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What Are Emotions And How Can We Classify Them?

by Mindvalley April 19, 2019

When your emotions come up you want to pay attention. You want to listen to them.

-Jon Butcher, Author of Mindvalley’s Lifebook Program

Learning to master our emotional states is easier said than done. But the first step is in understanding:

What are emotions?

Here’s all you need to know about the four core emotions.

What Are Emotions And Feelings?


Is there a difference between emotions vs feelings?

The short answer: yes. In fact, they actually occur in entirely different parts of the brain.

Emotions occur in the brain’s ventromedial prefrontal cortex and amygdala. Different emotional states can be measured by the brain’s activity, blood flow, and facial expressions.

On the other hand, feelings come from the neocortical regions of the brain. They are our mental associations to a certain emotion.

The main difference? Emotions are our response to an external stimulus. While feelings are the brain’s byproduct that reflects our perception of the emotion.

Contemporary psychology distinguishes a core handful of emotions. Of these emotions, there are four core emotions we all experience on a day to day basis.

What are the 4 core emotions?

A recent study at Glasgow University indicates that there are 4 core emotions:

  • sadness
  • happiness
  • anger/disgust
  • fear/surprise 

The combined classifications of fear/surprise and anger/disgust might seem somewhat confusing. But the researchers made a compelling argument that these emotions are much more similar in nature than we realize.

Just take a look at the facial expressions used for these emotions. For example, your nose may wrinkle when you’re disgusted or when you’re angry. 

The reasons for these similarities lie in the evolutionary nature of human emotions.

In the case of both fear and surprise, your eyes widen to allow for a better response to danger. While it may have helped our ancestors to flee from peril, the contemporary emotional response is usually linked to societal reasons rather than physical threats.

7 basic emotions

What Are The 7 Human Emotions?


There’s plenty of evidence to support Glasgow University’s theory of 4 core emotions. However, some might find this theory lacks an adequate explanation for all the nuances of human emotion.

After all, there are 43 different muscles on your face which can produce more than 10,000 different expressions. With that in mind, it’s not uncommon to find sources that cite the 7 human emotions as follows:

1. Happiness

The muscles around your eyes contract and your cheeks rise. Your lips extend into a broad smile.

2. Surprise

Good or bad, your reaction to a surprise is the same. The mouth opens, pupils dilate, and eyebrows and eyelids rise up.

3. Sadness

Loose eyelids, a down-turned mouth, and contracted inner corners of the eyebrows indicate sadness. 

4. Disgust

To show distaste, your lips become will grimace, your nose will wrinkle, and your eyebrows will contract.

5. Fear

When experiencing fear, your brows slide up, your eyes widen, and your mouth may fall open. 

6. Anger

The angry face is designed to make you look stronger. Your eyes narrow as you grit and bare your teeth, creating a warning sign for whoever is on the opposite side.

7. Contempt

This is one of the few emotions that affect just one part of your face. Your eyes appear neutral as one corner of your lip pulls to the back corner of your face.

Final thoughts

With a better understanding of other people’s emotional responses, you can also better understand your own.

In turn, you’re better equipped to handle the feelings that come from your emotions and can gain better control over your responses.


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There’s a reason that so many brilliantly talented, naturally creative, intelligent and capable people never reach their potential, and it is, quite simply, a lack of direction.

Even if you have a vague goal in mind, you still need a plan, a process to get you there.

You can have the most expensive, fastest car in the world, but if you set off without a clear idea of where you’re going, then the rusty old Beatle with a map and compass will beat you there every time.

If You're Ready To Experience The Extraordinary Life Design System That Gives YOU The Power To Author Your Ultimate Life, Then Join Jon & Missy Butcher's Free Masterclass


Where You will Learn:

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What do you feel most often? Let us know in the comments below.

by Mindvalley
Mindvalley is creating a global school that delivers transformational education for all ages. Powered by community. Fueled by fun. We are dedicated to ensuring that humans live happier, healthier, and more fulfilled lives by plugging in the gaps that conventional education failed to teach us. We do this by organising real-world events around the world and producing world-class quality programmes in several areas of transformation, including mind, body, and performance.

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