Robert Plutchik's Theory of Emotions

As long as humanity exists, it is so much concerned about the question of emotions - what kind of phenomenon is it, why do they arise and why are they so difficult to control, what is the meaning of them and how many of them exist. Many fiction books are devoted to emotions, feelings and experiences of the soul, or touch on this topic in one way or another, and no less number of academic articles and studies have been written about them. At the moment, there are about a hundred scientific definitions of emotions, dozens of classifications and a number of theories regarding this burning phenomenon.

In this article, we want to consider the adaptation model of emotions developed by the American psychologist Robert Plutchik. Plutchik devoted many decades to the study of the nature of emotions, as well as their evolutionary prerequisites and mechanisms, features and causes of protective mental reactions, as well as to the psychodiagnostic details of human types. The fruit of all these scientific researches was the adaptive (or psychoevolutionary) model of emotions and the so-called Wheel of emotions, which we will consider.

Let's understand the evolutionary background of our emotions better and get acquainted with the Plutchik model in detail.

Psychoevolutionary model of emotions

Plutchik's theory is based on the understanding of emotions as evolutionary mechanisms designed to ensure the best adaptation to external conditions and effective survival. In this paradigm, every emotion has a role to play as a facilitator of adaptive behavior, and behind every emotion there is a natural impulse that must be expressed. These mechanisms are genetically determined and work automatically, moving us and helping us to respond to external circumstances.

So, 8 primary, basic (or prototype) emotions are distinguished:

  • anger;
  • fear;
  • sadness;
  • joy;
  • disgust;
  • astonishment;
  • anticipation (also called expectation, and this is a joyful expectation);
  • confidence.

At the same time, all of them can be combined into pairs of opposites (bipolar pairs): anger - fear, sadness - joy, disgust - surprise, anticipation (expectation) - trust.

Plutchik notes that all these emotions are observed in animals for the same evolutionary reasons. That is, the fact that emotions are inherent not only in homo sapiens, but also in other biological species, confirms that they have a deep vital meaning. Basic emotions and stimuli drive animals, just as they do us, to the most appropriate behavior in terms of adapting to life.

To better understand what exactly the role of each of the basic emotions is, let's look at them in more detail. Plutchik decomposed the possible phenomena involved in the development of basic emotions into peculiar chains. In them, an external phenomenon (stimulus) entails a certain perception, a conclusion about it (cognition). This includes a certain experience (actually an emotion) that leads to the appropriate behavior. And all this is crowned by the effect or goal pursued by the individual in this psycho-adaptive model. Plutchik presented all the elements of this system in the form of a table in his book Theories of Emotions, published in 1980. From it we see that:

  • Fear (horror) is characteristic of a situation of threat (signal: "Danger!"), And its meaning lies in self-preservation.
  • The emotion of anger (anger, rage) is a response to an obstacle (“Enemy”), and aims to destroy, eliminate this obstacle.
  • Joy (ecstasy) arises at the sight of a potential partner, and gives rise to desire for the purpose of procreation.
  • The loss of a significant individual causes sadness, grief, signaling abandonment, and encourages people to reintegrate (reunite with people, society).
  • Acceptance, trust are characteristic of situations where we meet with a member of our group, “ours” (recognizing him as a “friend”), and strive for attachment, a closer connection with him.
  • If we are confronted with a disgusting object, the reaction of rejection and the emotion of disgust (hatred) will be natural. The purpose of this process is to reject, reject that which can harm, poison or kill.
  • Anticipation (joyful expectation) is characteristic of situations where we are faced with something new, unknown to us, new territory. We are driven by interest and desire to know terra incognita: “What is there?” Therefore, our subsequent actions proceed from the message to explore.
  • And, finally, surprise is a response to some new, unexpected or unknown object (“What is it?”) In such a situation, we are driven by the goal to determine our place in relation to this object, to find guidelines and understanding of the situation so that we know. That we are safe in relation to this object and can be calm.
  • Thus, it turns out that the main role of emotions is adaptive. They evolved over the course of evolution in both animals and humans in order to help them best cope with emerging situations. Depending on what the situation is and what its significance is for the individual, the emotion allows one to act from the right impulse while maintaining bodily integrity and well-being.

    Here we can draw a curious analogy with a different point of view on the basic emotions inherent in all people. Let's look at it in more detail.

    Ekman's basic emotions and how to recognize them

    The seven emotions described by Paul Ekman are also called basic or basic emotions. This American psychologist and researcher gained great fame thanks to his work, in which he showed that facial expressions of various emotions are universal for all people, regardless of their cultural, racial and other affiliation. Published in 1978, the Facial Movement Coding System (FACS) clearly and comprehensively demonstrates what micro-movements and facial expressions look like and offers a kind of code for reading emotions.

