Universal Emotions

What are the Universal Emotions 2023

Darwin was the first to mention that human emotions were universal and that they were expressed in the same way regardless of culture. He pointed out that they were biologically innate. Later, Tomkins along with Paul Eckman and Carrol Izard began in-depth studies to find out what was happening with emotions. It has been seen, in fact, that the facial expressions of adults are completely the same as those of newborns, which have not yet had too much interference from the environment.

There is a multitude of emotions in humans, but Paul Eckman’s studies limited them to six main emotions: joy, sadness, fear, anger, disgust, and surprise. These emotions are common to all human beings, which is why they are called universal emotions. To continue discovering what are the universal emotions and examples of them, keep reading Psychologyorg.

Universal Emotions


Disgust is a feeling of rejection of what is before us. Regarding food, it comes from the survival instinct, protecting us from those foods that could become toxic. The way to express it is through the frown and the elevation of the upper lip. Vocally, it is common to make an onomatopoeic sound “yuck”, in order to convey this feeling.



Another of the basic emotions is fear, that sensation that makes us flee from a potentially dangerous situation. Again, it is based on our survival instinct, although today many people have developed phobias that have no foundation, so that, on many occasions, fear does not respond to this function.

The way to express it facially is by raising the eyebrows and joining them above, raising the lower eyelid, and drawing the lips back. Another way of expressing it is through hyperventilation, for example.



The next universal emotion is joy. It is the way we have to know that something or someone produces well-being. It is the only emotion that we could consider positive among the six main emotions that we are seeing.

The most common way to express it is by raising the ends of the corners of the lips and slightly squeezing the eyes. We also express it through laughter.



Sadness is a basic and universal emotion, and it is our mind’s way of letting us know that it is necessary to make a change in our lives. The eyelid relaxes and droops, the gaze does not focus on a fixed point, but is “lost” and the corners of the lips go down. In many people, it is also common to raise their eyebrows and join them up.

It is quite common to associate sadness with crying, despite the fact that it is not socially acceptable to cry in public.



Surprise is also considered a basic and universal emotion. It is the reaction of situations that we do not expect. It helps us to adapt to a new situation, to readjust. We can express this emotion through a scream or also with facial expressions. The eyebrows rise, while the eyes and mouth open.

Logically, the subsequent reaction to the surprise can vary depending on whether the surprise is positive or negative.



Anger occurs when we have been harmed by some person or situation. It leads us to attack by way of defense. People tend to shout, to say bad words. Also, facially the eyebrows are drawn down and the brows frown, the eyes are narrowed and the lips are pursed.

In many cases, you can clench your fists or, even, if the level of rage or anger is very high, you can even cry.


Other universal Emotions

In 1999, Eckman expanded on the number of emotions, although not all of them were translated into facial expressions. Among these new emotions are:

  • Relief
  • Embarrassment
  • blame
  • Contempt
  • Fun
  • Satisfaction
  • Pride
  • Enthusiasm

In other words, in reality, we could go so far as to say that any emotion is, broadly speaking, universal, whether we are talking about the six main ones or the others. This universality occurs with both positive and negative emotions.

Many other scientists have disagreed with Ekman’s theories. Some authors believe that emotions and, especially, the way we express them, are social and cultural constructs and not an innate aspect. However, the author affirms that there is no quantitative data that affirms that emotions depend on culture and not on biology. With his studies, he shows that there is no group of people with a culture that signals a facial expression associated with emotion and that another group signals another facial expression, which proves Eckman’s theory.

This article is merely for information, at Psychologyorg we do not have the power to make a diagnosis or recommend a treatment. We request you go to a psychologist to treat your particular case.


In conclusion, the concept of universal emotions suggests that certain emotional experiences are common to all human beings across different cultures and societies. While the specific expressions and cultural interpretations of emotions may vary, there is a fundamental core of basic emotions that can be recognized and understood universally.

