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Tue, Mar 12, 2019

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Theories claim there are 6 basic emotions and things get even more complicated if someone tries to categorise them. But why does understanding them matters - for you, me or a brand?

When I was 5 years old my mum decided to take me to the seaside for the first time ever.

The bus drive was meant to last 11 hours, but I was more than excited and didn’t even plan to complain.

Unfortunately, half way through our trip we realised we haven’t seen a single thing other than tress for hours.

Passengers slowly started to realise something was wrong.

And they were right.

The bus driver was completely lost and had already been driving for hours before he even made anyone aware.

We eventually made it out of the forest and found our way to the seaside, but what will forever stay with me is the intense emotion I felt once I heard we were lost.

Fast-forward 20 years, I was at an event when I heard a really interesting take on emotions (funnily enough this was said by the speaker whose name I don’t remember).

He asked: ‘_Why do you think the newspapers are filled with negative, scandalous and scary titles?_’

It’s because emotions were responsible for keeping us safe and alive ever since we evolved as a human kind and this reptile brain still pulls the strings sometimes.

This is also why we have four negative basic emotions and only one positive – happiness (surprise is considered neutral).

Negative emotions are far more memorable, as they were essential to our survival and things have not changed at all!

The power of emotion is what newspapers, politicians, advertising and pretty much anyone who wants to convince us of something have been using for a long time now.

But, if emotions are so important, why do we dedicate such little time to understanding them and dare I say – learning how to control or change them?

The body of research that explores emotions is incredibly large and incredibly inconsistent.

Theories claim there are 6, 8 or 23 basic emotions and things get even more complicated if someone tries to categorise them.

The most basic dimension of categorisation is pleasantness.

So far so clear - does something make you feel good or bad?

The next is the level of activation: does it make you take action or not.

This theory says that if you feel bored or sad, you are more ‘passive’ as oppose to feeling challenged, when you are more likely to take action.

This is particularly relevant for companies that want to understand customer perceptions, as measuring sentiment is not enough.

What can also be measured is whether someone is going to be active: write a complaint, refer the brand to a friend or be passive and switch to another brand or not even purchase at all (if they’re not already a customer).

Every next dimension is highly speculative and complex.

However, another dimension that was mentioned in the research of emotions is control.

The theory says that if you are sad, you are more likely to attribute this to your own doing.

When you are angry, you would probably blame an external cause.

And this is where my research became personal, because I am very reluctant to accept that any external cause should (and has the right) to make me feel something that is not good for me.

Can we change it?

When we say we feel an emotion we normally say: ‘I am happy’ or ‘I am confused’.

The problem with this is that we become our emotion.

There is no separation between our emotional reaction and us, and therefore, we are left to the mercy of our emotional impulses.

This is why it’s so relevant to stop.

Label our emotion and decide whether it serves us or not.

As they say: the first step in solving the problem is identifying it.

Thinking about labelling emotions in personal or professional sense – why should we limit our selves to only 6 basic names (and rely on only 1 emotion to make us happy).

Wouldn’t it be more useful to know if a brand makes someone feel ‘_confident_’, ‘_proud_’ or ‘_strong_’, rather than just ‘_happy_’?

There is so much space left to explore this complex world of emotions (and extend the current sentiment analysis).

Therefore, I thought I could start my personal research by making my own list of labels for emotions:

1. ‘Being stuck in traffic whilst being late’;

2. ‘Missing a step in front of a person you fancy’;

3. ‘Seeing your first academic paper stuck on your mum’s fridge’;

And why not –

4. ‘Getting lost in a forest when all you want to do is to see that big, blue sea’.


Photo by Nick Baker on Unsplash

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