|Sadness|| ||Feeling of unhappiness or sorrow||Drooping eyelids, lowering corners of mouth, pouting lips, downcast eyes|
|Fear|| ||Feeling of apprehension caused by perception of danger, threat or infliction of pain||Raising eyebrows/drawing eyebrows together, tensing lower eyelids, stretching lips horizontally, mouth slightly open|
Adding to the List
Ekman's findings on universal facial expressions revealed the cross-cultural nature of the relationship between nonverbal communication and emotion; however, Ekman's theories have evolved since he first devised his list of basic emotions. In the 1990s, he added a host of others to the list of universal emotions, though he emphasized that not all of them can be identified using facial expressions. These additional emotions are:
- Pride in achievement
- Sensory pleasure
Paul Ekman determined the six basic emotions that are common among people in all cultures. The six basic emotions are anger, happiness, surprise, disgust, sadness and fear. Before he published his findings in the early 1970s, it was widely believed that facial expressions and their meanings were specific to each culture.
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