Over the course of even just a day, we can experience a wide range of emotions: we might feel excited to go to work, or quite oppositely dread it; we feel joy when we see our friends and our family; we grow angry or disappointed when we get bad news; we experience fear, shock, disgust, anxiety, and so much more. Right? Well, actually human emotions have always been categorized into just six universal emotions: happiness, sadness, anger, surprise, fear, and disgust. But a new study from the University of California, Berkeley, challenges this previous understanding and reveals 27 distinct categories instead.

The team of researchers exposed 850 different men and women (split into three separate groups) to a random collection of 5-10 second videos, which featured “births and babies, weddings and proposals, death and suffering, spiders and snakes, physical pratfalls and risky stunts, sexual acts, natural disasters, wondrous nature and awkward handshakes.” These clips served the purpose of evoking a range of emotional responses and considering the subject matter were sure to succeed, if you ask me.

The first group of participants was asked to simply report how the videos made them feel; and just as the researchers hoped, they reported an array of emotional responses, “ranging from nostalgia to feeling ‘grossed out,’” according to Alan Cowen, a doctoral student in neuroscience at UC Berkeley.

The second group was not asked to freely comment on the videos, but instead to rank each video clip according to how strongly it made them feel certain emotions, which included amusement, calmness, boredom, guilt, relief, triumph, and many more. Upon reviewing these responses, researchers found that more than half of the viewers reported the same category of emotion for each video clip.

Finally, the third group was asked to rate their emotional responses to each video on a scale of 1 to 9, based on positive versus negative feelings, excitement versus calmness, and so on. The researchers discovered they were successfully able to predict how these subjects would rate the videos by analyzing the other groups’ assessments of the videos.

Ultimately, the results showed that the subjects generally shared the same (or at least similar) emotional responses to the different videos, which led to the researchers identifying 27 distinct categories of emotion—more than triple times the original number of categories. They then used statistical modeling and visualization techniques to organize these emotions on a multidimensional map, with each emotion corresponding with a different color. “We wanted to shed light on the full palette of emotions that color our inner world,” said Cowen.

The team’s findings, which can be found in this week’s publication of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal, prove that there’s more to human emotions than just being happy or sad. And the researchers hope their study doesn’t stop there; they hope their findings “will help other scientists and engineers more precisely capture the emotional states that underlie moods, brain activity and expressive signals, leading to improved psychiatric treatments, an understanding of the brain basis of emotion and technology responsive to our emotional needs.”

Explore the latest mental wellness tips and discussions, delivered straight to your inbox.

Start a Relationship with An Exceptional Counselor

  • Skilled and caring professional counselors
  • Accepting all major and most insurances
  • High-touch customer service & premium benefits
  • Same- or next-day appointments
  • Ultra-flexible 23.5hr cancellations