What is Plutchik’s wheel of emotions? Plutchik’s wheel of emotions in a nutshell

Plutchik’s wheel of emotions is a framework illustrating the various relationships between human emotions. Plutchik’s wheel of emotions was developed by American psychologist Robert Plutchik in 1980 to help people make sense of their sometimes mysterious or overwhelming feelings.

Concept OverviewPlutchik’s Wheel of Emotions is a psychological model developed by American psychologist Robert Plutchik in 1980. It provides a visual representation of human emotions and their relationships. The wheel arranges emotions in a circular structure, categorizing them into eight primary emotions and various secondary emotions based on their intensity and combinations. Plutchik’s model helps individuals and psychologists understand the complexity of human emotions and how they relate to one another. It has been influential in the fields of psychology, therapy, and emotional intelligence.
Primary Emotions– Plutchik’s model identifies eight primary emotions arranged in pairs of opposites: 1. Joy vs. Sadness: The emotions associated with happiness and pleasure are on one end, while those linked to unhappiness and sorrow are on the opposite end. 2. Anger vs. Fear: Emotions related to anger, irritation, or frustration are on one side, whereas those associated with fear, anxiety, and apprehension are on the other. 3. Trust vs. Disgust: Trust, acceptance, and admiration are situated opposite to emotions of disgust, rejection, and aversion. 4. Surprise vs. Anticipation: Surprise, astonishment, and amazement are contrasted with emotions of anticipation, interest, and expectation.
Secondary Emotions– The secondary emotions in Plutchik’s model are combinations of the primary emotions. For example, combining joy and trust results in love, while combining anger and fear leads to aggressiveness. These secondary emotions help explain the complexity of human emotional experiences.
Intensity Levels– Emotions in the wheel can vary in intensity, from mild to intense. For instance, a mild form of anger might be annoyance, while a more intense form could be rage. This intensity spectrum provides a nuanced understanding of emotional experiences.
Applications– Plutchik’s Wheel of Emotions has various applications: 1. Psychology and Therapy: Used in therapy to help individuals identify and understand their emotions, fostering emotional awareness and regulation. 2. Education: Employed in educational settings to teach emotional intelligence and empathy. 3. Communication: Enhances interpersonal communication by aiding individuals in expressing their feelings more accurately. 4. Art and Literature: Influences the creation of relatable characters and emotional narratives in art, literature, and storytelling. 5. Marketing: Utilized in marketing and advertising to evoke specific emotional responses in consumers.
Benefits and Impact– Understanding Plutchik’s Wheel of Emotions offers several benefits and impacts: 1. Emotional Awareness: Enhances emotional awareness, enabling individuals to recognize and label their feelings more effectively. 2. Improved Communication: Facilitates clearer communication of emotions, reducing misunderstandings in personal and professional relationships. 3. Emotional Regulation: Helps individuals manage and regulate their emotions more successfully. 4. Empathy: Fosters empathy and understanding of others’ emotional experiences. 5. Artistic Expression: Supports artists and creators in conveying complex emotions in their work. 6. Self-Discovery: Encourages self-discovery and introspection, leading to personal growth and well-being.
Criticism– Some critics argue that Plutchik’s model oversimplifies the intricate nature of human emotions and that emotions cannot always be neatly categorized into discrete categories. Additionally, cultural and individual variations in emotional expression are not fully addressed in the model. Nevertheless, Plutchik’s Wheel remains a valuable tool for promoting emotional awareness and understanding.

Understanding Plutchik’s wheel of emotions

Plutchik based his framework on the psycho-evolutionary theory of emotion, which he also developed.

The theory argues emotions have a long evolutionary history, adapting and evolving to increase human reproductive fitness. 

Plutchik also believed emotion played an important role in survival and involved both a cognitive and behavioral response.

For example, a person encountering a snake may conclude they are in danger (cognition) and then experience fear (emotion) as a result.

This fear then motivates them to take action that improves their chances of survival.

Though it is thought humans experience over 34,000 different emotions, Plutchik identified just eight that serve as the foundation for every other emotion.

By learning to identify these eight emotions, the individual can help the sometimes impulsive human mind remain objective when the fight or flight response is triggered.

The eight basic emotions of Plutchik’s wheel

The eight basic emotions are arranged in opposite pairs around Plutchik’s wheel. 

The four pairs include joy and sadness, trust and disgust, fear and anger, and surprise and anticipation. This means joy is the opposite of sadness and trust is the opposite of disgust, and so on.

The wheel itself is arranged in a series of color-coordinated spokes in three layers representing by circles. 

Let’s take a look at the constituent parts of Plutchik’s wheel below:

Outer edges

Along the outer edges are low-intensity emotions such as boredom, distraction, acceptance, and interest.

Toward the center

As one moves toward the center of the wheel, deepening colors represent mild emotions as they intensify and become the eight basic emotions.

For example, boredom becomes disgust, distraction becomes surprise, and interest becomes anticipation.

Centre circle

The center circle houses the most intense manifestations of each basic emotion.

These include loathing (disgust), rage (anger), vigilance (anticipation), ecstasy (joy), admiration (trust), terror (fear), amazement (surprise), and grief (sadness).

Between the spokes

Between each colored spoke are what Plutchik called mixed emotions.

For example, disapproval arises from a combination of sadness and surprise.  Optimism arises from a combination of anticipation and joy.

Using Plutchik’s wheel of emotions

There are two ways for individuals to use the wheel:

The two-dimensional circle

The two-dimensional circle is the simplest way to use Plutchik’s wheel.

This approach allows the individual to identify the primary emotions they are feeling and how they combine to create secondary emotions.

The three-dimensional ellipse

Using the three-dimensional ellipse approach, the individual can analyze the emotional intensity of their primary and secondary emotions.

Both approaches help the individual determine their emotions, which can sometimes be difficult to identify because they are processed subconsciously.

Specifically, the wheel encourages individuals to:

  • Attend to their own emotions through patience and curiosity.
  • Talk about their emotions and portray their true feelings to others.
  • Accept that feeling a wide gamut of emotions in life is healthy and normal, and
  • Adopt healthier, more constructive ways of reacting to a particular situation by substituting negative emotions with more positive emotions.

Key takeaways

  • Plutchik’s wheel of emotions is a framework illustrating the various relationships between human emotions. It was invented by American psychologist Robert Plutchik in 1980 to help people make sense of the subconscious expression of emotions.
  • Plutchik’s wheel of emotions is based on eight basic emotions which, in various degrees and combinations, describe every other emotion a person experiences. The eight emotions include anger, anticipation, joy, trust, fear, surprise, sadness, and disgust.
  • Plutchik’s wheel of emotions helps individuals attend to their life experiences with patience and curiosity and express their true feelings to others. Perhaps most importantly, Plutchik’s wheel can be used to adopt healthier, more constructive ways of reacting to a situation.

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Read Next: BiasesBounded RationalityMandela EffectDunning-Kruger EffectLindy EffectCrowding Out EffectBandwagon Effect.

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