• Question: What is the most complex human emotion?

    Asked by 898xmaspr22 to Suzanne, Nadine, Ioannis, Daniel, Carolyn, Alyssa on 10 Jan 2018.
    • Photo: Daniel Mills

      Daniel Mills answered on 10 Jan 2018:


      this is an interesting one, our emotional world is very complex and so the most complex emotions are not single emotions but rather the blending of several I guess. Humans unlike many non-human species can reflect and abstract their emotions which makes them much more challenging. So for example, a dog might worry about whether he should approach that person to get a treat, but you might worry about something you said a while ago and how it might impact on something in the future.

    • Photo: Alyssa Alcorn

      Alyssa Alcorn answered on 10 Jan 2018:


      “Most complex” is not possible to say for sure, but emotion research acknowledges a difference between “basic emotions”, which decades of studies suggest are universally present and recognised across all cultures, and “complex” emotions that require more cognitive processing and self-awareness, and may also have a social or cultural element.
      Different studies or books vary somewhat in the emotions they list in each category, but I think most would agree that happiness, sadness, anger, and fear are basic emotions. A complex emotion might be something like guilt or pride. I have seen surprise appear on both lists!

    • Photo: Carolyn McGettigan

      Carolyn McGettigan answered on 11 Jan 2018:


      This is a really interesting question and I’ve been thinking about it for a few days! I think Alyssa has given a great answer. I guess it all depends how you define “emotion” – Alyssa has listed the ones that are commonly agreed to be basic emotions, because they can be produced and understood by all human cultures. As humans, we also have a very sophisticated capacity to examine our thoughts, and make guesses about what other people are thinking too. Complex feelings like shame and guilt might not really me “emotions”, but rather a combination of emotional sensations and our interpretation of them – also they might not be equivalent across all cultures.

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