How do you feel right now? Happy? Sad? Anxious? While most of us think about our emotions in broad-brush terms like these, the reality is a lot more nuanced. In fact, humans can experience around 34,000 different feelings. Though faced with a list that long, you’ll inevitably feel one overriding emotion: overwhelmed!

Thankfully there is a way to make sense of all these emotions. It’s known as the Wheel of Emotions, and it provides a simple visual guide to understanding consumers’ feelings towards brands, communications and experiences. The wheel plays a fundamental role in how we evaluate consumers’ emotions across many of our products and services, including our award-winning BrandVision (Brand Tracking) and PackProbe (Pack design testing) and AdProbe (Advertising testing).

Inside the Wheel of Emotions

The Wheel of Emotion is the work of US psychologist Dr. Robert Plutchik. According to his theory, all 34,000-odd emotions can fall into one of eight main feelings. He groups these in four pairs of opposites as below:

Blue Tick

Joy & Sadness

Blue Tick

Fear & Anger

Blue Tick

Acceptance & Disgust

Blue Tick

Surprise & Anticipation

The Wheel of Emotions is a great way to simplify complex emotions and identify how one can lead to another. Emotions exist at a subconscious level – it takes effort to become aware of how others are feeling and something we excel in.

Robert PlutchikRobert Plutchik is a psychologist who created a psychoevolutionary theory of emotion. He was professor emeritus at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine and adjunct professor at the University of South Florida. Plutchik identified ten postulates on which his evolutionary theory of emotions is based. Plutchik’s wheel of emotions illustrates the relationships between his primary emotions and other related emotions

Wheel of Emotion Explained

Think of your emotions as a colouring book. Each main emotion is a different picture within the book, but look closer and you’ll see that each emotion is made up of lots of smaller ‘sub-emotions’ – the sections you colour in in order to create the bigger picture. This approach enables a much granular view of each emotion and its component parts.

Reading the wheel couldn’t be simpler. The eight main emotions are arranged by colour. The more similar the colour, the closer the emotions are. For example, Joy and Ecstasy are very similar in shade.

As you move towards the centre of the circle, the emotions become more intense (hence the colours intensify too). So ecstasy is closer to the centre than joy, and so is a bolder shade of yellow.

The emotions are arranged opposite their opposing feelings on the corresponding ‘petal’. Rage is opposite terror, for example, and as you get further from the centre the less intense emotions are positioned directly across from their opposites too: Anger versus Fear, and Annoyance versus Apprehension.

Lastly, the spaces between the petals allow for new emotions to form from a combination of their neighbouring primary emotions. Serenity plus Acceptance gives rise to Love, for example, while Annoyance and Boredom lead to Contempt.


We’re not as rational as we like to believe. Neuro-scientists have largely proven that both consumer and surprisingly many business decisions are largely based on emotions and System-1 thinking. Understanding how your customers feel emotionally about your brand and communications is is the secret to optimising your brand and brand strategy. We have developed unique tools to help understand emotions and System-1 thinking across our products and services (e.g. Emotional Branding is one of the nine key drivers of brand equity).

Tapping into emotions can be achieved in consumer research through a wide variety of techniques. Removing rational filters can be achieved by encouraging respondents to respond quickly to questions and stimuli before their rational brain has time to adapt their feedback. Facial Expression analysis is particularly effective in measuring reactions to TV advertising. The use of visual stimuli and music can also help evoke emotions and emotional responses. Qualitative research (e.g. online focus groups and depths) are also great ways to understand people and get a deep insight into how people feel and why.

If you want to encourage more people to buy your product, then you should focus on growing the emotional side of your brand – cultivating positive emotions like Anticipation, Trust and Joy. If you would like to know how advertising can help you please talk to our advertising experts Playing on these positive emotions will create a desire in your audience, build customer loyalty and ultimately grow your business. Basically, you’ll help them find their happy place. Which is enough to make anyone emotional!.

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