It’s not just about feeling happy or sad — researchers say humans can experience several categories of emotions.
These findings from the University of California, Berkeley, which were recently published in Proceedings of National Academy of Sciences, found there are 27 distinct categories of emotions.
These, in alphabetical order, include admiration, adoration, aesthetic appreciation, amusement, anger, anxiety, awe, awkwardness, boredom, calmness, confusion, craving, disgust, empathetic pain, entrancement, excitement, fear, horror, interest, joy, nostalgia, relief, romance, sadness, satisfaction, sexual desire and surprise.
Co-author Alan S. Cowen of Berkeley’s Department of Psychology, says he is surprised a study of this kind hasn’t been done already.
“As a neuroscientist, one of the things I study is how different emotions are represented by different spatial patterns of brain activity,” he tells Global News. “Scientists need to understand how many different emotion states there are — and how they are related to each other — to investigate how emotions affect our brain activity, our decisions, and our physiology.”
“We wanted to know how many different kinds of emotion are reliably elicited by videos of the most psychologically significant situations people experience across life,” Cowen continues.
Pinpointing the emotions
For their research, Cowen and his team showed over 2,000 videos that elicited emotions and asked participants how the videos made them feel. Participants were also asked to rank these videos, keeping in mind if they were positive, negative, or caused excitement or calmness, Forbes notes. Researchers even posted these videos in an interactive map online.
Videos lasted about five seconds and included everything from weddings and proposals, sexual acts, natural disasters, endearing animals, surgeries, risky stunts and suffering and death.
“We were surprised by how rich and nuanced their emotional reports were and how rich the space of emotion is, given scientists have generally focused on just five to six kinds of emotion,” he says. “We also observed that there are continuous gradients of intermediate blends of emotional states between many different categories. Typically, scientists treat every state as discrete — one or the other — and this paints a whole different picture.”
Cowen adds these typical six emotions include anger, disgust, fear, happiness, sadness, and surprise. In 2015, Disney even released an animated film on how children understand some of these emotions in Inside Out.
“Until now, emotion scientists haven’t had access to the statistical methods needed to explore how many emotions people reliably recognize to be distinct.”
Managing our emotions
And it’s no surprise people tend to feel a variety of emotions during certain life events and sometimes, they are unwanted. According to Susan Krauss Whitbourne, professor of psychology at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, there are ways to regulate these unwanted emotions, she notes in Psychology Today.
“Avoid circumstances that trigger unwanted emotions. If you know that you’re most likely to get angry when you’re in a hurry (and you become angry when others force you to wait), then don’t leave things for the last minute,” she wrote.
Shifting your attentional focus and changing your thought process on some of these situations also helps, she adds.
Cowen says while this list is a glimpse of why emotion scientists need to broaden their focus, a lot more research in this realm needs to be done.
“We haven’t been exploring anything close to the variety of emotions we should be studying, especially in neuroscience,” he says.
On top of this, we’re also constantly shaping our emotional environment as humans, especially with what we see online.
“We can do a better job of quantifying the rich and nuanced array of emotional states being manipulated by websites like Netflix, by the music we listen to, and by the news we read. We just might be able to use that information to more consciously confront our emotional needs as individuals and as a society.”