Mood and Emotion

Mood and EmotionMood and Emotion

How do we think of mood and emotion, and are there “primary emotions” just as there are primary colors or do we need to think of each experience as unique?

We have been wrestling with this question as long as we have been working with people with “mood disorders” and we recently spent several weeks thinking more about it and reading more of the literature about the physiology and psychology of emotion. There aren’t clear answers but there are some conceptions of this topic that seem useful.

Primary Emotions

Robert Plutchik has been one of the most articulate writers who supports the notion that there are “primary emotions” from which all other emotions can be deriv ed. His three-dimensional circumplex model (illustrated to the right) describes the relations among emotion concepts, which are analogous to the colors on a color wheel. The cone’s vertical dimension represents intensity, and the circle represents degrees of similarity among the emotions. The eight sectors are designed to indicate that there are eight primary emotion dimensions defined by the theory arranged as four pairs of opposites. In the exploded model the emotions in the blank spaces are the primary dyads-emotions that are mixtures of two of the primary emotions.

Other authors have also proposed the existence of a limited number of primary emotions. The table below (from Ortony and Turner, 1990) shows the authors and the emotions that they identified as “primary emotions” as well as the evidence that they cite in favor of their theory. As you will note there is a high degree of overlap across different authors, which suggests that there are at least some emotions that are shared. We have highlighted some of those shared “primary” emotions.

Basic Emotions

Basis for Inclusion


Acceptance, anger , anticipation, disgust , joy , fear , sadness , surprise Relation to adaptive biological processes


Anger , aversion , courage, dejection, desire , despair, fear , hate, hope, love , sadness Relation to action tendencies

Ekman, Friesen, and Ellsworth

Anger , disgust , fear , joy , sadness , surprise Universal facial expressions


Desire , happiness , interest , surprise , wonder, sorrow Forms of action readiness


Rage and terror , anxiety, joy Hardwired


Anger , contempt, disgust , distress, fear , guilt, interest , joy , shame , surprise Hardwired


Fear , grief , love , rage Bodily involvement


Anger , disgust , elation , fear , subjection, tender-emotion , wonder Relation to instincts


Pain, pleasure Unlearned emotional states

Oatley and Johnson-Laird

Anger , disgust , anxiety, happiness , sadness Do not require propositional content


Expectancy, fear , rage , panic Hardwired


Anger , interest , contempt, disgust , distress, fear , joy , shame , surprise Density of neural firing


Fear , love , rage Hardwired

For those of you with more of an interest in this concept of primary emotions you may want to take a look at our own attempt to create a ” wheel of emotion .”


Alexithymia means literally “no words for feelings.” It is a common condition, particularly among people who have experienced traumatic or deprived childhoods. Without words for feelings it becomes impossible to deal with those feelings. A helpful and basic way of categorizing our feelings is to think about whether we are feeling: Glad, Mad, Sad or Bad. Once we are able to do this, we can go on to look at how what we are feeling can really be described to ourselves and others. The key to effectively expressing our feelings is to accurately identify our feelings.

For example, if you are nervous, you know that you are feeling bad. But, there is more to it than just feeling bad. So then you go through the list provided to see if what you are experiencing fits into any of the feelings listed. Nervous could mean many things to you. You could be feeling anxious, overwhelmed, muddled or troubled. May be “overwhelmed” is the feeling that accurately describes what you are experiencing. So you have identified that you are feeling bad and that can further be described as feeling overwhelmed. Now, you have accomplished a few things:

You have identified how you are feeling
You can tell someone else how you are feeling
You can do something that will make you feel better.

List of Positive Feelings

Affectionate — Loving to
Alive — Good sensations
Amused — Humor
Accepted — Being loved
Beautiful — Proud
Brave — Proud
Calm — Low Anxiety
Capable — Proud
Caring — Loving to
Cheerful — Optimism
Cherished — Being loved
Comfortable — Low Anxiety
Competent — Proud
Concerned — Loving to
Confident — Proud
Content — Optimism
Courageous — Proud
Curious — Interest
Delighted — Good sensations
Desirable — Proud
Eager — Interest
Excited — Interest, Activation
Forgiving — Loving to
Friendly — Loving to
Fulfilled — Optimism
Secure — Low anxiety
Self-reliant — Proud
Sexy — Proud
Silly — Humor
Special — Proud
Strong — Proud
Supportive — Loving to
Sympathetic — Loving to
Tender — Loving to
Generous — Loving to
Glad — Optimism
Grateful — Being loved
Great — Proud
Happy — Optimism
Humorous — Humor
Joyful — Optimism
Lovable — Being loved
Loving — Loving to
Loved — Being loved
Passionate — Loving to, Interest, Activation
Peaceful — Low anxiety
Playful — Optimism, Good sensations
Pleased — Optimism, Good sensations
Proud — Proud
Quiet — Low anxiety
Relaxed — Low anxiety
Relieved — Low anxiety
Respected — Proud
Safe — Low anxiety
Satisfied — Good sensations, optimism, low anxiety

List of Negative Feelings

Afraid — Activation, Fear
Angry — Activation, Anger
Anxious — Activation, Fear
Apprehensive — Activation, Fear
Ashamed — Shame, No pride.
Awkward — Shame
Bitter — Angry, Sad
Bored — Uninterested
Confused — Activation, Anger – Fear
Contempt — Anger, Dislike
Defeated — Low energy, Shame
Dejected — Low energy, Sad
Dependent — Shame, Sad
Devastated — Sad
Disappointed — Sad
Discouraged — Sad, No pride
Disgusted — Dislike
Distrustful — Fear, dislike
Embarrassed — Shame
Exasperated — Anger
Fearful — Fear
Melancholy — Sad
Miserable — Sad
Misunderstood — Sad, Unlovable
Muddled — Activation, Anger-Fear
Needy — Sad, Shame
Old — No pride, Shame, Sad, Tired
Outraged — Anger
Overwhelmed — Activation, No pride, fear
Panicky — Fear
Foolish — Shame
Frantic — Activation, fear
Frustrated — Activation, anger
Furious — Anger, Activation
Guilty — Guilt
Hateful — Unlovable, Shame/Guilt
Helpless — Sad, Shame, Fear
Hopeless — Sad
Horrified — Sad, Fear
Hostile — Angry
Humiliated — Shame, Sad, Anger, dislike
Hurt — Shame, Sad, Anger
Ignored — Shame, Unlovable
Impatient — Anger
Inadequate — Shame
Incompetent — Shame, No pride
Indecisive — No pride, Fear, Activation
Inferior — Shame, No pride, unlovable
Inhibited — Shame, Fear
Insecure — Shame, Fear, No pride
Irritated — Anger
Isolated — Shame, unlovable, no pride
Jealous — fear, anger, unlovable
Lonely — shame, unlovable, no pride
Touchy — Angry, shame, unlovable
Trapped — Shame, fear, unlovable
Troubled — Fear
Unappreciated — Unlovable
Unattractive — Unlovable, no pride
Uncertain — No pride, fear
Uncomfortable — Shame, fear
Uneasy — fear
Unfulfilled — Uninterested, no pride