Primary emotions

Primary emotions their types and functions

Human beings can feel a multitude of emotions. Within these, there are some that are considered primary emotions, which depending on the author are five or seven. They are considered primary because they are automatic moods that fulfill an adaptive function in different situations. Normally these emotions are due to thoughts, memories, desires, situations…

Emotions cause certain changes in our body such as redness or paleness of the face, respiratory and cardiac rhythms are altered, visceral movements stop momentarily. Are you wondering what are the primary emotions, their types, and their functions? If so, keep reading Psychologyorg to find out.

What are the primary emotions?

For an emotion to be regarded as primary, it must fulfill a series of requirements:

  • Having a specific neural substrate that differentiates it from the rest. That is to say, the neurons that intervene are certain ones.
  • That the facial expression that represents said emotion is characteristic and distinctive.
  • That the feelings underlying the emotion, that is, the thoughts and the way we feel, are characteristic of said emotion.
  • It has an evolutionary and survival purpose.
  • It has adaptive functions to a certain situation.

Next, we will see what are the primary emotions and their functions. We will explain one by one the primary emotions, the types, and what they are for.

Primary emotions


It is the primary emotion of the shortest duration. Not all authors consider it a primary emotion, since it does not meet all the mentioned requirements. It is an emotional reaction to an unexpected situation, like a surprise party, for example. Its limit in time is determined by the moment in which the next emotion appears. Surprise is considered a neutral emotion, that is, it is neither negative nor positive.

surprise function

Its main function is to make the nervous system adjust to an unforeseen change in the environment, thereby eliminating possible interference that could appear.


It was one of the first to be considered primary emotion and ticks all the boxes. It is a rejection reaction to different stimuli, for example to a meal that we do not like or our reaction to a public bathroom. Disgust would belong to the group of negative emotions.

function of disgust

It has different functions, the most basic of which is to remove ourselves from potentially harmful situations. In addition, it promotes healthy habits such as personal hygiene. In addition, it has a social function since it inhibits certain reactions that could endanger our social integration.


This primal emotion is a way of warning us that danger is coming that we may not be prepared for. Fear is awakened by a stimulus that makes us anticipate said danger (for example, noise at night in our home). It would belong, like disgust, to the group of negative emotions.

function of fear

Its functions are clearly adaptive. Specifically, it helps the subject to carry out some behavior to distance himself from possible danger, which is why it promotes escape and avoidance behaviors and prevents us from facing dangerous situations. In addition, it helps to act as a group in the face of danger and to establish hierarchies within that group.


Joy is considered a primary emotion of a positive type. It is associated with praising feelings such as happiness and joy and the suppression of negative emotions. Therefore, a sensation of calm and well-being is produced.

joy function

Its function is adaptive since it promotes the repetition of an activity or behavior due to the feeling of reward that it causes when it is a pleasant emotion. In expansion, it encourages social union and preparation for the future.


This primary emotion is in the group of negative emotions. Energy and motivation are decreased and metabolism is reduced and social isolation is increased. Sadness arises after the appearance of an emotionally harmful situation.

function of sadness

It responds to the survival instinct as it alerts us to a harmful situation. In addition, it promotes the search for social support.


It is a negative emotion that prioritizes the delivery of blood to the hands and legs. Adrenaline levels rise. Anger is associated with hostility, fury, and in the most extreme cases pathological and permanent hatred.

function of anger

The preparation of the extremities has the purpose of being able to defend ourselves against possible danger. That is, it responds to the survival instinct. In some cases, it promotes group unity since anger is also developed in order to defend a third party.


Love is another of the primary emotions. If you want to know more about this emotion, in this article you will find what love is according to psychology.

function of love

Its main function is reproductive and the perpetuation of the genes themselves. At present, it fulfills a social and emotional support function.

Circle of primary and secondary emotions

As we have said, there are several approaches to emotions and additional classifications. Some writers who organize emotions are Daniel Goleman, Paul Ekman, and Robert Plutchik.

Below we show with an image all this variety of reactions and affective states.

Primary emotions circle


In conclusion, primary emotions serve as the foundational elements of human emotional experiences. These fundamental feelings – happiness, sadness, anger, and fear – are instinctual responses that have evolved over time to help us navigate our surroundings and interact with the world. While these emotions are considered universal, their expression and interpretation can be influenced by cultural and social factors.

Primary emotions provide valuable insight into our inner states, shaping our thoughts, behaviors, and decisions. Recognizing and understanding these core emotions is crucial for fostering emotional well-being, as it allows us to develop healthier ways of processing and responding to the myriad of situations life presents. By acknowledging and embracing our primary emotions, we can embark on a journey of self-discovery and personal growth, enhancing our ability to lead fulfilling and meaningful lives.

Read Also: Mindfulness Meditation Exercises & Practices psychologyorg


What are the 4 primary emotions?

The four primary emotions are happiness, sadness, anger, and fear. These are considered fundamental and are often considered universal across cultures.

What are primary and secondary emotions?

Primary emotions are the basic, instinctual emotions that humans and animals experience in response to certain stimuli. Secondary emotions, on the other hand, are more complex and are often a combination of primary emotions. For example, a primary emotion like fear can lead to secondary emotions like anxiety or unease.

What are the 8 core feelings?

The concept of “eight core feelings” is not as widely recognized as the four primary emotions, but it might refer to a more expanded range of basic emotions. These could include happiness, sadness, anger, fear, surprise, disgust, contempt, and shame.

What are the 4 primary emotions What are the 3 learned emotions?

While the concept of “learned emotions” might not be as commonly discussed, some emotions could be learned or influenced by social and cultural factors. These could include emotions like guilt, pride, and jealousy, which might develop through experiences and interactions with others.

Are primary emotions the same across cultures?

While primary emotions like happiness, sadness, anger, and fear are generally considered universal, the ways in which they are expressed and interpreted can vary between cultures. Cultural norms and social contexts can influence emotional expression.

Are primary emotions innate or learned?

Primary emotions are generally considered to be innate, meaning they are biologically hardwired and not entirely learned. However, cultural and environmental factors can influence how they are expressed and understood.

What are primary emotions?

Primary emotions are basic, universal feelings that humans and animals experience instinctively in response to certain stimuli. They are supposed fundamental building blocks of emotional occasions.

If you want to read more articles similar to Primary Emotions: what they are, types, and Functions, we recommend that you enter our Psychology category.

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