    The 7 universal emotions described by Ekman include:

    • astonishment;
    • fear;
    • disgust;
    • anger;
    • joy;
    • sadness;
    • contempt.

    Each of the 7 universal emotions is distinguished by its specific micro-movements and micro-expressions of facial expressions, by which it is possible to accurately recognize it. You can study this aspect in detail in the article "Micro-expressions", but it is better to understand the whole system by reading Paul Ekman's books "Psychology of Emotions" and "Psychology of Lies".

    We also draw your attention to the fact that for those who want to go even further in the ability to understand and “read” people, there is an online profiling training program. It is designed to teach you to recognize a person better, including leaving a psychological portrait and understanding real emotions, recognizing true and false ones. In addition, the program teaches skills to detect lies, stop manipulation and influence people. But let's continue.

    As we can easily see, the above emotions practically coincide with all the basic emotions identified by Plutchik. The exceptions are joyful anticipation (anticipation, interest) and trust, which are present in Plutchik's system but absent in Ekman, and contempt. However, this fact does not devalue either one or the other theory.

    Thus, Robert Plutchik's theory of emotions largely intersects with other theories of basic emotions, in particular with the system of basic emotions, mimic microexpressions of which are clearly described in the works of Paul Ekman.

    Wheel of Emotions by Robert Plutchik

    The wheel of emotions, created by Plutchik in 1980, represents emotions in the form of a kind of flower with eight petals. Each "petal" symbolizes one of the prototype emotions, with opposite emotions located opposite each other. It turns out that polar emotions oppose and balance one another:

    There can be a huge variety of different emotions and feelings, but they are all either basic emotions or their mixture and derivatives. Thus, the eight emotions located outside the wheel, in the space between the petals, are a combination of the emotions of adjacent petals.

    The wheel of emotions is made in color, which has a lot of meaning. Each emotion has its own color, and its saturation reflects the intensity of the experience, the brightness of the emotion. It turns out that in the very heart of the scheme there are the most vivid in strength, saturated emotions, in the second row (the second segment of the petals) the main (or basic) emotions proper, and then a less pronounced version of each of the emotions.

    It is worth noting that Plutchik himself did not call his graphic scheme a flower and did not use the term "petals". In his works, he presented a model of a wheel and a model of a cone, which form one whole. If the Wheel of Emotions is an expanded two-dimensional scheme, then the cone is the same model, but in a collapsed three-dimensional form. The original graphical model, which clearly demonstrates both schemes and their relationship, can be found in Plutchik's article from 2001 [The Nature of Emotions, 2001]

    To summarize: the main 8 emotions and their different degrees of intensity can be represented as a circle, flower or wheel. This diagram, called the Wheel of Emotions, reflects both the saturation of each of the emotions through a color code, and demonstrates the relationship of polarity or opposite emotions. In addition to the basic emotions themselves, she indicates 8 derivatives formed by mixing two prototype emotional states.


    Several practical implications can be drawn from Robert Plutchik's theory of emotions. Knowing this model helps you be more aware and better manage your emotions. To get the most benefit from this knowledge for your life, it is worth remembering the following points:

  • There are no bad or unnecessary emotions. All 8 basic emotions are adaptive, that is, necessary for life and an adequate response to external stimuli. The division into negative and positive emotions is conditional, and one can talk about the harm and danger of emotions when they cease to be proportionate to the situation and get out of control.
  • Each emotion has its own role, an impulse that pushes us to the most effective action in terms of adaptation. A conscious person sees this thread. For example, anger is justified and natural in a situation where your boundaries are violated in some way or there is a threat to your physical or self-esteem. And something repulsive will cause disgust and rejection, even if it comes from a close and beloved person. And to blame, to shame yourself for the fact that something in the appearance of a loved one or some manifestation of it caused spontaneous disgust in you, and suppressing it is stupid.
  • If you are overcome by emotions and it seems to you that it is impossible to control them, developing awareness and the skill of better understanding your emotions and urges will help you. For any such emotional onslaught, ask a few specific questions. This allows not only to calm down, but also sheds light on what was hidden under the veil of acute emotions and painful conditions. As you increase your awareness, you begin to better understand your needs and impulses that drive you. Moreover, the reduced activity of the limbic system and the re-energized neocortex make it possible to find effective and appropriate options in a given situation. These are the questions:
    • What exactly am I feeling?
    • What is the intensity of this emotion?
    • How can it be called, denoted most accurately?
    • What do I want to do under the influence of this emotion, what does it push me to do?
    • What is important to me, what do I want to receive and how to feel in this situation?
    • What other, more appropriate and efficient ways are there to achieve this?
  • Understanding oneself helps to build one's communication and relationships with near and far surroundings. By remembering that basic emotions and the impulses behind them are universal, and also by being able to identify emotions from micro facial expressions, you become a more aware and competent communicator and connoisseur of human nature. You can even help people better understand themselves and understand what drives them.
  • This knowledge and the skill of awareness of emotions are very helpful in raising children. Teach your children the simple emotion clearing algorithm described in step three. Show them the importance of mindfulness and a sober approach to emotional experiences and their needs. It is best if you yourself master the skill of managing emotions (emotional regulation) and become an example for them to follow.
  • So, the adaptation model of emotions by Robert Plutchik is not only a curious theory about basic emotions and the evolutionary prerequisites for their formation. With its help, a better understanding of the internal mechanism of psycho-emotional dynamics is possible, and this knowledge serves for greater awareness and self-organization. Based on Plutchik's model, one can more effectively use the energy potential and impulse of each of the emotions, and, while maintaining awareness and understanding, choose an adequate model of behavior and response to the situation.

