The Emotion Wheel Made Simple

The role of the social worker involves engaging with people at points of crisis or need. The emotions of both practitioners and the people they interact with are central to decision making. The emotion wheel comes in handy for social workers to help manage and work through difficult emotions.

In order to have an awareness of our own emotions as well as those of the service users or clients we support requires emotional literacy.

An understanding of the emotion wheel is useful for helping social workers and clients communicate their emotions better.

This article will cover

  • What is the Theory of Emotion?
  • Theory as an Integrator
  • Theory as Predictor
  • Theory as Stimulator of Research
  • Theory as Incorporator
  • The Plutchik Wheel
  • How to use the emotion wheel
  • How to use Plutchik’s wheel of emotions
  • Benefits of using Plutchik’s wheel of emotions

What is the Theory of Emotion?

What should a theory of emotion do for us?

First, a theory should provide answers to a whole series of questions which professionals have been asking for a long time. Questions could be –

  • What is an emotion?
  • What produces emotion?
  • What functions do emotions have?
  • Is emotion the cause of a bodily state, the body state itself, or the result of a bodily state?
  • What are the physiological changes that are associated with emotion?
  • What are the expressive or overt changes in emotion?
  • What subjective changes are associated with emotions?
  • Can there be emotions without awareness?
  • What is the relation between feelings and bodily states in emotion?
  • How does a person gain control over their emotions?
  • How many emotions are there?
  • Are emotions learned or innate?
  • Are there differences between emotions?
  • What is the relation between emotion and motivation?
  • How are emotions related to personality?

These are the type of questions that are most often asked about emotions and any adequate theory should either provide an answer to each of these questions, or show the kind of evidence that must be sort in order to answer them.

Theory as an Integrator

A theory should be able to answer and integrate the many things we already accept as fact.

Theories start with known facts, and attempt to integrate them within a single framework and account for them in terms of a few basic concepts.

Sometimes a theory may show that a previously accepted statement has to be interpreted in a new way.

Theory as Predictor

Theories rarely predict entirely new relations or new facts in any field of science; if they did, there would be no need for experimentation.

New facts and relationships come primarily from new experiments and new observations.

The predication of new relationships by a theory of emotion might be considered as an “extra dividend” if it also serves to integrate in some consistent way data already known.

Theory as a Stimulatory of Research

A third and related function of theory is as stimulator of research.

Any adequate theory will show gaps in our knowledge that require filling and provide a spur to certain kinds of studies.

As a result, any new theory of emotion must have implications for research.

Theory as Incorporator

A fourth function of theory sometimes overlooked is to show relationships between apparently diverse areas.

When diverse areas are related successfully, it brings together two realms of phenomena and increases the generality of our concepts.

It also means that knowledge obtained independently in one discipline can predict observations in another.

Generally, it is desirable to have a theory which ties together or incorporates apparently unrelated data.


The Plutchik Wheel

Psychologist Robert Plutchik developed one of the most popular emotion wheels, known as the Plutchik wheel.

This wheel is based on eight primary emotions, and it shows the relationships among them.

The 8 primary emotions are joy, trust, fear, disgust, anger, surprise, anticipation and sadness.

Robert Plutchik arranged these emotions in opposite pairs on the wheel to show how they are related to each other:

  • sadness and joy
  • anger and fear
  • expectation and surprise
  • acceptance and disgust

The wheel therefore showed a connection between emotions that were related to each other but of lesser intensity, such as love and joy or contempt and disgust.

The wheel is arranged so that primary emotions are placed at the center, with their associated secondary emotions positioned around the outer edge.

This helps to illustrate how different emotions can be seen in terms of intensity or combinations of two or more primary emotions.

According to Robert Plutchik’s emotion wheel theory, these basic emotions can intensify, become milder, or even combine to produce any emotional state.

How to use the emotion wheel

There is certainly not a one size fits all approach to how the emotion wheel is used. However, there are some basic principles to know which can get you started.

Begin by finding your core emotion

Find your core emotion by finding an approximation of how you feel on the Plutchik’s emotion wheel. This can help you start down the feelings layers.

