Plutchik’s Wheel of Emotions: Exploring the Emotion Wheel

Emotions can be confusing! But what if you could explore them in an emotion wheel, and dig deeper with a simply powerful emotions list? The Plutchik Model of Emotions provides a simply logical way to make sense of feelings. Plus! At the bottom of this page you’ll find our top emotions resources, and a form to get your free emotions list with dozens of emotions explained.

The Feelings Wheel Defined

Psychologist Robert Plutchik created the Plutchik Model shown above. It shows there are 8 basic emotions: joy, trust, fear, surprise, sadness, anticipation, anger, and disgust. Plutchik’s wheel of emotions organizes these 8 basic emotions based on the physiological purpose of each. The model is actually the little “ice cream cone” which unfolds to the emotions wheel.,

As you’ll see below, 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?

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. These are based on the physiological reaction each emotion creates in animals (including humans… Plutchik studied animals!):

  • Joy is the opposite of sadness. Physiology: Connect vs withdraw
  • Fear is the opposite of anger. Physiology: Get small and hide vs get big and loud
  • Anticipation is the opposite of surprise. Physiology: Examine closely vs jump back
  • Disgust is the opposite of trust. Physiology: Reject vs embrace

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. 

There are also tertiary feelings, not shown on the feelings wheel, that are a combination of 3 (and maybe some feelings have 4 or more parts? Let us know what you think in the comments below),


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.

Your Emotions List, Feeling Chart & More Emotions Resources

click each resource to learn more about emotions

Click the picture and download your Emotions List: The Emotoscope

Explore the neuroscience of feelings and 7 “must know” facts with Our Top Picks about Emotions

Free POP-UP Festival EQ activity kit – in partnership with UNICEF World Children’s Day

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