    We remind you that on our website there is a program "Mental self-regulation", the purpose of which is to teach practical skills to manage emotions and your mental state. It may be of interest to those who have difficulty controlling emotions and stress levels, as well as all those who simply want to learn how to manage any of their conditions.

    And finally, we wish you awareness and turning your emotions to your advantage!

    Things to know (Q&A)

    What are the 8 basic emotions by psychologist Robert Plutchik?

    Primary: The eight sectors are designed to indicate that there are eight primary emotion dimensions. They are anger, anticipation, joy, trust, fear, surprise, sadness and disgust .

    What is an emotion Robert Plutchik?

    The Feelings Wheel Defined

    Psychologist Robert Plutchik created the Plutchik Model shown above. It shows there are 8 basic emotions: joy, trust, fear, surprise, sadness, anticipation, anger, and disgust . Plutchik's wheel of emotions organizes these 8 basic emotions based on the physiological purpose of eac

    What can you say about Plutchik's wheel of emotion?

    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 disgus

    How do you use Plutchik's wheel of emotions?

    Emotions on Plutchik's wheel may be combined as follows:

    1. Anticipation + Joy = Optimism (with its opposite being disapproval)
    2. Joy + Trust = Love (with its opposite being remorse)
    3. Trust + Fear = Submission (with its opposite being contempt)
    4. Fear + Surprise = Awe (with its opposite being aggression)

    What are the 8 basic emotions by psychologist Robert Plutchik and share an experience when you had these 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 dyad

    What are the 8 fundamental emotions?

    Robert Plutchik proposed eight primary emotions: anger, fear, sadness, disgust, surprise, anticipation, trust and joy , and arranged them in a color whee

    How many emotions are there in the emotion wheel proposed by Robert Plutchik?


    Psychologist Robert Plutchik developed one of the most popular emotion wheels, known as the Plutchik wheel. He suggested that people experience eight core emotions, which he arranged in opposite pairs on the wheel: sadness and joy. anger and fea

    What are the eight basic emotions according to Plutchik's model of emotions?

    The 8 basic emotions that Plutchik devised were:

    • Anger.
    • Disgust.
    • Fear.
    • Sadness.
    • Anticipation.
    • Joy.
    • Surprise.
    • Trust.

    How does Plutchik describe emotions?

    Plutchik's wheel of emotions

    Plutchik first proposed his cone-shaped model (3D) or the wheel model (2D) in 1980 to describe how emotions were related. He suggested 8 primary bipolar emotions: joy versus sadness; anger versus fear; trust versus disgust ; and surprise versus anticipation.

    What is Psychoevolutionary theory?

    n. The branch of psychology in which aspects of brain structure, cognition, and behavior are interpreted as evolutionary adaptations to the physical or social environment . Link to this page:

    What are the 34000 emotions?

    It's around 34,000. With so many emotions, how can one navigate the turbulent waters of feelings, without getting lost? The answer: with an emotion wheel.
    The Wheel of Emotions

    • joy and sadness.
    • acceptance and disgust.
    • fear and anger.
    • surprise and anticipation.

    How do you explain the feelings of a wheel?

    1. The emotion wheel describes eight basic emotions: anger, anticipation, disgust, fear, joy, sadness, surprise and trust.
    2. People can use the wheel to identify their emotions and come to terms to how they are feeling and, ultimately, become more self-aware and self-compassionate.

    How does Plutchik's wheel of emotions work?

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

    How do you use an emotional wheel?

    With a Feelings Wheel, the core emotions are at the center of the circle—which is the easiest place to start. After choosing the most accurate core emotion, you can use your finger to identify the more specific emotions that you connect with on the outer edges of the circle.

    What are the four characteristics of emotions that Plutchik proposed?

    He suggested 8 primary bipolar emotions: joy versus sadness; anger versus fear; trust versus disgust; and surprise versus anticipation.