Research conducted in the field of psychology, anthropology, and neuroscience has provided evidence supporting the existence of universal emotions. Studies with individuals from diverse cultural backgrounds have shown that people can accurately identify and interpret emotions such as happiness, sadness, fear, anger, surprise, and disgust, regardless of cultural context.

These universal emotions are believed to be innate and rooted in our evolutionary history, serving as adaptive responses to various situations and stimuli. They play a crucial role in human communication, enabling individuals to convey and understand emotions across language and cultural barriers.

However, it is important to note that cultural factors do influence the expression, perception, and regulation of emotions to some extent. The display rules, social norms, and cultural practices can shape how emotions are expressed and interpreted within specific cultural contexts. Therefore, while there are universal aspects of emotions, there is also room for cultural variations and influences.

The study of universal emotions has significant implications for various fields, including psychology, sociology, communication, and cross-cultural studies. Understanding the universality of emotions can foster empathy, promote intercultural understanding, and enhance emotional intelligence. It can also have practical applications in areas such as cross-cultural communication, mental health, and conflict resolution.

In conclusion, while emotions may be influenced by culture, there is compelling evidence supporting the existence of universal emotions. Recognizing and appreciating these fundamental emotional experiences can contribute to a greater understanding of ourselves and others, fostering empathy and connection across diverse cultures and societies.

If you want to read more articles similar to What Are the Universal Emotions: list and Examples, we recommend that you enter our Psychology category.

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Q: What are universal emotions?

A: Universal emotions refer to a set of basic emotional experiences that are recognized and understood across different cultures and societies. These emotions are believed to be common to all humans, regardless of their cultural background.

Q: Which emotions are considered universal?

A: The most commonly recognized universal emotions are happiness, sadness, fear, anger, surprise, and disgust. These emotions have been consistently identified and understood across various cultures and languages.

Q: Are universal emotions expressed in the same way across cultures?

A: While the core emotional experiences may be universal, the specific expressions and cultural interpretations of emotions can vary. Cultural factors, such as display rules and social norms, can influence how emotions are expressed and regulated within specific cultural contexts.

Q: Are universal emotions innate or learned?

A: The existence of universal emotions suggests that they are innate and rooted in our evolutionary history. However, cultural influences can shape the way emotions are expressed, perceived, and regulated, indicating a combination of both innate and learned aspects.

Q: Can universal emotions be influenced by individual differences?

A: Individual differences, such as personality traits and personal experiences, can influence how individuals perceive and express emotions, even if the basic emotional experiences are universal. Additionally, cultural backgrounds and upbringing can shape emotional responses to some extent.

Q: What is the significance of studying universal emotions?

A: The study of universal emotions has several important implications. It can enhance our understanding of human nature and emotional experiences, promote cross-cultural understanding and empathy, and facilitate effective communication across diverse cultures and societies. It can also have practical applications in areas such as mental health, conflict resolution, and intercultural communication.

Q: Are there any criticisms or debates surrounding the concept of universal emotions?

A: There have been debates and criticisms regarding the concept of universal emotions. Some argue that emotions are highly influenced by culture and context, challenging the idea of universality. Others suggest that while basic emotions may be universal, the cultural interpretation and expression of emotions can vary significantly.

Q: How is the universality of emotions studied?

A: Researchers employ various methods to study the universality of emotions, including cross-cultural studies, facial expression analysis, and psychological experiments. These studies often involve participants from diverse cultural backgrounds and aim to identify commonalities and differences in emotional experiences and expressions.

Q: Can universal emotions be influenced by societal changes over time?

A: While the core emotional experiences are believed to be universal, societal changes and cultural shifts can impact the expression, perception, and interpretation of emotions. Changes in social norms, values, and technological advancements can influence the way emotions are experienced and expressed within a culture or society.

Q: How can the understanding of universal emotions benefit society?

A: Understanding universal emotions can contribute to improved cross-cultural interactions, communication, and empathy. It can enhance emotional intelligence, promote inclusivity, and facilitate better mental health support across diverse populations. Furthermore, it can aid in addressing global challenges by fostering mutual understanding and cooperation.

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