Plutchik Emotions Wheel

As you can see on the wheel above, emotions are arranged on colour-coordinated spokes in three layers:

  1. Outer parts – Along the outer edges, you’ll find low-intensity emotions: acceptance, distraction, boredom, and so on.
  2. Toward the center of the middle layer – The middle layer has eight primary emotions: joy, trust, fear, disgust, anger, surprise, anticipation, and sadness. Inner circle.
  3. Centre circle – In the very center of the wheel is a single emotion—the core emotion. This circle holds the most intense manifestations: admiration, amazement, loathing, among others. It’s usually one of the primary emotions that is closest to your current feelings.
  4. Between each colored spoke. Here, you’ll find what are called mixed emotions — contempt, for example, rises out of a combination of anger and disgust.

How to use Plutchik’s wheel of emotions

  • Explore your emotion – Once you find the core emotion, start exploring it to see how it connects to other emotions. Think about what other emotions and thoughts are associated with that core emotion.
  • Use a nonjudgmental attitude – in order to really get an understanding of what is happening (this may require some practice). This can allow you to find the source of your feeling, and then think through how best to respond.

Benefits of the using the emotion wheel

  1. The emotion wheel can be a helpful tool in understanding our emotions and how they interact with each other.
  2. Social workers can use this tool to help you better manage your emotions and more effectively communicate with others. Ultimately, it is up to you to decide how you will use the emotion wheel to your advantage.
  3. Explore and reflect on your emotions using the Plutchik Wheel, recognise how they are all connected, and use this tool as a resource to better understand yourself and your relationships.
  4. Understanding our emotions can help us build healthy relationships with ourselves and others, respond more effectively in challenging situations, and even manage our stress levels.

Try taking a few moments each day to reflect on the Plutchik wheel and how you’re feeling at that moment. It can be a powerful tool for growth and self-awareness.

The main takeaways from this article may help you identify the usefulness and application of Plutchik’s Wheel of Emotions, as well as other similar tools.

The main takeaways are –

  • Do not ignore your emotions
  • Learn to attend to them.
  • Learn to be curious about your emotions
  • Learn to be patient with them.
  • Talk about your emotions and be authentic
  • Encourage others to talk about thier own emotions when they feel comfortable doing so.
  • Sign post people if needed.
  • Do not try to suppress or ignore emotions, as this can lead to many more problems than solutions
  • Although there are more negative emotions (shame, fear, sadness, anger, disgust) than positive ones (happiness, surprise/interest), both are vital for our survival.

Below are some frequently asked questions about the Emotion Wheel

How do you explain the emotion wheel?

The emotion wheel is a tool used to visually represent different emotions and their relationships. Developed by Robert Plutchik, it consists of eight primary or basic emotions arranged around a wheel in three layers (low intensity, middle layer, innermost layer).

Each spokes between the colors of the wheel represents mixed states of different basic emotions.

The wheel can be used to explore your emotions, identify their source, and learn how to respond more effectively. It can also help you better understand yourself and develop healthier relationships with others.

Lastly, it provides an opportunity for self-reflection and growth.

What is the best emotion wheel?

There is no one “best” emotion wheel, as all tools have their own strengths and weaknesses. However, Plutchik’s Wheel of Emotions is widely considered to be the most comprehensive, accurate, and useful tool available.

It is also easy to understand and use, making it a popular choice among many mental health professionals. Additionally, it is versatile enough to be adapted for different types of counseling, such as couples therapy or family counseling.

Ultimately, the best emotion wheel will depend on individual needs and preferences.

How do you fill out an emotion wheel?

To fill out an emotion wheel, start by noting down how you are feeling at the moment – this can be done either verbally or in writing. Next, identify which core emotion you are feeling (e.g., anger, sadness, fear).

Then take a few moments to observe and reflect on the different thoughts and feelings associated with that emotion.

Finally, select the most appropriate color from the wheel and use it to fill out the innermost circle. This process can be repeated for each emotion until you have filled out the entire wheel.

What are the 7 emotions theory?

