What is the difference between PRIMARY and SECONDARY EMOTIONS?

  • Jul 26, 2021
What is the difference between primary and secondary emotions?

People are capable of expressing a multitude of emotions adapted to any type of situation. These help us to show others how we feel and also help us to identify different types of situations, value them and act accordingly. Both the positive ones such as happiness, as well as 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 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 are and what are the primary emotions and secondary emotions. Later we will see what is the difference between primary and secondary emotions, keep reading Psychology-Online.

You may also like: Secondary emotions: what are they, 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 to say, that it exists in all parts of the world.
  • Recognizable at first glance: their way of expressing it must be totally identifying.
  • Punctual, that is, that it occurs at a certain time.
  • It must have physical repercussions. This means that the emotion must have some kind of effect on the body, such as increasing the heart rate, causing dry mouth, or tense muscles.

There is not entirely an agreement on which are the emotions that would enter this classification. Some of them are the following:

  • Joy
  • Sadness
  • Afraid
  • Go to
  • Aversion
  • Surprise

However, other authors would add emotions such as love. They are also given 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 it happens with the primary and secondary colors. In general, there is great disagreement about its classification but most authors are in favor of universal secondary emotions include:

  • Shame
  • Guilt
  • Pride
  • Pleasure
  • Jealousy

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

Both in the case of primary and secondary emotions, it is convenient to avoid repressing them already that could have serious consequences causing the person to end up having a 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 ones but, in addition to that, there are many other differences between primary and secondary emotions.
  • Primary emotions are innate in the human being, 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 it, a baby can express whether she is happy or sad, or even if she is afraid or disgusts a food. However, he does not have the capacity to feel shame or pride. This is because some have them innately while secondary emotions are learned from people around him and from his culture.
  • However, on the contrary, secondary emotions are learned over time and until 2 or 3 years of age they do not usually begin to express themselves. Although some are universal, their expression may be different in different cultures, as well as the way in which are perceived (whether they are positive or negative) and even in some cultures there may be a secondary emotion than in others not.
  • On the other hand, primary emotions arise quickly and they go just as quickly, while the secondary ones can last longer in time. The primaries arise as a result of a specific stimulus. For their part, the secondary ones, usually occur due to certain thoughts that each person has.
  • In addition, another of the differences 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 subject, we recommend you read about what are emotions, the types of emotions there are and Daniel Goleman's theory, one of the most relevant authors in the investigation of emotions.

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 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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