"Just because you've got the emotional range of a teaspoon doesn't mean we all have," an angry Hermione tells her friend Ron in a heated Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix moment.
Actually though, we all might have. New research from the Institute of Neuroscience and Psychology at the University of Glasgow, published this week in Current Biology, says the range of human emotion may be a little closer to a teaspoon than previously thought.
Conventional scientific wisdom recognizes six "classic" emotions: happy, surprised, afraid, disgusted, angry, and sad. But the Glasgow scientists studied people's facial expressions, and the emotions they signal, by showing people computer-generated facial animations. They asked the observers to characterize the faces based on those six basic emotions, and found that anger and disgust looked very similar to the observers in the early stages, as did fear and surprise. For example, both anger and disgust share a wrinkled nose, and both surprise and fear share raised eyebrows.
The thing was, as time went on, the face showed the distinction between the two, but when the emotion first hit, the face signals are very similar, suggesting, the researchers say, that the distinction between anger and disgust and between surprise and fear, is socially, not biologically based.