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Robert Plutchik was a psychologist who developed a psychoevolutionary theory of emotion. Learn more about Plutchik’s theory, the wheel of emotions, primary emotions, and dyads.

Evolutionary Theory of Emotions

When we think about our emotions, we tend to think of them solely as states of feeling.

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For example, we may describe happiness as the state of feeling joy or pleasure. Psychologist Robert Plutchik states that there are eight basic emotions: joy, trust, fear, surprise, sadness, anticipation, anger, and disgust. Plutchik created the wheel of emotions, which illustrates the various relationships among the emotions.

Plutchik

While Plutchik identifies only eight basic emotions, you can see from the wheel that there are many different degrees, creating a wide spectrum of emotions.

Plutchik states that emotions are much more complex than most people realize.Emotions have a long evolutionary history. They are not only adaptive, but they have evolved over time in order to increase our reproductive fitness. Emotion plays an important role in issues of survival, and it involves both cognition and behavior.For example, let’s say that you were approached by a snake (threatening event).

You would conclude that you were in danger (cognition), which would cause you to feel fear (emotion). Your fear activates the fight-or-flight response. As a result, you slowly back away from the snake in an attempt to escape (goal-directed behavior).Robert Plutchik developed 10 postulates on which his evolutionary theory of emotions is based:

  1. Animals and Humans: Animals and humans both experience the same basic emotions in similar ways.

  2. Evolutionary History: Emotions appeared as a result of evolution. Emotions were present in animals even before apes evolved.
  3. Survival Issues: Emotions have evolved over time in order to increase the chances of survival in the environment. For example, trust results in collaboration and sharing between humans.
  4. Prototype Patterns: Although there are several types of emotions that are present in different species, there are prototype patterns, or common elements, that are identifiable.
  5. Basic Emotions: A relatively small number of prototype, primary emotions, or basic emotions exist and can be identified.
  6. Combinations: All other emotions occur as a result of a mixture, or combination, of the basic emotions.

    For example, love is a combination of joy (primary emotion) and trust (primary emotion).

  7. Hypothetical Constructs: It is recognized that primary emotions are hypothetical constructs or idealized states, which we describe in terms of their particular properties and characteristics. These descriptions can only be inferred based on several kinds of evidence.

  8. Opposites: The primary emotions are categorized into pairs of polar opposites.
  9. Similarity: All emotions have different degrees of similarity to one another.
  10. Intensity: Each emotion can vary in its level of intensity.

Plutchik’s Eight Basic Emotions

As we stated earlier, Plutchik’s eight basic emotions are joy, trust, fear, surprise, sadness, anticipation, anger, and disgust. Each primary emotion also has a polar opposite, so that:

  • Joy is the opposite of sadness.

  • Fear is the opposite of anger.
  • Anticipation is the opposite of surprise.
  • Disgust is the opposite of trust.

Plutchik created the wheel of emotions in order to illustrate the various relationships among the emotions.

Plutchik

The intensity of emotion decreases as you move outward and increases as you move toward the wheel’s center.

The intensity of the emotion is indicated by the color. The darker the shade, the more intense the emotion. For example, anger at its least level of intensity is annoyance. At its highest level of intensity, anger becomes rage.

Dyads: Combinations of Emotions

Plutchik’s wheel also contains primary dyads, which are combinations of primary emotions that lie next to each other on the wheel of emotions. Here is a list of primary dyads:

  • Optimism: the combination of anticipation and joy
  • Love: the combination of joy and trust
  • Submission: the combination of trust and fear
  • Awe: the combination of fear and surprise
  • Disapproval: the combination of surprise and sadness
  • Remorse: the combination of sadness and disgust
  • Contempt: the combination of disgust and anger
  • Aggression: the combination of anger and anticipation

Plutchik identified secondary dyads, which are combinations of primary emotions that are once removed from each other on the wheel of emotions.

Examples of secondary dyads include:

  • Guilt: the combination of joy and fear
  • Curiosity: the combination of trust and surprise
  • Despair: the combination of fear and sadness
  • Envy: the combination of sadness and anger

There are also tertiary dyads, which are combinations of primary emotions that are twice removed from each other on the wheel of emotions. Examples of tertiary dyads include:

  • Delight: the combination of joy and surprise
  • Shame: the combination of fear and disgust
  • Anxiety: the combination of anticipation and fear
  • Dominance: the combination of anger and trust

Lesson Summary

Robert Plutchik is a psychologist who created a psychoevolutionary theory of emotion. Plutchik identified ten postulates on which his evolutionary theory of emotions is based. Plutchik’s wheel of emotion illustrates the relationships between his primary emotions and other related emotions. The eight basic emotions are joy, trust, fear, surprise, sadness, anticipation, anger, and disgust.

Plutchik also identified several primary dyads, secondary dyads, and tertiary dyads.

Robert Plutchik’s Wheel of Emotion: Key Terms

Joy is the opposite of sadness, according to Plutchik
happywheel
  • Robert Plutchik: psychologist who developed a psychoevolutionary theory of emotion
  • Wheel of emotions: illustrates the various relationships between primary emotions and other related emotions
    • 8 basic emotions: joy, trust, fear, surprise, sadness, anticipation, anger, and disgust
    • Primary dyads: combinations of primary emotions that lie next to each other on the wheel
    • Secondary dyads: combinations of primary emotions once removed from each other on the wheel
    • Tertiary dyads: combinations of primary emotions twice removed from each other on the wheel

Learning Outcomes

After completing this lesson, students should be able to:

  • Describe Plutchik’s wheel of emotion
  • Identify Plutchik’s 10 postulates
  • Recall the theory’s 8 basic emotions
  • Explain what the wheel of emotion’s primary, secondary and tertiary dyads are
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