Q. I’ve heard you talk about four core emotions but the other day I read an article that mentioned seven “universal” emotions. What’s that about?

A. You are correct. I do talk about four core emotions—joy, anger, fear, and sadness—emotions that can be seen on the face of the fetus during pregnancy based on what is happening in the mother’s life. You may be referring to research by scientists working with PSA Peugeot Citroën (see reference below). Reportedly, they wanted to develop an emotion detector based on the analysis of driver facial expressions while driving (using an infrared camera placed behind the steering wheel). The researchers reported they could read facial expressions for fear, anger, joy, sadness, disgust, surprise, or suspicion. They dub them the “seven universal emotions.”

There are different ways to define disgust, surprise, and suspicion. Some have described them as emotional motivators because they are often used in combination with one of the core emotions. For example, you can be disgusted fearfully, sadly, or angrily. You can be surprised joyfully, sadly, fearfully, or angrily, as well. You can exhibit suspicion in combination with at least anger, fear, and sadness (perhaps you could even be suspicious about the reason for another person’s joy).

“What’s that about?” as you put it. Researchers often use slightly different terminology and definitions, which doesn’t invalidate their work but which can be misinterpreted unless everyone is on the same page with the specific definitions being used. In this research paper the researchers appear to have used a definition that lumped disgust, surprise, and suspicion with the core emotions.

Reference:  Anıl Yüce, Nuri Murat Arar, Jean-Philippe Thiran, Multiple Local Curvature Gabor Binary Patterns for Facial Action Recognition, Workshop on Human Behavior Understanding, Lecture Notes in Computer Science Volume 8212, 2013, pp 136-147