5 Differences between primary and secondary emotions

  • Nov 06, 2023
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Difference between primary and secondary emotions

People are capable of expressing a multitude of emotions adapted to any type of situation. These help us show others how we feel and also help us identify different types of situations, evaluate them and act accordingly. Both the positive ones, such as joy, and the negative ones, such as sadness or anger, are essential for us and are part of our integration and survival in the world.

Various authors have studied emotions and a consensus has been reached when it comes to classifying them into two groups: primary emotions and secondary emotions. Understanding everything about emotions is the first step to achieving great emotional management.

Therefore, to find out what primary emotions and secondary emotions are and what they are. Then we will see what is the difference between primary and secondary emotions, continue reading Psychology-Online.

You may also like: Secondary emotions: what they are, characteristics and examples


  1. What are primary emotions
  2. What are secondary emotions
  3. Differences between primary and secondary emotions

What are primary emotions?

For an emotion to be considered primary, it must meet a series of requirements. The characteristics of the primary emotions, also called basic emotions, are the following:

  • It must be universal, that is, it exists in all parts of the world.
  • Recognizable at first sight: Your way of expressing it must be completely identifying.
  • Punctual, that is, it occurs at a certain time.
  • It must have physical repercussions. This means that the emotion must cause some type of effect on the body, such as an increased heart rate, dry mouth, or tense muscles.

There is no complete agreement on which emotions would fall into this classification. Some of them are the following:

  • Happiness
  • Sadness
  • Fear
  • Gonna
  • Aversion
  • Surprise

However, other authors would add emotions such as love. Furthermore, they occur automatically, there is no prior reflection because they are not due to thoughts but to the situations that surround us.

What are secondary emotions?

For their part, secondary emotions arise from the combination of the primaries, in the same way that happens with primary and secondary colors. In general, there is great disagreement about its classification but the majority of authors are in favor of universal secondary emotions including:

  • Shame
  • Blame
  • Pride
  • Pleasure
  • Jealousy

These types of emotions promote self-knowledge and personal identity, they are what make our character is differentiated from the others and appear at 2 or 3 years of age, when we begin to have a certain awareness. Due to this weight they have when it comes to identifying us as people, it has a weight on self-esteem and the way we consider ourselves.

In the case of both primary and secondary emotions, it is advisable to avoid repressing them which could have serious consequences causing the person to end up having a "little state." emotional".

Differences between primary and secondary emotions.

Main differences between primary and secondary emotions are:

  • As we said, Secondary emotions result from the combination of primary emotions But, in addition to this, there are many other differences between primary and secondary emotions.
  • Primary emotions are innate in human beings, that is, we have them since we are born and they are the same in all people. They are part of our genetics. If we notice, a baby can express if she is happy or sad, or even if she is afraid or disgusted by a food. However, she does not have the capacity to feel shame or pride. This is because some have them innately while others secondary emotions are learned from the people in their environment and their culture.
  • However, on the contrary, secondary emotions are learned over time and They do not usually begin to express themselves until they are 2 or 3 years old.. Although some are universal, their expression may be different in different cultures, as well as the way in which are perceived (if they are positive or negative) and even in some cultures there may be a secondary emotion that in others No.
  • Besides, primary emotions arise quickly and they go away with the same speed, while secondary ones can last longer over time. Primaries arise as a result of a specific stimulus. For their part, secondary thoughts usually occur due to certain thoughts that each person has.
  • Furthermore, another difference is its usefulness, that is, while primaries have a survival function, the secondary ones do not have this function.

If you want to know more about the topic, we recommend reading about what are emotions, the types of emotions there are and Daniel Goleman's theory, one of the most relevant authors in the research of emotions.

This article is merely informative, at 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 Difference between primary and secondary emotions, we recommend that you enter our category of Emotions.


  • Dalai Lama, T. G., & Ekman, P. (2008). Emotional awareness: Overcoming the obstacles to psychological balance and compassion: A conversation between the Dalai Lama and Paul Ekman. Times Books/Henry Holt and Co.
  • Plutchik, R. (1980). A general psychoevolutionary theory of emotion. in Theories of emotion (pp. 3-33). Academic press.
  • Plutchik, R. (2003). Emotions and life: Perspectives from psychology, biology, and evolution. American Psychological Association.
  • Plutchik, R. E., & Conte, H. R. (1997). Circumplex models of personality and emotions (pp. xi-484). American Psychological Association.
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