Plutchik’s Wheel of Emotions

Resources for understanding emotions and utilizing them as a resource


Psychologist Robert Plutchik states that there are 8 basic emotions: joy, trust, fear, surprise, sadness, anticipation, anger, and disgust. Plutchik’s wheel of emotions illustrates these 8 basic emotions and the various ways they relate to one another, including which ones are opposites and which ones can easily turn into another one. This framework helps bring clarity to emotions, which can sometimes feel mysterious and overwhelming. To improve your understanding of emotions, Plutchik’s wheel of emotions is a great place to start –  and we included an interpretation guide below!

So, what do all those colors and petals mean?


Robert Plutchik's graphic model of eight basic emotions and variations

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Interpreting Plutchik’s Wheel of Emotions

Primary: The eight sectors are designed to indicate that there are eight primary emotions: anger, anticipation, joy, trust, fear, surprise, sadness and disgust.

Opposites: Each primary emotion has a polar opposite, so that:

  • Joy is the opposite of sadness.
  • Fear is the opposite of anger.
  • Anticipation is the opposite of surprise.
  • Disgust is the opposite of trust.

Combinations: The emotions with no color represent an emotion that is a mix of the 2 primary emotions. For example, anticipation and joy combine to be optimism. Joy and trust combine to be love. Emotions are often complex, and being able to recognize when a feeling is actually a combination of two or more distinct feelings is a helpful skill. 

Intensity:  The cone’s vertical dimension represents intensity – emotions intensify as they move from the outside to the center of the wheel, which is also indicated by the color: The darker the shade, the more intense the emotion. For example, anger at its least level of intensity is annoyance. At its highest level of intensity, anger becomes rage. Or, a feeling of boredom can intensify to loathing if left unchecked, which is dark purple.

This is an important rule about emotions to be aware of in relationships: If left unchecked, emotions can intensify. Herein lies the wisdom of enhancing your emotional vocabulary: it’s the bedrock of effectively navigating emotions.

Plutchik’s wheel of emotions helps us look at literacy through a broader lens. Literacy means “a person’s knowledge of a particular subject or field.” So enhancing emotional literacy means not only having words for emotions, but understanding how different emotions are related to one another and how the tend to change over time.

You can read Robert Plutchik’s explanation of his model of emotions in an article that was originally published in American Scientist in 2001 and can be read on Springer International Publishing AG.

More Resources for Understanding Emotions

Another fabulous resource for understanding emotions is the Emotoscope Feeling Chart, which decodes the meaning, purpose and physical sensations associated with dozens of emotions.

Fill out the form to the right to get a free copy of the Emotoscope Feeling Chart in your inbox.

Find out the purpose + meaning of dozens of emotions

Download the Emotoscope Feeling Chart FREE

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