Robert Plutchik's Wheel of Emotions

Robert Plutchik's Wheel of Emotions
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  • 0:01 Evolutionary Theory of…
  • 3:03 Plutchik's Eight Basic…
  • 3:51 Dyad's: Combinations…
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Yolanda Williams

Yolanda has taught college Psychology and Ethics, and has a doctorate of philosophy in counselor education and supervision.

Robert Plutchik was a psychologist who developed a psychoevolutionary theory of emotion. Learn more about Plutchik's theory, the wheel of emotions, primary emotions, and dyads.

Evolutionary Theory of Emotions

When we think about our emotions, we tend to think of them solely as states of feeling. For example, we may describe happiness as the state of feeling joy or pleasure. Psychologist Robert Plutchik states that there are eight basic emotions: joy, trust, fear, surprise, sadness, anticipation, anger, and disgust. Plutchik created the wheel of emotions, which illustrates the various relationships among the emotions.


While Plutchik identifies only eight basic emotions, you can see from the wheel that there are many different degrees, creating a wide spectrum of emotions. Plutchik states that emotions are much more complex than most people realize.

Emotions have a long evolutionary history. They are not only adaptive, but they have evolved over time in order to increase our reproductive fitness. Emotion plays an important role in issues of survival, and it involves both cognition and behavior.

For example, let's say that you were approached by a snake (threatening event). You would conclude that you were in danger (cognition), which would cause you to feel fear (emotion). Your fear activates the fight-or-flight response. As a result, you slowly back away from the snake in an attempt to escape (goal-directed behavior).

Robert Plutchik developed 10 postulates on which his evolutionary theory of emotions is based:

  1. Animals and Humans: Animals and humans both experience the same basic emotions in similar ways.
  2. Evolutionary History: Emotions appeared as a result of evolution. Emotions were present in animals even before apes evolved.
  3. Survival Issues: Emotions have evolved over time in order to increase the chances of survival in the environment. For example, trust results in collaboration and sharing between humans.
  4. Prototype Patterns: Although there are several types of emotions that are present in different species, there are prototype patterns, or common elements, that are identifiable.
  5. Basic Emotions: A relatively small number of prototype, primary emotions, or basic emotions exist and can be identified.
  6. Combinations: All other emotions occur as a result of a mixture, or combination, of the basic emotions. For example, love is a combination of joy (primary emotion) and trust (primary emotion).
  7. Hypothetical Constructs: It is recognized that primary emotions are hypothetical constructs or idealized states, which we describe in terms of their particular properties and characteristics. These descriptions can only be inferred based on several kinds of evidence.
  8. Opposites: The primary emotions are categorized into pairs of polar opposites.
  9. Similarity: All emotions have different degrees of similarity to one another.
  10. Intensity: Each emotion can vary in its level of intensity.

Plutchik's Eight Basic Emotions

As we stated earlier, Plutchik's eight basic emotions are joy, trust, fear, surprise, sadness, anticipation, anger, and disgust. Each primary emotion also has a polar opposite, so that:

  • Joy is the opposite of sadness.
  • Fear is the opposite of anger.
  • Anticipation is the opposite of surprise.
  • Disgust is the opposite of trust.

Plutchik created the wheel of emotions in order to illustrate the various relationships among the emotions.


The intensity of emotion decreases as you move outward and increases as you move toward the wheel's center. The intensity of the emotion is indicated by the color. The darker the shade, the more intense the emotion. For example, anger at its least level of intensity is annoyance. At its highest level of intensity, anger becomes rage.

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