We are amused. Plus awed, interested... and more of the 27 emotions this new study suggests humans have
That's way more than the 6 found in an older study. Get us more emojis, stat.
Last night as I sat on the edge of my bed scrolling through messages, an inordinately large house centipede scuttled right past my big toe. So, you know, barf. The instant I caught the leggy interloper in my periphery, synapses fired and I was propelled up and away. Make no mistake: a repulsed, shiver dance took place. Stoicism be damned. I then launched a search party of one in my underwear and moved the bed, clothes, an antique chest but buddy had scampered away scot-free. I could've slept better.
I can tell you that disgust and fear were felt acutely, but science now says my emotional response was considerably more complex than that. And so is yours, even as you read this.
In fact, a recent study out of the University of California, Berkeley confirms we actually feel 27 broad emotional states. Every single emotional response, triggered by nature's nightmare fuel or not, is something of a composite casserole of the lot. A very far cry from the big six: anger, sadness, happiness, disgust, fear, surprise, that were pinned down in the 70s by Dr Paul Ekman as the basic states we experience and recognize in others.
Here, in alphabetical order, are all of your true feels:
- Aesthetic appreciation
- Empathetic pain
- Sexual desire
To land on the definitive 27 listed here, Dr Alan S. Cohen and Dr Dacher Keltner showed subjects 2,185 very short (5 to 10 seconds) but heavily charged videos to elicit and capture the participants' feeling states. The range included triumphant soccer goals, sea lions freed from fishing nets, robot battles, a group of owls (a parliament, actually) eating rats whole, romantic hugs, Barney the Dinosaur punching a T-Rex in the face, squid switching from translucent to opaque with a hand slap, catastrophic tsunamis, expert skateboarding tricks, placid clouds floating across blue skies, a thieving monkey absconding with the smartphone of a tourist and graphic explorations of the Kama Sutra. After each viewing, the various humours of the participants were then recorded by collecting a combination of free form responses, ratings in 34 different emotional categories or a scale of opposing mental states (ie 1 being happy, 9 being sad). The resulting data yielded hundreds of thousands of individual responses that were then carefully sifted through and categorized by 27 distinct feeling states that colour our inner workings. But even the new 27 don't really occur individually.
Instead of just one or two feelings at a time, researchers write that "the boundaries between categories of emotion are fuzzy" and say their findings suggest various gradients of any number of emotions are typically felt at once. The mood math is fascinating. You could find yourself feeling 46% Amusement + 31% Horror + 15% Awkwardness + 15% Fear + 8% Anxiety + 8% Empathic Pain + 8% Sadness + 8% Surprise + 8% Sympathy. Something to keep in mind the next time someone asks you how you're feeling in the office elevator. A mental state is not so easily expressed (or understood). The study's authors write that "emotions are centered in subjective experiences that people represent, in part, with hundreds, if not thousands, of semantic terms". A reminder here that language can be faulty, but the new categories could further an understanding of ourselves and each other.
The research team plotted different emotional clusters that define any combo of feeling state on an interactive mood map with a web-like graph in the upper right showing sub categories like arousal, safety and fairness that seem to support typical reactions. You can click through the groupings to see videos that relate to the emotional province you're visiting. Keep an eye on the top of the map to see the mix of emotions each vid is likely to make you feel.
*Be warned, some videos are more harrowing than others and will elicit far less chill feeling states (ie car and plane crashes). Mind you, there are also numerous puppy, kitten and panda cub videos (so 75% Admiration + 5% Calmness + 20% Adoration, I'm guessing).
Surprisingly, anger and hate aren't listed in the 27 feels. But consider that they're easily and tellingly traced back to more primal states like fear. That's how Anakin Skywalker became Darth Vader. To use a completely relevant example. You may be angry after getting dumped but likely it's because you're being forced to manage your fear of loss and the heartbreak that comes with it. Bigotry too is often a manifestation of fear. For better or worse, fear is a big motivator in the human animal.
As a species we actually aren't that great yet at recognizing the complex layers of our own feelings let alone those of the person standing in front of us. The case for giving your friends, coworkers and family a break when conflict inevitably erupts — to say nothing of interactions with strangers.
Indulge me in a trite observation but imagine a world where less time and emotional energy was expended navigating conflict because we had a real sense of where everyone stood emotionally. Learning to recognize and verbalize more complex feeling states in ourselves and others may be another jump forward in human understanding and our evolution. Or at least give us better means to express what happens to our mental states when something with far, far too many legs brushes our foot.
Marc Beaulieu is a writer, producer and host of the live Q&A show guyQ LIVE @AskMen