Secondary Emotions: What They Are, Types And Characteristics

Secondary emotions

Emotions have been a fundamental aspect for our survival. It is through emotional changes that animals adapt to the phenomena of their environment. For example, when faced with a threat it is normal to be afraid and flee or, when something serious has happened such as the death of a family member, it is normal to feel sad and let others see it.

However, in the human species the most basic emotions, shared with other mammal species, have become more sophisticated, allowing us to have a broader emotional spectrum.

Secondary emotions emerge from this greater sophistication emotions that we are going to talk about below, in addition to mentioning some models that have attempted to discover exactly how many human beings possess.

What are secondary emotions?

The human emotional spectrum is broad compared to that of other species, especially the rest of the mammals. In addition to presenting the most basic emotions, such as anger, disgust, sadness, joy and fear, human beings have developed emotions that, in order for them to occur, it is very necessary for a specific social context to occur. These emotions are secondary and, behind them, there is an important learning and socialization factor.

It should be said that the study of secondary emotions is complicated because, to begin with, the study of primary emotions has also been complicated.

Although great figures such as Robert Plutchik and Paul Ekman have proposed models of primary and, later, secondary emotions, The scientific community has not been clear about what exactly these are.

Brief introduction to primary emotions

Before delving into the idea of ​​secondary emotions, it is necessary to briefly review the primary emotions proposed by both Plutchik and Paul Ekman.

For Robert Plutchik, an American psychologist, primary emotions are those that we possess by nature, innately, already manifesting at an early age, when we are still babies. He postulated that these emotions, also called basic, were the following:

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On the other hand, Paul Ekman considers that there are fewer primary emotions, considering them as universal aspects, that is, manifesting itself in all people regardless of what culture they are part of. His studies took into account both Western and Eastern populations, including those with a low degree of globalization and literacy.

According to Ekman, the primary emotions would be: anger, disgust, fear, joy, sadness and surprise. The emotion of contempt indicated that it could be universal, although research could not confirm it.

Models of secondary emotions

Plutchik considers that secondary emotions are nothing more than the combination of primary or basic emotions, giving emotions that require thought and a higher level of socialization behind them. That is to say, If primary emotions are the instinctive response to the demands of the environment, secondary emotions are the response, sophisticated and with a clear social purpose, from an environment with social stimulation, both positive and negative. It is for this reason that these emotions have also been called social, since for them to occur it is necessary that links have been established with the social environment.

secondary emotions They manifest themselves based on what has been learned throughout life, nourished by experiences and enhanced by expectations in different situations. As they are learned and require a certain cognitive ability, these emotions begin to develop around 2 or 3 years of age, when the infant already has strong ties with his or her caregivers and has had the opportunity to acquire certain linguistic proficiency.

What are the types of secondary emotions?

Given that models of emotions do not agree on what primary emotions are, we would expect them to disagree even more on what secondary emotions are. What can be assured is that most models, including Ekman’s and Plutchik’s, consider that Among the “universal” secondary emotions would be the following five

1. Shame

shame is the fear that others will not consider us valid or accept us socially, or that we find ourselves in a status perceived as lower than what we would like to be in. This emotion makes us uncomfortable, causing us to try to avoid many situations, hide or try to adapt to the expectations of others at the expense of our own personality.

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2. Guilt

Guilt comes from the feeling of having done something that we believe we should not have done It is a draining feeling and represents a very great burden, making the person unable to even move forward and even thinking that they deserve punishment for it.

3. Pride

pride means being very satisfied with what one has done or how one is In its proper measure, it is an adaptive and beneficial emotion, as it encourages the growth of self-esteem and security. However, too much can have negative repercussions on our social relationships.

4. Pleasure

Pleasure is a positive and pleasant sensation that is experienced when our needs are satisfied.

It is a very important aspect as a motivator for learning fundamental behaviors for our survival, such as eating, sleeping or reproducing, but it can also be extrapolated to other areas that do not have a biological basis, such as hobbies, more complex social relationships or job.

The problem with pleasure is that, if given excessively, it could cover up fears and suppress responsible decision-making, leading to dangerous consequences such as drug use or other risky behaviors.

5. Jealousy

Jealousy is felt when we perceive a threat towards something that we consider our own, that either they can harm it or it can be taken away from us In due measure, it can help us achieve what we want, however, in most cases jealousy arises from a lack of self-esteem and mistrust.

Ekman model

During the 90s Ekman expanded his model, incorporating new emotions The classification of these emotions is somewhat controversial within the model because, although it maintains that they are still basic emotions, many of them could be considered secondary emotions, which is why Ekman himself would end up making his own distinction between those that originally considered the following as universal (anger, disgust, fear, joy, sadness and surprise) and secondary:

What there is no doubt is that Ekman sees in secondary emotions more complex emotional states than primary emotions, being the result of our growth and interaction with others. They are not as easily identifiable as the basic ones and, on many occasions, these are expressed simply through gestures such as a smile, the raising of the eyebrows or simply a small grimace, such as happiness, anger or sadness. disappointment.

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The wheel of emotions

Although he predates Ekman, Robert Plutchik has a much more complex model This model, known as the wheel of emotions, represents the basic emotions and how they combine, generating the secondary ones in the form of a graph.

For him, and more or less along the same lines as Ekman, secondary emotions would be more sophisticated versions of the primary ones, very dependent on the social context and arising from the combination of basic emotions

The secondary emotions proposed by Plutchik and the basic emotions from which he starts are the following.

Final reflection

As we have seen throughout the article, research on emotions is somewhat controversial. If from the beginning it has not been established with certainty what the universal emotions are, although it is more or less accepted that they are those proposed by Ekman, the secondary emotions that derive from them are a topic with a lower degree of certainty What is known is that secondary emotions appear in contexts highly dependent on social stimuli, given that they are acquired socially.

For example, fear is a primary emotion that appears in the presence of a threat that can harm us, on the other hand, shame can arise because we have spilled coffee on ourselves, we have dirty our pants and it feels like we have hurt ourselves. urinated In this second case, our life does not depend on it, but our social integrity does: we care about what others think.

There is still much to investigate and, although Paul Ekman’s model is accepted as the most scientific and most up-to-date, the topic of secondary emotions in particular and emotions in general will never cease to raise questions in the scientific community.

  • Ekman, P. (2008). Emotional Awareness: Overcoming the Obstacles to Psychological Balance and Compassion
  • Plutchik, Robert (1980), Emotion: Theory, research, and experience: Vol. 1. Theories of emotion, 1, New York: Academic
  • Plutchik, Robert (2002), Emotions and Life: Perspectives from Psychology, Biology, and Evolution, Washington, DC: American Psychological Association
  • Plutchik, Robert; R. Conte., Hope (1997), Circumplex Models of Personality and Emotions, Washington, DC: American Psychological Association