What is the emotion of surprise in psychology

  • Jun 23, 2022
What is the emotion of surprise in psychology

Emotions are innate reactions of our body that accompany us in the most important moments of life. In 1970, the American psychologist Paul Eckman was the one who proposed that there are seven basic human emotions and that each one of them provokes different reactions in the human being. Thus, it is necessary to know them to identify how we feel in each situation.

In this Psychology-Online article, we will explain in detail what is the emotion of surprise in psychology and, in addition, we will show you some examples to make it easier for you to recognize. In addition, we will also tell you what other emotions are linked to surprise and the physiological effects it causes.

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  1. What is the emotion of surprise in psychology
  2. What causes the emotion of surprise
  3. What emotions are linked to surprise?
  4. Examples of the emotion of surprise

What is the emotion of surprise in psychology.

surprise is one of basic universal emotions that arises from an unexpected event, movement or situation

. In psychology, surprise is described as a sudden emotion that can be pleasant, unpleasant or neutral, depending on the context that provokes said emotion. Basically, it differs from joy and wonder in that it can cause feelings of confusion, wonder, or agitation.

The main function of surprise in psychology is to prepare the organism so that it can react to any stimulus exciting, as well as helping to evaluate the context so that our cognitive schemes find the most appropriate response to that situation. In fact, it's a innate mechanism that serves to apply the best emotional strategies to adapt to the environment and its daily demands.

In addition, the emotion of surprise allows thoughts to be restarted and the individual out of their own internal thoughts. When we feel surprise, the emotion is brief and sudden, but makes a big impact. In addition, the sensation it generates disappears as quickly as it came.

when we feel surprise

The emotion of surprise can be triggered due to the following situations:

  • Before unexpected situations or news.
  • When we get a scare.
  • When we meet a person whom we haven't seen for a long time.
  • If we receive an unexpected prize or when people plan a surprise party for us.
  • At the moment of finding something that we thought was lost.

What causes the emotion of surprise.

The emotion of surprise can cause many physical, cognitive, or subjective effects. These sensations vary depending on the level of stress we experience before the surprise. Next, we will detail what causes the emotion of surprise:

  • subjective effects of surprise: the most common is that the individual is momentarily blocked, his thoughts have an abrupt stop and he goes into a sudden state of "blank mind". Later, he will look for the answer to the astonishment to try to decipher the questions. Immediately, the person will pay attention to what has just happened and evaluate it.
  • Cognitive effects of surprise: processes are activated attention, event protection, printing and retention. It is possible that an emotional behavioral reaction arises derived from amazement at the novel situation.
  • Physical effects of surprise: These are easy-to-identify effects, since they are manifested by a decrease in heart rate, as well as dilation of the pupils and vasoconstriction of the skin. In addition, there will be a momentary increase in neural processes, due to the activation of the somatic system. When surprised, the person will also notice general muscle tension, raise their eyebrows and open their eyes wide.

Undoubtedly, surprise is a bittersweet emotional reaction that causes restlessness and tension, while generating a certain degree of pleasure in the face of an unexpected event. Commonly, in psychology, the role of this emotion in learning processes is studied.

What is the emotion of surprise in psychology - What causes the emotion of surprise

What emotions are linked to surprise?

Various investigations, such as that proposed by the psychologist Robert Plutchik, affirm that surprise is linked to different emotions. In fact, this researcher claims that emotions form a kind of wheel in which they combine to create a variety of feelings. Therefore, the emotions linked to surprise are the following:

  • Fear.
  • Distrust.
  • Sadness.
  • Distress.
  • Happiness.
  • Disgust.
  • Gonna.

Now, according to the theory of wheel of emotions by Robert Plutchik, the emotional combination that generates the surprise derives in the following compound emotions:

  • surprise + anger = Indignation.
  • surprise + joy = Delight.
  • Surprise + disgust = Disbelief.
  • Surprise + Confidence = Curiosity.
  • surprise + fear = Alarm.
  • surprise + anguish = alarm and anxiety.

noteworthy the feelings derived will depend on the context and the emotional expression resulting from the belief and value system of the individual experiencing the emotion of surprise. However, it will always be a mechanism of action for people, since it is linked to attention, exploration and concentration.

Examples of the emotion of surprise.

Being one of the basic emotions of the human being, there are many examples of surprise in daily life, which can be positive, negative or neutral. Here are some examples of the emotion of surprise:

  • positive surprise: a woman arrives at her house and discovers from her entrance a path of rose petals that leads to her room, where she finds a bouquet of roses and many gifts for her.
  • negative surprise: a person goes to the bank in her car, but when leaving the entity he realizes that his car has been stolen.
  • neutral surprise: when the manager of a business discovers that one of his employees has moved out of town.

In any case, surprise facilitates learning, curiosity and the adaptation of people to novel situations.

What is the emotion of surprise in psychology - Examples of the emotion of surprise

This article is merely informative, in Psychology-Online we do not have the power to make a diagnosis or recommend a treatment. We invite you to go to a psychologist to treat your particular case.

If you want to read more articles similar to What is the emotion of surprise in psychology, we recommend that you enter our category of Emotions.


  • Diaz, J. L., & Enrique, F. (2001). The structure of human emotion: a chromatic model of the affective system. Mental Health, 24(4), 20-35.
  • Eckman, P. and Friesen, West Virginia (1975). Unmasking the face. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice Hall, Inc.
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