The 7 PRIMARY EMOTIONS: what are they, types and functions

  • Jul 26, 2021
Primary emotions: what are they, types and functions

Human beings can feel a multitude of emotions. Within these there are some that are considered primary, which depending on the author are five or seven. They are considered primary because they are automatic states of mind that fulfill an adaptive function in different situations. Normally these emotions are due to thoughts, memories, wishes, situations ...

Emotions cause certain changes in our body such as redness or paleness of the face, respiratory and cardiac rhythms are altered, visceral movements stop in a way momentary.

Are you wondering what are the primary emotions, their types and their functions? If so, keep reading Psychology-Online to find out.

You may also like: What is the difference between primary and secondary emotions?


  1. What are primary emotions
  2. Surprise
  3. Disgust
  4. Afraid
  5. Joy
  6. Sadness
  7. Go to
  8. Love
  9. Circle of primary and secondary emotions

What are primary emotions.

For an emotion to be considered primary, it must meet a series of requirements:

  • Have a neural substrate specific and differentiates it from the rest. In other words, the neurons involved are certain ones.
  • That facial expression that represents that emotion is characteristic and distinctive.
  • That the feelings underlying the emotion, that is, the thoughts and the way we feel, are characteristic of that emotion.
  • Have a evolutionary end and survival.
  • Have adaptive functions faced with a certain situation.

Next we will see what are the primary emotions and their functions. We will explain one by one the primary emotions, the types and what they are for.

Primary emotions: what are they, types and functions - What are primary emotions


It is the primary emotion of shorter duration. Not all authors consider it a primary emotion, since it does not meet all the aforementioned requirements. It is an emotional reaction faced with an unexpected situation, like a surprise party, for example. Its time limit is determined by when the next emotion appears. The surprise is considered a neutral emotion, that is, it is neither negative nor positive.

Surprise function

Its main function is to make the nervous system adjust to a change unforeseen in the environment eliminating possible interferences that could appear.


It was among the first to be considered primary emotion and it ticks all the boxes. It is a rejection reaction to different stimuli, for example to a food that we do not like or our reaction to a public bathroom. Disgust would belong to the group of negative emotions.

Disgust function

It has different functions, the most basic of which is the remove ourselves from potentially harmful situations. In addition, it promotes healthy habits such as personal hygiene. In addition, it has a social function since it inhibits certain reactions that could endanger our social integration.


This primary emotion is about a form of awarn us that danger is coming for which we may not be prepared. The fear wakes up after a stimulus that makes us anticipate this danger (for example a noise at night in our home). He would belong, like disgust, to the group of negative emotions.

Function of fear

Its functions are clearly adaptive. Specifically, it helps the subject to carry out some behavior to distance himself from possible danger, thus promoting escape and avoidance behaviors, prevents us from facing dangerous situations. In addition, it helps to act as a group in the face of danger and to establish hierarchies within that group.


Joy it is considered a primary emotion of a positive type. It is associated with positive feelings such as pleasure and euphoria and the suppression of negative feelings. There is therefore a feeling of calm and well-being.

Joy function

Its function is adaptive since it promotes the repetition of an activity or a behavior due to the sensation of reward that it causes as a pleasant emotion. What's more, facilitates social union and planning for the future.


This primary emotion is in the group of negative emotions. Energy and motivation are lowered, metabolism is lowered, and social isolation is increased. The sadnessarises after the appearance of a harmful situation emotionally.

Sadness function

It responds to the survival instinct as it alerts us to a harmful situation. What's more, promotes the search for social support.

Go to.

It is a negative emotion that prioritizes the delivery of blood to the hands and legs. Adrenaline levels soar. The wrath is associated with the hostility, fury and in the most extreme cases with a pathological and permanent hatred.

Anger function

The preparation of the extremities has the purpose of being able to defend ourselves against possible danger. That is, it responds to the survival instinct. In some cases, promotes group unity since anger also develops in order to defend a third party.


Love is another of the primary emotions. If you want to know more about this emotion, in this article you will find what is love according to psychology.

Love function

Its main function is the reproductive and the perpetuation of one's genes. At present it fulfills a social and emotional support function.

Circle of primary and secondary emotions.

As we have said, there are several theories about emotions and different classifications. Some authors who classify emotions are Daniel Goleman, Paul Ekman, and Robert Plutchik.

Below we show with an image all this variety of reactions and affective states.

Primary emotions: what are they, types and functions - Circle of primary and secondary emotions

Image: Yolanda Cuevas Ayneto

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 Primary emotions: what are they, types and functions, we recommend that you enter our category of Emotions.


  • Ekman, P., & Oster, H. (1981). Facial expressions of emotion. Psychology studies, 2(7), 115-144.
  • Izard, C. AND. (1991). The psychology of emotions. Springer Science & Business Media.
  • Maffía, D. H. (2005). Knowledge and emotion. Arbor, 181(716), 515-521.
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