A study, conducted by the institute of neuroscience and psychology at the University of Glasgow, suggests that instead of six “classic” emotions (happy, surprised, afraid, disgusted, angry, and sad), there are actually just four. Their conclusion? The facial expressions that reflect the emotions of afraid/surprised and angry/disgusted initially look very similar to the naked eye.
The scientists asked people to observe computer-generated facial expressions and had them classify them into the classic six emotions. The discovery was that angry/disgusted and afraid/surprised looked very similar to the observers. In the early stages of expressing anger and disgust, a wrinkling of the nose occurs. Likewise, in reflecting surprise or fear, eyebrows are raised. After the initial reaction, the facial expressions began to become distinct — anger differed from disgust and surprise from fear. This led the researchers to theorize that the point of difference between these moods is socially and not biologically based. Meaning, the same way that we roll our eyes to convey annoyance (a socially learned behavior), our expressions for disgust and surprise might also simply be culturally conditioned.
The gist? The four emotions, happy, sad, afraid/surprised, and angry/disgusted are the foundation emotions our early ancestors depended on. While they never needed to express frustration and annoyance over a tricky coworker, they did need to communicate quickly that danger was just around the corner. Looks like emoticons might be a handy tool after all. (The Atlantic)