What are emotions?

Emotions are biologically based psychological conditions caused by neurophysiological changes which are linked to different factors such as thoughts, emotions, behavioral responses, and pleasure or displeasure. These emotions are not similar to moods. The mood is an affective state. Mood depends upon several factors, such as weather, the environment, physiology, etc. Emotions can be beneficial or detrimental depending on the situation. Emotional reactions are simple. Emotional well-being is strongly affected by our well-being, and such feelings are private.

Components of emotions

We can examine a person's personality by examining their emotions. Emotional experience has three components: a subjective experience, psychological response, and behavioral or expressive response. A feeling is the result of an emotional experience. The term feeling was originally used to denote the physical sensation of touch obtained through experience or perception. In psychology, the term "feeling" is closely related to emotions. Emotions are linked to physical reactions that are triggered by hormones and neurotransmitters secreted by the brain. Feelings are the conscious awareness of emotional responses.

Categories of emotions

Emotions are derived into two categories; they are primary emotions and secondary emotions.

Primary emotions

The primary human emotion types are those that are evoked in response to an event. Primary emotion includes happiness, sadness, surprise, anger, and fear.


Happiness is a state of mind. It is distinguished by feelings of joy and satisfaction. It refers to a person's mental state. Happiness is a feeling when any good thing happens in our life. Happiness is good for our well-being and it gives mental peace. This emotion can be expressed in a variety of ways, such as:

  • Facial expression such as smiling.
  • The tone and the enjoyable way of speaking. 
  • Body language, for example, relaxed posture.
The diagrammatic representation of different types of emotions are shown in the figure.
CC-BY | Image Credits: https://pixabay.com


Anger is a basic emotion and is experienced by all people. Anger is experienced as an unpleasant feeling. Anger comes when someone does something wrong or disrespectful. Anger could start with something deeper and more violent in its range of reactions. Anger can also result from misunderstandings or poor communication with people. The main cause of the anger is the inability to achieve their goals and objectives. Anger is usually manifested through:

  • Facial expression, for example, frowning or staring.
  • Body language such as taking a strong stance.
  • The tone of speech, for example, gruffly speaking.
  • Physiological responses, for example, sweating.


Fear is a powerful emotion that may be helpful in survival situations. When we are confronted with a threat and are afraid, our body goes through what is known as the fight or flight response. Our muscles tense, our heart rate and respiration rate increase and our minds become more alert, as our body prepares to either flee or confront the threat. Fear can manifest itself in a variety of ways, including:

  • Facial expressions, for example, widening the eyes and pulling the chin.
  • Psychological reactions, for example, rapid breathing and heartbeat.


Anxiety is a feeling, an unpleasant and uncomfortable feeling, such as a physical sensation. Anxiety can affect physical health as well, like breathing difficulties, headaches, etc. Anxiety is an excessive fear, stress in everyday situations. It is a heterogeneous illness that mainly develops in the age group of below 30, and it is mainly seen in women due to social stress, etc. Anxiety disorders are broadly classified into different types. They are:

  • Generalized anxiety
  • Panic disorder
  • Phobic disorder
  • Anxiety disorder


Sadness is one of the emotions that is commonly described as a temporary emotional state characterized by feelings of hopelessness, regret, and disengagement. Sadness, like other emotions, is something that everyone experiences sometimes. Sadness can be conveyed in a variety of ways, such as:

  • Quietness
  • Crying
  • Withdrawal from other people


Surprise is another example of a fundamental human emotion. Surprise is typically brief and is defined by a physiological shock response as a result of something unexpected. Surprise usually exhibit the following characteristics:

  • Facial expression, for example, raising the brows and opening the mouth.
  • Physical responses, such as jumping back.

Secondary emotions

Fear is one of the secondary emotions that we experience. Depending on the situation, the secondary emotions would feel threatened or feel anger. The secondary emotions are passion, disgust, shame, and nervousness.


Disgust is the feeling you get when you see or smell anything disgusting. Poor hygiene, infections, and death can trigger a disgust response. Disgust is being expressed in a variety of ways, such as:

  • Body language indicating a turn away from the object of dislike
  • Physical reactions, for example, vomiting.


Shame is an intentional pain full feeling where we believe that we are unworthy of love and belonging. It is a feeling of embarrassment or humiliation that arises in a relation to the perception of having done something immoral or improper.  


Nervousness is a sensible reaction that a potentially scary situation. It is stressful. Nervousness is a having feeling of being worried and afraid about what might happen. Anxiety is a synonym for nervousness.

Variety of emotions

Human emotions are infused in each of us. They are something we are born with or something we die with. Emotions such as happiness, sadness, and fear occur daily in everyone's life. Emotions come in different varieties. They are positive emotions and negative emotions. The positive emotions that one feels good about their life or gets good things in their life lead to happiness, joy, or pleasant feelings. Hopeful, confident, and peaceful are positive emotions. In negative emotions, you lack energy and pleasantness. Jealousy, frustration, panic, and exhaustion are negative emotions.

Factors affecting emotions

These are the factors that affect emotions:

  • Personality
  • Culture
  • Age
  • Gender
  • Environment
  • Weather
  • Stress

Context and Applications

This topic is important in professional exams such, undergraduate and graduate levels especially for bachelors in psychology and masters in psychology.

Practice Problems

Question 1: When faced with a stressful situation, men are likely to respond with the _________.

  1. fight or flight response.
  2. hurt then helps response.
  3. fist and knee response.

Answer: Option 1 is correct.

Explanation: Fight and flight response is an automatic physiological reaction to an event that is perceived as a stressful situation.

Question 2: Primary emotions are_______pathway and secondary emotions are__________pathway.

  1. mild, intense
  2. hard, soft
  3. fast, slow

Answer: Option 3 is correct.

Explanation: Primary emotions are the pathway that includes anger, joy, fear, etc. and secondary emotions come to a slow pathway. Nervousness, shame is an example of this.

Question 3: Which of the following is not a kind of non-verbal communication?

  1. Jealousy
  2. Facial expression
  3. Swearing

Answer: Option 3 is correct.

Explanation: Swearing is an emotional sense mainly for anger and frustration.

Question 4: The notion that physiological changes cause emotional experience is known as___

  1. Cannon-Bard theory
  2. James-Lange theory
  3. excitation theory

 Answer: Option 2 is correct.  

Explanation: The theory that physiological changes produce the experience of emotion is called the James-Lange Theory.

Question 5: Emotion is an _________.

  1. attitude
  2. conscious experience
  3. sub-conscious experience

Answer: Option 2 is correct.

Explanation: Emotion is a conscious experience. Emotions can be beneficial or detrimental depending on the situation. Emotional reactions are simple. Emotional well-being is strongly affected by our well-being. Emotional feelings are private feelings.

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