The 7 emotions theory was proposed by psychologist Paul Ekman in the 1970s. It consists of seven primary emotions: anger, disgust, fear, happiness, sadness, surprise/interest, and contempt.

According to this theory, these core emotions are universal across cultures and are expressed through facial expressions.

This theory is widely used in research today and has been the basis for many popular theories of emotion, such as Plutchik’s Wheel of Emotions.

Overall, Plutchik’s Wheel of Emotions is a powerful tool that can help you better understand your own emotions and how to respond more effectively. It can also be used as a source of self-reflection and growth.

By using this wheel, you can learn to attend to your emotions, be curious about them, talk about them authentically, and sign post those in need of support. Ultimately, the wheel can help you lead a healthier and more fulfilling life.

What are the 3 most powerful emotions?

The three most powerful emotions are fear, love, and anger. Fear is an emotion that can be both adaptive and maladaptive.

It helps us identify potential threats and take action to protect ourselves from harm.

Love is a strong emotion associated with connection, understanding, and pleasure. Finally, anger is an emotion that can help motivate us to take action to protect ourselves or others. It can also be destructive if not managed properly.

All three of these emotions have a powerful effect on our behavior and should be recognised and addressed accordingly.

Which emotion is hardest to detect?

The emotion that is hardest to detect is often fear. Fear can be difficult to identify because it can manifest in many different ways, such as avoidance behavior, withdrawal, and aggression.

Additionally, people may also try to hide their fear by masking it with another emotion or staying silent.

It is important to pay attention to subtle clues like body language and tone of voice to be able to accurately detect fear.

Additionally, it is important to provide a supportive environment that encourages open communication so that people can express their feelings without fear of judgement or ridicule.

What emotions connect us?

Love and compassion are two powerful emotions that can connect us to others. Love is an emotion that is associated with connection, understanding, and pleasure.

Compassion is an emotion that encourages us to be empathetic towards others and take action to help them in their time of need.

Both emotions can foster deeper relationships and bring people together. Additionally, feeling these emotions can also help us develop a greater understanding of ourselves by recognising our shared humanity.

What emotions can’t be faked?

The emotions that cannot be faked are fear, joy, and love. Fear is an emotion that is often expressed through facial expressions, body language, and tone of voice.

Joy can also be difficult to fake because it often comes with a sense of contentment or well-being that can’t be adequately mimicked.

What is the most purest emotion?

The most purest emotion is love. Love is an emotion that is associated with connection, understanding, and pleasure. It can bring people together and foster deeper relationships based on trust and respect.

This emotion can also help us develop a greater understanding of ourselves by recognising our shared humanity. Additionally, feeling love can be a source of strength and resilience in times of need.

Overall, love is an emotion that can be incredibly powerful and transformative when embraced with an open heart.

What emotions are universal?

The emotions that are universal are happiness, sadness, surprise, fear, anger, disgust and contempt. These emotions are experienced by people all across cultures and backgrounds and often manifest in similar ways.

Additionally, these emotions can be expressed through facial expressions, body language, and tone of voice.

They can also serve as a source of self-reflection and growth. By understanding our own emotions, we are better equipped to understand the emotions of others and develop meaningful relationships with them.

Ultimately , these emotions are a key part of our shared human experience.

What emotions should be expressed?

All emotions should be expressed in healthy and appropriate ways. It is important to understand the purpose and impact of your emotions so that you can express them effectively and constructively.

Additionally, it is important to remember that all emotions have their purpose, even negative ones.

By expressing our emotions in a positive way, we can better understand ourselves and the people around us. We can also use our feelings to take action to protect ourselves or others.

Expressing emotion can ultimately be an empowering experience when done with awareness and understanding.

What is the easiest emotion to act?

The easiest emotion to act is happiness. People often associate happiness with pleasure, optimism, and contentment.

This can be expressed through facial expressions such as a smile, vocalisations of joy like laughter or singing, and body gestures such as clapping hands or jumping up and down.

Expressing happiness can be energising and uplifting for both the expressing it, as well as those around them.

Ultimately, it is an emotion that brings joy to all who experience it.

