TIME mental health

Human Emotions Are Not as Complex as We Thought

Group of people with different emotions
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New study says we only have four: happy, sad, afraid/surprised, and angry/disgusted

Forget the conventional thinking that humans are complex creatures with a wide range of emotions. New research suggest we only have four.

The widely held scientific assumption is that we have six emotions: happy, surprised, afraid, disgusted, angry, and sad. But a new study from University of Glasgow scientists published in the journal Current Biology this week says humans may only have four biologically based emotions: happy, sad, afraid/surprised, and angry/disgusted.

Participants of the study were shown computer-generated facial expressions and asked to identify the emotion from among the six predominantly accepted ones. At the start, anger and disgust, as well as fear and surprise, looked very similar. For example, surprise and fear have similar eyebrow movements. As the expressions developed, though, participants were able to distinguish between them, but only over time, suggesting that differences in anger, disgust, surprise, and fear are the result of social evolution rather than biological.

Emo kids everywhere are processing this news with a much more limited scope of emotion than before.

[Current Biology]

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