Emotion Wheel by Robert Plutchik

Wheel of Emotions by Robert Plutchik - ToolsHero

This article explains the Emotion Wheel or Wheel of Emotions, developed by Robert Plutchik in a practical way. After reading it, you will understand the basics of this powerful Personal Happiness theory.

What is the Emotion Wheel?

The Emotion Wheel was developed by the American psychologist Dr. Robert Plutchik in 1980 as a visual tool for understanding his psycho-evolutionary theory. He identified eight primary emotions in polar opposite pairs.

  • Joy vs. Sadness
  • Trust vs. Disgust
  • Fear vs. Anger
  • Anticipation vs. Surprise

The Wheel of Emotions can be used to navigate between the various intensities that emotions bring along and evoke. As such, the Wheel is primarily useful for objectively identifying intense feelings. Robert Plutchik’s research showed that there are 34,000 distinguishable emotions. However, it is actually impossible to differentiate and understand all 34,000 emotions. By reducing these to eight primary emotions, things become a little simpler.

Elements

The Wheel of Emotions has three elements which also act as its three main characteristics:

1: Colours

The eight basic emotions have each been marked with a recognisable colour within the Wheel of Emotions. As the intensity of the emotion increases, so does the intensity of the colour. However, combinations of two basic emotions are not given a colour.

2: Layers

The Emotion Wheel has different layers and dimensions. Towards the middle of the Wheel, the intensity of the emotion and colour increases.

3: Relations

The Wheel depicts mutual relations found in between opposing emotions. Combinations of emotions that arise when emotions are mixed together are found in between the basic emotions. As a result, all emotions are in mutual contact with one another.

Construction of the wheel

The eight emotions form the basis for all other human emotions. The eight primary emotions are entered into a grid opposite one another. After all eight emotions are connected to one another, a Wheel is created (hence the name of this model). The Wheel has been constructed such that every emotion has its own colour. As the intensity of the emotion increases (towards the centre of the Wheel), so does the indicator colour. Both the emotion and the color decrease towards the outer edge. There are also secondary emotions that are presented as combinations of the primary emotions.

Emotion Wheel by Robert Plutchik - ToolsHero

Dimensions

The Wheel of Emotions can be displayed in both two and three dimension. In the flat, two-dimensional Wheel, there are eight segments, in which the primary emotion dimensions are located: anger, anticipation, joy, trust, fear, surprise, sadness and disgust. Each segment has an opposing emotion, and also has its own colour within the Wheel of Emotions. The emotions without colours represent mixtures of two primary emotions. For example, Anticipation and Joy are combined to create Optimism.

In its three-dimensional form, the Wheel of Emotions becomes a conical shape. This vertical dimension focuses on the intensity of the emotion, which becomes stronger the more it moves inwards. So, the emotion of ‘boredom’ can, if it is not kept in check, develop into the more intense emotion of ‘disgust’, and ‘anger’ can flare up and become ‘rage’. This immediately teaches people how to deal with emotions in real-world situations in relation to each other; if emotions are not controlled, they can run high and become more intense.

Basic assumptions

Robert Plutchik’s Emotion Wheel theory is rooted in ten basic theoretical assumptions that can be found below:

1: Animal & human

The basic emotions are the same for humans as they are for all other mammals, and are generated in the middle-most part of the brain: the limbic system.

2: Evolution

Emotions arose during the evolutionary process and continued to develop in humans. This has resulted, in addition to the eight basic emotions, in 34,000 different discernible emotions.

3: Survival

The eight basic emotions play a role in human survival. Fear, which warns us of dangerous situations, is a good example.

4: Basic patterns

Every basic emotion has a number of common, recognisable patterns and elements that are also called prototypes.

5: Basic emotions

Robert Plutchik identifies eight basic emotions that humans as well as mammals have in common: anger, anticipation, joy, trust, fear, surprise, sadness and disgust.

6: Combinations

The combinations of eight basic emotions produce new emotions, whereby ‘joy’ and ‘trust’ can lead to ‘love’, for example.

7: Constructs

According to Plutchik, emotions are hypothetical constructs or ideas that help describe a specific experience.

8: Opposites

Polar opposites and duality are common in nature, as is reflected in the basic emotions: Joy vs. Sadness, Trust vs. Disgust, Fear vs. Anger, Anticipation vs. Surprise.

9: Similarity

In addition to duality, there are also emotions that share commonalities.

10: Intensity

Every emotion has degrees, from diminished to fiercely intense.

Wheel of Emotions application

The Wheel of Emotions makes it possible to simplify incredibly complex emotional concepts. The Emotion Wheel can be used to visualise emotions, giving one an insight into the combinations of emotions and their implications. By objectively describing emotions, it is possible to get a better handle on certain (difficult) situations.

It’s Your Turn

What do you think? Have you ever heard of the Emotion Wheel by Robert Plutchik? Do you recognize the practical explanation or do you have more suggestions? What are your success factors for personal happiness and well-being?

Share your experience and knowledge in the comments box below.

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More information

  1. Plutchik, R. (1984). Emotions: A general psychoevolutionary theory. Approaches to emotion, 1984, 197-219.
  2. Plutchik, R. (2001). The nature of emotions: Human emotions have deep evolutionary roots, a fact that may explain their complexity and provide tools for clinical practice. American scientist, 89(4), 344-350.
  3. Scherer, K. R., Shuman, V., Fontaine, J. R., & Soriano, C. (2013). The GRID meets the Wheel: Assessing emotional feeling via self-report. Components of emotional meaning: A sourcebook, 281-298.

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