The Six Universal Emotions
In the late 1800’s, Charles Darwin was the first person to suggest that facial expressions of emotion are the same wherever you go in the world.
In other words, he believed that they were innate.
In the 1970s, the psychologist Dr. Paul Ekman set out to see if Darwin was right. He travelled to Chile, Argentina, Brazil, Japan and the United State and interviewed different groups of people in each country.
His method involved showing them photos of individuals displaying different facial expressions of emotion. He then asked them to judge which emotion they thought was being displayed.
The vast majority of the individuals from the five different cultures agreed.
To make sure that this result wasn’t simply social conditioning from watching the same TV shows or films, he decided to repeat the experiment with a remote tribe. He knew for certain that they had not been exposed to any external stimulus.
With his research partner Wallace Friesen, he journeyed to a remote part of Papua New Guinea to meet with the indigenous Fore tribe.
He reasoned that if tribe members displayed and interpreted the same facial expressions, then he would have evidence of their universality.
Carrying a few simple stories and images of facial expressions, they headed into the remote camp and asked each of the tribespeople to match a story to an expression.
The result was the same as it was for the other five countries. This proved Darwin’s original theory was correct.
The six universal emotions Ekman identified were as follows: Anger, Disgust, Fear, Happiness, Sadness and Surprise.
Your goal as a storyteller is to get your audience to feel one or more of these emotions. If your story doesn’t trigger any of them then it’s not really a story.
It’s just a list of factual information.