Higher Emotions: A Neurological and Psychological View (Excerpt)

In our article, we briefly describe neurological studies of emotions in the brain and, basing on findings from several disciplines, outline a psychological concept of higher emotions which could become a part of a future integrative theory. We also list recommendations for research and practice.

The full text of the article is available in Slovak.


A classification of emotions into basic and higher is not found in today's most influential psychological theories. Converging evidence from neuroscience, evolutionary biology, physiology, culture studies and psychology, however, shows that two opposite poles of emotions exist: basic (or lower) emotions: they are associated more with the limbic system; appear earlier in evolution; have clear physiological manifestations, facial expressions and body postures; are culturally universal; appear sooner in individual development; and are more irrational and unconscious; and higher emotions: they are associated more with the neocortex; they develop fully only in humans; have a weaker manifestation in physiology and no clear facial expressions and body postures; are more culturally specific; they appear later in individual development and are more rational and conscious.

Apart from distinguishing between the characteristics of basic and higher emotions, it is important to realize that there is a much greater number of higher emotions (roughly dozens) than basic emotions; that they include an ethical dimension given by the attitude of the Self (ethical, sympathetic, pro-social vs. unethical, antipathetic, antisocial); and that there is the possibility of emotional metamorphosis: the patterns of basic emotions or higher unethical emotions can be transformed to higher ethical emotions.

The connections between basic and higher emotions can be studied interdisciplinary: in psychology, biology, medicine, culture and philosophy. Understanding these connections is a precondition of a theory of emotions which is complex (able to explain the whole range of human emotional experience) and able to give recommendations for practice – everyday life, personal growth and therapy. Further research of these questions should form the basis of an integrative theory of emotions.


This article was published in the proceedings from the conference Cognition and Artificial Life XVI. (Kognice a umělý život XVI.).
Jurášek, D., & Marman, P. (2016). Vyššie emócie: neurovedecký a psychologický pohľad. In: Vavrečka, M., Bečev, O., Hoffman, M., & Štěpánová, K. (eds.): Sborník z 16.ročníku konference Kognice a Umělý život (KUZ XVI). Praha: ČVUT, s. 67 – 72.

Picture source: Wikimedia Commons; author of the picture: Marie-Lan Nguyen


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