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Plutchik's Ten Postulates


Explanations > Evolution > Plutchik's Ten Postulates

Animals and Humans | Evolutionary History | Survival Issues | Prototype Patterns | Basic Emotions | Combinations | Hypothetical Constructs | Opposites | Similarity | Intensity | So what


In his book, 'Emotion - A Psychoevolutionary Synthesis', Robert Plutchik describes ten postulates on which his evolutionary perspective on emotions are based. Here are some notes on these.

1. Animals and Humans

Animals, particularly mammals, experience emotions in the same way as humans and experience the same basic emotions.

Our mid-brain structures in which emotions are created are very similar. It is only the 'crinkly-walnut' cortex that is more developed in humans for the use of language and advanced cognitive processing.

2. Evolutionary History

Emotions appeared through the processes evolution. They appeared in the animal chain long before the apes evolved and humans from these.

Emotions evolved because they are useful, or at least were useful along the way and have not become so troublesome since that they prevent us from growing and procreating.

3. Survival Issues

A key force in evolution is natural selection. The basic rules of evolution are that physiological changes are constantly being made in order to find better ways for children to survive until adulthood so they can have (and protect) children of their own. If a species cannot do this consistently, then it will become extinct.

Emotions evolved to help us survive and can be traced to this purpose. Man's recent (in evolutionary terms) development of civilized society has led some emotions to be less than helpful. Even now, the evolutionary survival effect can be seen in the ways that people who are emotionally troubled are less likely to find mates.


  • Trust leads to tribal sharing and collaboration
  • Fear causes flight from danger
  • Surprise leads to pausing to appraise and learn
  • Sadness enables letting go of attachments
  • Disgust causes or warns of vomiting poisonous items
  • Anger leads to fighting competitors or predators
  • Anticipation leads to preparation
  • Joy results in seeking good things again

4. Prototype Patterns

'Prototypes' are basic patterns on which a wider range of things may be founded and developed. This applies to everything from chairs to emotions.

Although there are many emotions, there is a relatively small set of common emotional elements that can be used to identify prototype emotions.

5. Basic Emotions

There is a relatively small set of prototype, primary or basic emotions that can be identified. Plutchnik identifies these as:

  • Trust
  • Fear
  • Surprise
  • Sadness
  • Disgust
  • Anger
  • Anticipation
  • Joy

6. Combinations

All emotions other than basic emotions are variants of these, occurring in various combinations and mixtures. We give separate names to these, but they are not really separate and independent.

Plutchik describes primary, secondary and tertiary dyads (pairs). For example:

  • Primary: Joy + Trust = Love
  • Secondary: Joy + Fear = Guilt
  • Tertiary: Joy + Surprise = Delight

7. Hypothetical Constructs

It is recognized that emotions are themselves constructs, or ideas that are created to describe experiences.

Primary emotions are themselves particularly idealized states which can be described in terms of specific properties and characteristics. These descriptions are based on various kinds of evidence.

8. Opposites

Emotions have polar opposites. In Plutchiks' eight primary emotions:

  • Sadness is the opposite of Joy
  • Trust is the opposite of Disgust
  • Fear is the opposite of Anger
  • Surprise is the opposite of Anticipation

Opposites use the principle of contrast to help create meaning. Hence if you have black then you must have white to show what 'not black' is. Likewise if you have an up then you must have a down, and so on. And if you have happiness ('joy' in Plutchik's terminology), then you must have sadness so you can know when you are not happy.

9. Similarity

Emotions vary in the degree of similarity to one another. Some are quite similar whilst others are quite different.

Similar emotions form families or groups, for example contempt, disgust, aversion and loathing.

10. Intensity

Each emotion has differing degrees of intensity, ranging from very light to very intense.


  • Trust goes from acceptance to admiration
  • Fear goes from timidity to terror
  • Surprise goes from uncertainty to amazement
  • Sadness goes from gloominess to grief
  • Disgust goes from dislike to loathing
  • Anger goes from annoyance to fury
  • Anticipation goes from interest to vigilance
  • Joy goes from serenity to ecstasy

So what?

Use Plutchik's insights to seek to understand better the emotions of others.

See also



Plutchik, R. (1980). Emotion - A Psychoevolutionary Synthesis, London: Longman


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