Paul Ekman: The 6 Basic Emotions

6 basic emotions paul ekman

Understanding Basic Emotions by Paul Ekman 

According to Paul Ekman, three meanings of the term ‘basic‘ in emotion studies exist. The first meaning of basic entails the presence of several different emotions that differ from one another in significant ways. Another meaning of basic is those emotions that evolve and adapt to deal with fundamental life tasks like failures, achievements, losses, frustrations, etc.

The third meaning of basic is the description of elements that come together to form compound emotions. An instance is the emotion ‘smugness’ that can be a combination of two different emotions; contempt and happiness.


Paul Ekman posits that seven basic emotions exist. They are anger, sadness, fear, surprise, disgust, contempt, and enjoyment. Let us go forward to understand these emotions and how to identify them.


The emotion, anger, stems from unfair treatment, restriction, or prevention of a person from pursuing intent or a goal.

You can recognize anger through a person’s posture, Facial expression, sensation, or vocal expression.

  1. Facial Expression


Glaring eyes

Narrowing at the corner of the lips

Eyebrows are drawn together

  1. Sensations


Tense muscles

Hot feeling

Clenching fists and jaw

  1. Vocal expression

Yelling or Roaring

  1. Posture

Head leaning forward or chin jutting forward

Chest puffing out or appearing larger


Fear stirs up when a person faces a physical, emotional, psychological, real, or imagined threat of harm.

Recognize fear using the following sensations and expressions

  1. Facial Expression 

what is fear


Tense and stretched lips

Straighter, raised, and more horizontal eyebrows

Higher upper eyelids

  1. Sensations 

Trembling or feelings of cold

See also  Managing Negative Attitude

Shortness of breath

Tightening leg and arm muscles


  1. Vocal expression

Strained or pitched voice

Screaming, in some persons

  1. Posture 

Immobilized or mobilized posture


When a person loses an opportunity, a person, or something important, sadness is the resulting emotion.

How to Recognize Sadness

  1. Facial Expression 


Dropped upper eyelids, and eyes drooped downwards

Lip edges pulled downward

Inner eyebrow corners pulled together, facing upwards

  1. Sensations 

Watery eyes

Tight chest

Stinging throat

Heaviness in the limbs

  1. Vocal Expressions 

Softer or lower voice pitch

Sometimes, a higher or louder pitched voice.

  1. Posture 

Hunched posture

Muscle tone loss

Eyes and face looking downwards or away


Sudden movements or sounds, sudden encounters, or surprising events bring about the emotion of surprise

Recognizing Surprise

  1. Facial Expression 


Jaws dropping down

Raised eyebrows, but not pulled together

Raised upper eyelids

  1. Posture 

Shielding the face with hands

Moving the head

Stepping backward

  1. Vocal expression

Sharp Intake of breath

  1. Sensations 

Attentiveness and Alertness


Disgust is a feeling of aversion towards an offensive person or incident. People’s actions, ideas, perceptions, statements, and the like can arise a feeling of disgust. Things like touch, taste, sound, smell, and sight can spring up disgust.

Recognize disgust with the features.

  1. Facial expression


Upper lip raised and shaped in an inverted U

Lowered eyebrows

Wrinkled Nose Bridge and side

  1. Sensations 

Nausea and vomiting

Repulsive feeling in the throat, stomach, or mouth

  1. Vocal expressions

Common sounds associated with disgust such as ew, yuck

Gagging and choking

  1. Posture 

Moving the head or body away from the object of disgust of repulsion

See also  Emotion of Regret

Hunching over, covering the nose and mouth in cases where nausea results from disgust.


Enjoyment arises from pleasure, such as sensual, physical, or other pleasurable events.

How to recognize the emotion of enjoyment

  1. Facial expression


Narrowed eyes and wrinkles around the eyes

Smiling face with lips pulled back

Raised cheeks

  1. Vocal expression 

Joyful squeals or shouts

Exclamations of excitement

Happy and boisterous laughter

Contented sighs

  1. Sensation of enjoyment

Lighthearted feeling, uplifted mood

Tingling or warm sensations

  1. Posture 

Upright posture, elevated physical features, or relaxed look. The posture often depends on the level or state of happiness a person feels.


A person feels contempt when they have a sense of dislike for a person, group, actions, or events. People often feel contempt towards people they feel a sense of superiority over.

Recognizing contempt

  1. Vocal Expression 

A smug and disapproving tone of voice, pitch, and statements

  1. Facial Expression 


A hint of anger, smug look (sometimes present, sometimes not)

Raised lips on the side of the face

  1. Posture 

Upright posture

Looking down the nose at others, rolling eyes, and sometimes, puffing up the chest.

  1. Sensation 



Body heat

Dr. Paul Ekman on Expression and Gesture and Their Role in Emotion and Deception

How to Catch a Liar (Assuming We Want To)

Paul Ekman Quotes

Most lies succeed because no one goes through the work to figure out how to catch them. Paul Ekman

Paul Ekman Books


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