Seven Universal Emotions


Emotional Intelligence (EQ/EI) is awareness of your own emotions and those of other people (social awareness), and the ability to use the emotional information to manage self and others effectively.  Studies have found that the greater the EQ, the higher the organization can expect to have exemplary leadership performance.

In the 1970’s, through research on remote tribes of people in Papua, New Guinea, American psychologist Paul Ekman found there to be seven emotions which can be universally recognized.  He discovered this by showing pictures to the Guineans, who had never had exposure to any form of media and were geographically isolated; therefore, they could not have learned the meaning of expressions from other groups.  Ekman’s work was influenced by Charles Darwin’s theory, which was expressed a hundred years earlier, that emotions are biologically determined.


Seven Emotions

  1. Anger
  2. Disgust
  3. Fear
  4. Happiness
  5. Sadness
  6. Surprise
  7. Contempt

Though emotional expression is universal, emotional triggers vary by individual and culture, and “scripts” from the past can affect their intensity.  Ekman’s research proved that emotional triggers create new pathways in the brain.  In terms of controlling emotions, the objective is not to turn them off; rather, it would be effective to develop the habit of attentiveness (i.e. mindfulness), and learn ways to cool our emotional triggers in order to avoid destructive emotional episodes.

So, let’s describe and show you what each emotion looks like…

Anger: Brows down and together, Lips narrowed and pressed, Eyes glare

Di Blasio

NYC Mayor Di Blasio


Disgust: Upper lip is raised, Nose bridge is wrinkled, Cheeks raised


Sarah Palin, Tyra Banks


Fear: Brows raised and pulled together, Upper eyelids raised, Lower eyelids tensed, Mouth opened slightly and horizontally – stretched back towards ears

Agassi9-11_panic 1

Andre Agassi, 9/11 witness


Happiness: Eyelids narrowed, Crow’s feet wrinkles, Cheeks pushed up, Lip corners raised


Hillary Clinton, Marissa Mayer


Sadness: Upper eyelids drooped, Lip corners pulled down slightly


Mitt Romney, Mark Sanford

Surprise: Brows arched, Eyes widened, Jaw drops slightly


Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates


Contempt: Lip corner tightened and raised on one side of the mouth.

Joe Biden, George W. Bush, Simon Cowell, OJ Simpson


So, is she happy?


Mona Lisa

Rossina Gil, MSOD, MAIS, is a Leadership and Organization Development Practitioner, a complete Ekman fan, and the founder of Corporate Looking Glass, LLC – a diverse consultancy of OD experts and strategic thinking partners.  We increase retention.  Visit

© Rossina Gil, 2015


Charles Darwin. The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals.

Paul Ekman. Emotions Revealed.


About Rossina

Thought Partner & Corporate Primatologist

Posted on January 11, 2015, in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. Body language is so important to work with. I did not know that so many of the 7 universal facial expressions have negative connotations. Learning how to recognize these emotions on people help you understand more about the human nature and how best to help them resolve issues.

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