Business NLP Blog


Emotion classification

What are emotions?


Emotions, in the field of psychology, are defined as a subjective but conscious experience which is primarily comprised of various biological reactions, differing mental states, as well as psychophysiological expressions. Emotions can be influenced by both external and internal factors, such as an outward event or personality. Other factors which can affect emotions include physical factors, such as injury, as well as biological factors such as hormones. Hormones, for example, may cause emotions to be more spontaneous, out of control, or intense. Because emotions are subjective, they are sometimes difficult for psychologists to measure; typically, psychologists will use biological and mental factors to help measure emotional states.

The classification of emotions

Emotion classification

The classification of emotions is typically approached from one of two different, but fundamental, viewpoints.The first viewpoint approaches emotions from the belief that emotions are discrete and measurable because they are based in biological factors, and that certain emotions are universal rather than cultural or subjective depending on the individual. The second viewpoint approaches emotions from the belief that they cannot be measured because they are too subjective and therefore cannot be classified with any universality.

Paul Ekman, a renowned supporter of the first viewpoint, classified emotions into six basic emotions: anger, fear, happiness, disgust, sadness and surprise. Under the first viewpoint, these basic emotions are considered to be biological fixed—that is, they are experienced by all groups of people in a similar manner, and they may even be experienced by some animals. These basic emotions are the basis for all emotional complex emotions are generally considered to be a more refined version of the six basic emotions which are more subjective and variable.

Robert Plutchik agreed with the Ekman theory that basic emotions are discrete and measurable. However, Plutchik developed a wider range of basic emotions into what he called a “wheel of emotions.” Under a wheel of emotions concept, emotions are grouped in broader categories—such as happy, sad, angry, scared, and so on—and then further defined into more refined emotions. For example, a refined list of emotions for the category of happy emotions may be: contented, glad, satisfied, pleased, optimistic, and fulfilled.

Emotion classification

Although many psychologists and sociologists subscribe to the viewpoint that emotions can be classified, there is not a universal consensus on which emotions can be classified, which emotions are considered basic, or which emotions, if any, are biologically universal. There are dozens of different basic emotional models, including but not limited to the following popular emotional classification models:

The Spinoza Model: This model, developed by Baruch Spinoza, was developed in the 17th century and classifies the following emotions as basic emotions: Pleasure, pain, and desire.
The Li Chi Model: This model, which is based on research taken from a Chinese encyclopedia from the first century B.C., includes the following basic, universal emotions: Joy, sadness, anger, love, fear, dislike, and like.
The Tomkins Model: This model, developed by Silvin Tomkins in the 20th century, classifies the following emotions as basic: Enjoyment and Joy, Interest and Excitement, Surprise and Startlement, Anger and Rage, Contempt and Disgust, Distress and Anguish, Fear and Terror, Shame and Humiliation.


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