Is anxiety a feeling or emotion?

Anxiety is an emotion that is often experienced as a feeling of uneasiness and fear. It can be triggered by stressful events or situations, such as public speaking or taking tests.

It can manifest in physical symptoms such as sweating, elevated heart rate, and shallow breathing. Anxiety can also manifest in psychological symptoms such as worrying or ruminating thoughts.

Ultimately, anxiety is a normal emotion that everyone experiences at some point in their life, however it can become problematic when it starts to interfere with daily activities and negatively impacts overall well being.

What are the two main emotions driving gift giving?

The two main emotions driving gift giving are love and appreciation. Giving or receiving gift can be an expression of, as it serves as a reminder of the connection between people.

Gifts can also show appreciation someone’s hard work or, which is often expressed through words of affirmation.

Gift giving can bring joy and fulfillment to both the giver and receiver. It can also foster deeper relationships based on trust, understanding, and appreciation.

Ultimately, gift giving can be a powerful way to express love and appreciation.

What is the emotion of hope?

The emotion of hope is defined as an optimistic feeling or expectation that something desired can or will happen. It is often related to perseverance, motivation, and courage in the face of adversity.

Hope can be a powerful emotion as it encourages us to move forward in the face of challenges with optimism and resilience. It can also provide comfort and solace during difficult times.

What emotion is disapproval?

Disapproval is an emotion that expresses disapproval or disappointment. It can also be related to feelings of judgment and criticism, as when someone expresses their dissatisfaction with a particular behavior or attitude.

Disapproval can manifest in facial expressions such as frowning, vocalisations such as grunts or sighs, and body language such as crossed arms.

What are the 5 core emotions?

The 5 core emotions are anger, fear, sadness, joy and disgust. These emotions are considered to be the foundation of all other emotions as they form the basis for our emotional experience.

These 5 core emotions can manifest in facial expressions such as a scowl or smile; vocalisations such as yelling or laughing; and body language such as arms crossed or hands clapping.

These emotions are essential for expressing our feelings and understanding the feelings of others, thus forming a foundation for meaningful connections and relationships.

What is the emotion of surprise?

The emotion of surprise is often experienced when something unexpected happens, either good or bad. It can manifest in facial expressions such as raised eyebrows, vocalisations such as gasps or exclamations, and body language such as jumping or shivering.

Surprise is an emotion that can evoke strong feelings of excitement, curiosity, and sometimes even fear. It can also be a sign of openness to new experiences and ideas.

What is the strongest positive emotion?

The strongest positive emotion is often considered to be love. Love is a feeling of deep affection, admiration, and connection that can bring joy and fulfillment in life.

It can manifest in facial expressions such as smiles or blushing, vocalisations such as laughter or sighs of contentment, and body language such as hugs or cuddles.

Love is a powerful emotion that can bring hope and joy during difficult times. It can also foster meaningful relationships based on mutual understanding, trust, and appreciation.

What is the emotion of fear?

The emotion of fear is a strong feeling of apprehension and anxiety in response to a perceived threat. It can manifest in facial expressions such as wide eyes, vocalisations such as screams or gasps, and body language such as trembling or freezing.

Fear can be an adaptive emotion that helps us to stay safe and alert in the face of danger. It can also be a source of discomfort, as it can impair decision making and lead to avoidance behaviours.

At its core, fear is a natural emotion that serves an important purpose in our lives. Understanding how it works can help us better manage our responses to threatening situations.

What are the five most powerful emotions?

The five most powerful emotions are love, joy, excitement, surprise, and hope. These emotions can evoke strong feelings of connection and fulfillment in our lives.

Love is often considered to be the strongest positive emotion, while surprise is often seen as the most intense negative emotion.

Joy can bring a sense of contentment and happiness, while excitement can lead to feelings of exhilaration and anticipation.

Finally, hope can provide comfort, optimism, and resilience in the face of challenges. All five of these emotions are essential for forming meaningful relationships and experiencing emotional wellbeing.

What are the 6 emotions?

