What Is an Emotion Wheel?

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Have you ever had trouble pinpointing the exact feeling you were feeling? It may be easy to say when you feel happy, sad, or angry. However, humans are complicated beings who experience a wide range of emotions. It can be difficult to have complete clarity of all your emotions.

One of the signs of emotional intelligence is the ability to recognize and identify your own emotions and what others are feeling. A greater understanding of emotions can lead to better communication skills, improved relationships, and healthier coping abilities.

An emotion wheel is a tool that can be used to identify and understand feelings. Find out more about the history of the emotion wheel, different versions of it and how to use it in your life.

Plutchik’s Wheel of Emotions

Robert Plutchik was an American psychologist who created one of the most popular emotion wheels in 1980 called Plutchik’s Wheel of Emotions. 

The wheel was developed to help illustrate different emotions as part of his psychoevolutionary theory of basic emotions. He theorized that core emotions serve to trigger us due to our survival instincts and have an evolutionary purpose. In addition, he believed that the concept of emotions applies to all animals and humans due to similar midbrain (limbic system) functions.

8 Core Emotions

The design of Plutchik’s Wheel of Emotions is a flower with 8 petals located inside an octagon. It consists of 8 core emotions which are grouped into polar opposites and located across each other:

  • Sadness versus joy
  • Anger versus fear
  • Expectation versus surprise
  • Acceptance versus disgust

The core emotions appear in the second circle and the intensity of the color of each layer represents the intensity of the emotion. The emotions in the outer layer are soft-colored and milder whereas the ones in the center of the wheel are darker and more intense.

Each core emotion can be expressed at different intensities:

  • Joy ranges from serenity to ecstasy
  • Trust ranges from acceptance to admiration
  • Fear ranges from timidity to terror
  • Surprise ranges from uncertainty to amazement
  • Sadness ranges from gloominess to grief
  • Disgust ranges from dislike to loathing
  • Anger ranges from annoyance to fury
  • Anticipation ranges from interest to vigilance

Combining Emotions

Combining different core emotions will create new emotions. Some examples include:

  • Joy + Trust = Love
  • Trust + Fear = Submission
  • Fear + Surprise = Awe
  • Surprise + Sadness = Disapproval
  • Sadness + Disgust = Remorse 
  • Disgust + Anger = Contempt 
  • Anticipation + Anger = Aggressiveness 
  • Serenity + Interest = Optimism

Other Emotion Wheels

Although Plutchik’s Wheel of Emotions is one of the more popular ones, you may not resonate with how it’s used or find it helpful. Therefore, there are a couple of other emotion wheels that have been developed since. 

Geneva’s Wheel

Geneva’s Wheel isn’t in the shape of a wheel but is instead designed as a square with four main quadrants.

It divides emotions into four categories:

  1. Unpleasant, High Control 
  2. Unpleasant, Low Control
  3. Pleasant, High Control
  4. Pleasant, Low Control

It’s based on whether the emotion is pleasant or unpleasant and the level of control or power you feel you have over it or the circumstances that caused it.

For instance, the feeling of surprise is located on the border of pleasant and unpleasant and is categorized as low control. Surprises aren’t always pleasant and it can be challenging to control that feeling. Anger is a high control, unpleasant emotion and sadness is a low control, unpleasant emotion.

What If I Can't Identify My Emotion?

One of the features that the Geneva Wheel has that Plutchik’s doesn’t is an area for “no emotions” or “other emotions." This is useful for those who experience emotional numbness and removes the pressure of finding a word to match the feeling you’re feeling. Sometimes, the stress of labeling an emotion can outweigh the benefits of identifying it.

Junto’s Wheel

Junto’s Wheel was created as a for-profit tool by the Junto Institute to help businesses improve the emotional intelligence of their employees.

It consists of three inner circles and has a simple layout that is easy to use and understand. Basic emotions are located in the center:

  • Love
  • Fear
  • Anger
  • Sadness
  • Surprise
  • Joy

As you move to the outer edge of the wheel, the emotions become more complex and specific. This can be helpful when trying to understand the deeper layers of your initial feelings.

For instance, you’re feeling angry. However, after some self-reflection, you realize you’re also feeling jealous, resentful, and frustrated.

This Wheel Separates Love and Happiness

It is a comprehensive wheel with over 100 different emotions. Unlike the other wheels, it separates love from happiness and categorizes it as a different emotion.

Tips For How to Use An Emotion Wheel 

Putting words to our negative feelings is effective in reducing their intensity and effect.

How to Use and Emotion Wheel

Using an emotion wheel can be helpful for you to learn how to understand your emotions. Here are some tips to get you started:

  • Name your emotion: Maybe you had a bad day at work. You feel uneasy and not like yourself. Look at the wheel and go through the list of emotions to find one or more that describes that feeling. Giving words to those feelings can help you feel more in control of them.
  • Reflect on why you’re feeling this way: The next step is to dig a little deeper to discover potential causes for these feelings. When people are emotionally heightened, it’s often not due to a single event but a series of experiences. Spend some time reflecting on your day, past week, month, or even year. For instance, maybe you’re feeling sad but nothing sad happened that day. However, it’s been months since you’ve seen your friends. You may be feeling lonely and isolated and craving some social interaction.
  • Take action: Once you’ve identified the reasons for how you’re feeling, you can take action to manage your reaction to them and deal with the triggers. This can mean changing your routine, doing activities that boost your mood, talking to a friend about what’s been going on, or writing in your journal about it. Sometimes having clarity about your emotions allows you to accept them for what they are and is sufficient enough for you to move forward.

Also Yourself to Feel What You Feel

There isn’t a right or wrong way to identify your emotions. Using an emotion wheel is one of the many ways you can do this. The most important thing to remember is to not try to push emotions down, ignore them or bottle them up as that can harm our physical health, mental health, and general well-being.

A Word From Verywell

Confronting your emotions and dealing with them is incredibly beneficial in the long run.If you find it difficult to manage your emotions, it can be helpful to talk to a therapist or healthcare professional. They can help you understand yourself better, develop mechanisms to improve your mental well-being, and provide a safe space for you to explore your thoughts and emotions.

7 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. Cruz-Villalobos L. The nature of emotions(Plutchik, 2001). American Scientist, 89(4), pp 344–350. Published online January 1, 2001.

  3. Imbir KK. Psychoevolutionary theory of emotion(Plutchik). In: Zeigler-Hill V, Shackelford TK, eds. Encyclopedia of Personality and Individual Differences. Springer International Publishing; 2017:1–9.

  4. University of Geneva. The Geneva Emotion Wheel.

  5. Junto Institute. The Junto Emotion Wheel.

  6. Kircanski K, Lieberman MD, Craske MG. Feelings into words: contributions of language to exposure therapy. Psychol Sci. 2012;23(10):1086–1091.

  7. Patel J, Patel P. Consequences of repression of emotion: physical health, mental health and general well being. Xu W, ed. IJPR. 2019;1(3):16–21.

By Katharine Chan, MSc, BSc, PMP
Katharine is the author of three books (How To Deal With Asian Parents, A Brutally Honest Dating Guide and A Straight Up Guide to a Happy and Healthy Marriage) and the creator of 60 Feelings To Feel: A Journal To Identify Your Emotions. She has over 15 years of experience working in British Columbia's healthcare system, leading patient safety incident investigations, quality and systems improvement projects, and change management initiatives within mental health, emergency health services, and women's health. Her expertise in facilitating, storytelling, coaching, and promoting tough and honest conversations provides the foundation for her site, Sum (心,♡) on Sleeve.