If the cloud of literally hundreds of emojis available on your iphone has left you a bit overwhelmed (not one of the emotions that made it on the new list, it turns out), then fear not, for new research has whittled down the possible range of human emotions to a neat and complete set of 27.
Long before the birth of the smiley face, psychologists have been attempting to categorize our emotional states, with the prevailing assumption being that there are six main ways to feel: happiness, sadness, anger, surprise, fear and disgust.
And while other formulations have come and gone over the years —a Glasgow University study in 2014 insisted that there were only four recognizable emotions, lumping together fear and surprise as well as anger and disgust, meanwhile, the 2015 Pixar film, Inside Out, went for just five, leaving out surprise— the classic six have nevertheless remained a relative constant.
Now, researchers at the University of California Berkeley are making the case for amping up the number to an awe-inspiring (there, that’s one that made it) 27 basic emotions. Along with the standards of joy, sadness and disgust, the list includes more nuanced states-of-being such as entrancement, triumph and awkwardness.
“Reported emotional states occupy a complex, high-dimensional categorical space,” say the researchers whose new study is featured this month in the journal PNAS.
The researchers collected together 2,185 emotionally evocative short video clips (a first-person view of a skydiver, a smiling baby, a sunset, to name a few) and showed them to over 800 study participants, asking participants to report on their emotional reactions to each clip.
They found that participants commonly expressed similar emotional responses to the clips, often reporting the one same category of emotion for each video. Analyzing their results, the team were able to come up with 27 types of emotion, creating an interactive map to show how the different feelings are closely related to each other.
“We don’t get finite clusters of emotions in the map because everything is interconnected,” said study lead author Alan Cowen, a doctoral student in neuroscience at UC Berkeley, in a press release. “Emotional experiences are so much richer and more nuanced than previously thought.”
Emotional intelligence (the ability to recognize emotional responses in oneself and in others) is considered to be key to personal happiness and overall well-being, and research is showing that it can be taught, as well. A study earlier this year by researchers at the University of British Columbia, for example, found that school programs which focus on teaching emotional intelligence to children result in improved mental health, better social skills and better learning outcomes.
The researchers see their work as advancing the science of emotion and hopefully influencing the field of psychiatry. “Our hope is that our findings will help other scientists and engineers more precisely capture the emotional states that underlie moods, brain activity and expressive signals, leading to improved psychiatric treatments, an understanding of the brain basis of emotion and technology responsive to our emotional needs,” Cowen said.