The 6 emotions are happiness, sadness, anger, fear, surprise and disgust. These 6 emotions form the basis of all other emotions as they are the foundation for our emotional experience.

They can manifest in facial expressions such as smiles or frowns; vocalisations such as laughter or screaming; and body language such as hugs or crossed arms.

Understanding and recognising these 6 emotions can help us better understand our own feelings and the feelings of those around us, thus forming a foundation for meaningful connections and relationships.

What is emotion regulation?

Emotion regulation is the process by which we manage our emotional reactions in response to events or situations. It involves understanding our emotions, recognising triggers, and using strategies to help control our emotions.

These strategies can include cognitive reappraisal (changing the meaning of a situation), relaxation techniques (such as deep breathing exercises), distracting oneself from negative thoughts, and problem-solving to address underlying issues.

How do you trigger happy emotions?

Happy emotions can be triggered by engaging in activities that are enjoyable and meaningful to you.

This could include spending time with family and friends, listening to music, reading a book, or playing a sport.

Other strategies to help trigger positive emotions include relaxation techniques (such as deep breathing exercises), journaling, gratitude practices, and positive affirmations.

How do I align my emotions?

Aligning your emotions involves understanding and identifying the emotions that you are feeling, recognising any patterns or triggers, and using strategies to manage your emotions.

This could include cognitive reappraisal (changing the meaning of a situation), relaxation techniques (such as deep breathing exercises), and distracting oneself from negative thoughts.

Additionally, problem-solving and addressing underlying issues can also help to align your emotions and promote emotional wellbeing.

It is important to remember that emotion regulation takes practice, so it is important to be patient with yourself and take small steps towards improving your emotional health.

Social work and emotional literacy

In addition to psychologists, social workers also play a significant role in supporting individuals to develop emotional literacy and regulation.

Social workers are trained to identify and address the social and environmental factors that contribute to our emotional states.

They have a deep understanding of how different emotions can impact mental health, relationships, and overall well-being.

By working collaboratively with individuals and communities, social workers promote emotional intelligence and help people to develop the skills needed to navigate complex emotions.

Together, psychologists and social workers provide a comprehensive approach to emotional health and well-being, making it possible for all of us to thrive emotionally and socially in our lives.


In conclusion, emotions play a crucial role in our daily lives. Understanding the complexities of different emotions can be a starting point for improving emotional literacy and developing emotional intelligence.

Psychologist Robert Plutchik’s wheel of emotions provides a useful tool for exploring a wide range of emotional states, from core emotions to complex emotions.

By recognising our own emotions and regulating our emotional responses, we can gain control over difficult emotions and make emotions a powerful tool for mental health.

The outer layers of the wheel represent more specific emotions, while the inner circle represents our basic emotions or core emotions.

Facial expressions and body language are key to identifying and expressing our emotional states effectively.

Ultimately, emotional regulation is a necessary skill for navigating through life’s challenges with grace and resilience. Useful Resources

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  • Recommended Books

Best Social Work Books Every Student Must Read is a great article full of highly recommended and engaging books. Helping student social workers to equip themselves with knowledge and skills. It is a great way to empower yourself and encourage you to read more.

  • Social Work Registration

Social Work Registration: Get it done – is a useful article that walks you through the social work registration process.

  • Social Work Burnout

51 Effective Ways to Fight Social Work Burnout helps practitioners explore 51 effective ways to fight Social Work Burnout. Social work burnout can affect the way we execute our role. It can cause social work stress, and a stressed social worker cannot perform their role effectively.

  • Active Listening in Social Work

Why You Should Actively Listen as a Social Worker raises awareness of active listening in social work. Social work active listening involves the listener paying close attention to the speaker, making sure not to interrupt, and reflecting on what they have heard. This helps the speaker feel heard and validated, and it can also help them clarify their thoughts and feelings.

  • Social Work Humour

Social Work Humour for the End of a Long Day This article explains when social work humour is important. Essential social work skills include empathy, authenticity, resilience and respect. These skills help us cope with situations and meet the needs of service users or clients. However, the best coping mechanism in social work is definitely humour.


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