What is OpenPSYC?

OpenPSYC is a free online resource for students in Introduction to Psychology courses. Use the links on the right to learn more about the site, visit a course module or search by keyword.

Basic and Moral Emotions


We know we have them, but can we explain them? We will see how emotions evolved along with consciousness as adaptive mechanisms and how more advanced emotions allow the survival of the group. Finally, we will look at one theory for how emotions are produced and discover that, much like with sensation and perception, we can not always trust the emotion we experience.

Why do we Have Emotions?

When we learned about intelligence, the basic idea was that we evolved complex cognitive capabilities because they were advantageous. That is, the more ‘intelligent’ shrew-like mammals (what all mammals evolved from) were most likely to survive. How, then, might having emotional responses aid in our quest to survive? How might more complex, ‘human’ emotions help us evolve as social groups?

Read the following two articles about emotions, and, from them, be able to:
  • Explain how “basic” emotions evolved as survival mechanisms for the individual
  • Name the 6 basic, universal emotions that Paul Ekman identified and provide a personal example of when you have experienced each emotion
  • Name the four “self-conscious” (or “moral”) emotions and explain how these emotions shape our social behavior in a way that ultimately benefits the whole group. Similarly, be able to provide a personal example for each of when you have experienced that emotion
Read: Why Do We Have Emotions?

Read: The Four Moral Emotions

Ekman’s research showed that these basic emotions were expressed the same way and understood by people all over the world. Thus, it makes sense to suggest that the facial expressions are universal communication mechanisms that evolved to help others understand our own emotions (rather than something we have learned). To see the kind of photos Ekman used in his research, visit this image link:
One last note on basic emotions and facial expressions, humans also communicate happiness by laughing. But are we the only ones?

Watch: Apes Giggle Like Humans (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SnbKzDkZktQ)

Watch: Rats Laugh When You Tickle Them (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j-admRGFVNM)