Universal Emotions

What are the universal emotions? How do we know these emotions are universal? What
utility does universality hold for human communication?

Universal Emotions

Universal emotions can be defined as basic facial characteristics are predominantly used
by a large group of people consisting of communities. These emotions are largely dependent on
the cultural practices of a given society and they are borrowed or inherited from one generation
to the other. Thus it is prudent to note that universal emotions could be influenced by genetics or
by the environment. According to Paul Ekman who is a renowned psychologist and a pioneer
researcher on facial expressions and emotions, communities around the world use at least tens of
thousands of facial expressions (Alice, 2014). Out of these ten thousand emotions, Ekman did a
seminal research which identified that there are only six universal emotions while the rest are
discrete. The six universal emotions include; sadness, disgust, anger, surprise, fear and
happiness. The emotions are correlated to the movement of the sphincter muscles which leads to
the dropping of the jaws to form facials.
Driven by the need to find evidence that emotions are universal, Ekman travelled to
Papua in New Guinea in the year 1968 (Freitas-Magalhães, 2009). His aim was to conduct a
research on the universality of facial expressions and emotions. The first research was on a
secluded tribe called Fore where he found out that in spite of their seclusion and lack of exposure
or interaction with the outside cultures, their facial expressions were consistent and identical to
those of the photos taken from other cultures. It became evident that the six emotions are widely
acceptable and applicable across different cultures in the world. From the research, it is also
appreciated that there are universal sets of facial expressions that are used by both the people in

the Eastern and Western worlds. In order to know that emotions are universal, it is logical to
make observation of people from different cultures across the world. Scientists specify that
everybody around the world shares a genetic makeup which makes the physical characteristics of
human beings to be similar. In addition to the universal emotions, people share other attributes
such as the ability to communicate thoughts and feelings to other people which augments
towards the realization that emotions accompany changes in the facial expressions, posture,
language and sounds which defines the reaction of people to different stimuli.
The third question seeks to identify the fundamental utilities that facilitate human
communication. Facial expressions and emotions represent a pertinent aspect of communication
among human beings which is generally classified as non-verbal communication. The other
components encompassed in non-verbal communication include eye contact, gestures, facial
expressions, tonal variations and posture. The importance of these non-verbal cues is that they
help foster communication and self-expression. The utilities held under universal
communications include; emphasis, accenting, contradiction, substitution and complementing.
Emphasis refers to the process of stressing a message to reinforce the meaning (Adair, 2013;
Nauert, 2010). Accenting refers to the act of underlining a verbal message by use of non-verbal
cues, complementing means repeating a verbal message by use of non-verbal communication,
contradicting means using non-verbal cues that do not march with the verbal cues while
substitution refers to the practice of using non-verbal cues instead of verbal cues.
The interaction of utilities are synonymous with good public speakers because the non-
verbal cues make the communication process to be more practical and at times entertaining. In
the event that a person has a good mastery of the universal emotions, then that person can be able
to command a big audience, advance in public speaking or be charismatic (Nuske, Vivanti &

Dissanayake, 2013). These are the basic upon which human communication and interactions are



Adair, J. (2013). John Adair’s 100 greatest ideas for brilliant communication. Wiley’s and Sons,
United States.
Alice, P. (2014). Emotions may not be so universal after all. Washington, DC: American
Psychological Association.