Wheel of Emotions

plutchik feelings wheel

Dr. Robert Plutchik was a psychologist who researched the study of emotions. Since there are tens of thousands of emotions, Plutchik proposed a method to classify emotions using his Wheel of Emotions. According to Plutchik, there are 8 primary emotions: anger, fear, sadness, disgust, surprise, anticipation, trust, and joy. Since Plutchik claims that the most influential role of emotions is to help us survive, each of these primary emotions is a trigger of behavior with high survival value (such as the way fear inspires the fight or flight response which is supposed to protect us from perceived danger). This means that when our emotions are activated, they are done so to bring out one of the survival behaviors. All other emotions are combinations, mixtures, or compounds of these primary emotions. Each emotion can exist in varying degrees of intensity.

You can find a free printable emotion wheel PDF or image format below.

Emotion Wheel PDF

You can download the emotion color wheel as a PDF document or an image below.

Emotion Wheel PDF

What is an emotion?

According to the Merriam Webster dictionary an emotion is a strong feeling (such as love, anger, joy, hate, or fear). An emotion is a conscious mental reaction (such as anger or fear) subjectively experienced as a strong feeling usually directed toward a specific object and typically accompanied by physiological and behavioral changes in the body.

Plutchik’s Wheel of Emotions

Plutchik created a wheel of emotions to illustrate the combinations of emotions and to describe how emotions are related. The 8 primary emotions are arranged by colors that establish a set of similar emotions.

There is a connection between the emotion wheel and a color wheel as primary emotions, like colors, can be expressed at different intensities. Just like you can mix colors to form different colors so can you mix emotions to form different emotions. Therefore, it is often referred to as the emotion color wheel.

8 Primary Emotions

The eight sectors of Robert Plutchik’s Wheel of Emotions are the 8 primary emotions: anger, anticipation, joy, trust, fear, surprise, sadness, and disgust. These are the most basic emotions. Primary emotions are located in the second circle (from the center). These primary emotions are organized based on the physiological purpose of each emotion.

Plutchik suggested 8 primary bipolar emotions: joy versus sadness; anger versus fear; trust versus disgust; and surprise versus anticipation.

Polar Opposites

Each primary emotion has a polar opposite in the first circle of emotions.

  • joy is the opposite of sadness
  • acceptance is the opposite of disgust
  • fear is the opposite of anger
  • surprise is the opposite of anticipation

Polar opposites are based on the physiological reaction each emotion creates. For example: Joy (emotion) causes you to connect (reaction) is the opposite of sadness (emotion) that causes you to withdraw (reaction). You can see these relationships on the emotion color wheel.


Combinations are a mix of two primary emotions. Emotions with softer colors are a mix of two primary emotions. For example, Joy and trust combine to be love. Joy and surprise combine to be delight. Fear and surprise combine to be awe. It isn’t always easy to recognize when a feeling is a combination of different emotions.

  • Serenity and interest combine to form optimism.
  • Joy and trust combine to form love.
  • Trust and fear combine to form submission.
  • Fear and surprise combine to form awe.
  • Surprise and sadness combine to form disapproval.
  • Sadness and disgust combine to form remorse.
  • Disgust and sadness combine to form remorse.
  • Disgust and anger combine to form contempt.
  • Anticipation and anger form aggressiveness.

Intensity of Emotions

Emotions intensify as they move from the exterior sections of the wheel of emotions to the center. This is also indicated by the color (the darker the shade, the more intense the emotion).

For example, when joy is more intense it becomes ecstasy. When it is less intense it is serenity. If you don’t deal with an emotion it can become more intense. Therefore, the emotion wheel helps us understand how different emotions are related to each other and how they can intensify.

  • joy goes from serenity to ecstasy
  • anticipation goes from interest to vigilance
  • anger goes from annoyance to fury
  • disgust goes from dislike to loathing
  • sadness goes from gloominess to grief
  • surprise goes from uncertainty to amazement
  • fear goes from timidity to terror
  • trust goes from acceptance to admiration

Whereas all people experience the same emotions, the intensity of these emotions differs from person to person. Another thing that differs is the way each person expresses emotions. This difference is not only a result of their different personality but also other social factors like culture, race, gender, etc.

How does the emotion wheel help us?

Emotions are very complex and Plutchik’s Wheel of Emotions helps us to understand our emotions, to visualize and understand the different intensity of each emotion, and get a better understanding of the emotions created by a combination of different emotions.

It is very important to understand what we feel. Once we understand what we feel we will be in a better position to examine the cause of that emotion. We can then develop a plan of action to avoid situations that cause negative emotions and to put ourselves in situations that cause positive emotions. We can also be more understanding when we feel negative emotions as we will know what caused them. The problem arises when people don’t understand what they are feeling.

People often try to suppress or ignore their emotions particularly when they are negative emotions such as shame, fear, sadness, anger, or disgust. This can lead to more problems than solutions. The problem is that since there are so many different emotions it is difficult for people to pinpoint the emotion they are feeling. This is where the emotion wheel helps. It simplifies the process of describing your emotions. This empowers people and helps them understand themselves better and what exactly caused their negative feelings.

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