Discrete emotion theory assumes that there are seven to ten core emotions and thousands of emotion related words which are all synonyms of these core emotions (Beck 2004). Depending on the theory the most well known core emotions are happiness, surprise, sadness, anger, disgust, contempt, and fear (Izard & Malatesta 1987). This theory states that these specific core emotions are biologically determined emotional responses whose expression and recognition is fundamentally the same for all individuals regardless of ethnic or cultural differences. Some scholars believe that these emotions have evolved in us as a way for people, regardless of communication differences, to predict what other people are thinking and feeling (Beck 2004). It was a way for our ancestors to to tell the difference between friend or foe, and has continued to serve the same function today.


Darwin (1872) was the origin of the concept that some emotions have specific features. He described several facial, physiological, and behavioral processes that are associated with different emotions in humans as well as animals.

Aristotle also noted that emotions ensue certain reaction types of bodily reactions, which implies the physiology of emotions.

James (1884) and Dewey (1894) suggested that emotions are associated with different neutral and physiological processes and also with different functions and experiences.

Tomkins' (1962, 1963) idea was influenced by Darwin's concept. He proposed that there is a limited number of pancultural basic emotions or "affect programs." His conclusion was that there are eight pancultural affect programs namely, surprise, interest, joy, rage, fear, disgust, shame, and anguish.

After performing a series of cross-cultural studies, Ekman and Izard reported that there are various similarities in the way people across the world produce and recognize the facial expressions of at least six emotions.[1]

Evidence for Discrete Emotion theoryEdit

A study conducted in New Guinea, where people have never seen Caucasians nor been exposed to photographs or television, to see if they could identify specific facial expressions. Researchers showed the people of New Guinea pictures of people portraying seven different emotions that are known as core emotions, happiness, anger, sadness, disgust, surprise, fear, and contempt (Ekman & Friesen 1971). Researchers found that the people of New Guinea could in fact point out the different emotions and distinguish between them. From this experiment researchers concluded that these specific emotions are innate. They also looked at pictures of people ranging in age from infants to elders and saw that the core emotions look the same, further supporting the discrete emotion hypothesis. Also, deaf and blind children show typical facial expressions for these same core emotions.

See alsoEdit


  1. Colombetti, Giovanna (August 2009). From affect programs to dynamical discrete emotions. Philosophical Psychology 22 (4): 407-425.

2. Colombetti, G. (2009). From Affect Programs to Dynamical Discrete Emotions. Philosophical Psychology, 22, 407-425.

External linksEdit

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