Discovery Fit & Health
Some emotions are complex, brought about by any number of events, past experiences and inner thoughts or personality traits. It's possible, though, that they all stem from basic emotions humans shared across cultures. In 1972, anthropologist Paul Ekman and his colleagues published an article that described what they determined are the six basic emotions felt by all humans. These basic emotions -- surprise, fear, happiness, sadness, anger and disgust -- have been cited often by researchers as the basis for all human emotions. Ekman and colleagues used universal facial reactions as the method for including these six emotions. The emotions are considered universal, although other theories list slightly different and sometimes fewer emotions [source: Ortony]. In addition, researchers now believe most animals also experience some or most of these basic emotions as well.
Over time, contempt and disgust, once considered one and the same, have been defined individually, and the basic emotion of joy is now considered to provide the basis for happiness, which is a larger combination of more basic emotions and sensations.
Some theorists reject the idea that there are basic emotions, or the need for them. Others use the basic emotions as the sort of jumping-off points for all emotions, considering the basic emotions the most primitive, while the more complex functions occur with high-level brain functions. Emotions do, after all, start with the brain's amygdala and insula. These are parts of what's known as the reptilian, or primitive, brain.
Once the brain begins to integrate all of its various input, the basic emotions can become more subtly defined. In fact, the English language uses hundreds of words to define specific emotions. Are you better than happy? Then maybe you're euphoric? What's the reason for your sadness? Could it be dejection or disappointment? To reach these more subtle emotional levels, the brain draws on mental processes that incorporate memories, perceptions and judgment [source: Thagard]. Theories have even looked into how many different areas of the brain jump into the act (seven, by the way) to contribute to your evaluation of decisions. This is part of the reason that you hear about emotional decision making; the brain can't just cut off the logical reasoning you're sorting through from all of the emotional connections.
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