A Paucity of Words

What’s wrong with this picture?

Plutchik Wheel of Emotions
Plutchik Wheel of Emotions

This diagram above is from a course on user interaction design.  The teaching:

  • Motivation is tied to emotion. (Agreed.)
  • It’s important to understand that when designing user experience. (Agreed.)
  • And here are all the relevant emotions in one useful diagram! (Agreed…until I started thinking about it.)

The Tribe

I  believe, based on my gut feeling and the best available evidence, that human beings are fundamentally tribal. We are clearly the most elaborately social mammal on the planet. The difference between us and our closest relatives, the chimps, is quite large.

Humans have very little actual hardwired behavior. Our behavior instead is primarily propelled by emotion…even in cases where that emotion is refined into values and ethics.

Similarly, logic compels no action. Values and feelings do. (Exactly the point the diagram above sought to elaborate.)

Emotion…feelings…must, therefore, ground our ‘eusociality’.

Here are some examples:

  • It’s a truism that soldiers end up fighting for their buddies.
  • Teams that connect best will cooperate best and win more often all other things being equal.
  • The loneliness of college freshmen, disconnected from their family and tribe, is deep and poignant and recognized as a challenge by college counseling departments.
  • The negative health problems associated with what’s being termed a society wide loneliness epidemic are receiving increasing attention.

What’s missing?

Now return to image above. Where in the diagram  is any of that?…loneliness?…or loyalty to ones buddies (whatever we want to call that)?

And perhaps, ‘whatever we want to call that’ is exactly the issue.

Where is our vocabulary for the emotion underpinnings of connection and collective action?

Wikipedia covers the diagram above and other systems in an article, Contrasting and categorization of emotions. Here the same paucity of vocabulary is quickly evident. There are some starting points but that’s about it.

(This is probably not a surprise. The benchmark studies are Ekman’s 6 main emotions: Anger, Disgust, Fear, Happiness, Sadness, and Surprise. This has been elaborated…and Empathy is one of the proposed extensions…but note that the core experiments don’t try and observe emotions in social situations. The research is focused on isolated individuals, generally by trying to elicit and chronicle emotions or by showing individuals images of faces and asking them to name the emotion they see.)

I’ve Set a Goal – Find or Develop a Vocabulary of Tribal Emotions.

I see a possible path forward as:

  • Step one: English – what words do we have in English?
  • Step two: Expand that – what’s the existing vocabulary in other languages?
  • Step three: Academic research – what’s out there that’s germane?

My intent is to make this a place to add thoughts and insights along the way.

Care to join in? Let me know.


re: Step one – here’s a starter thesaurus look at synonyms for esprit de corp…just to get the wheels turning

  • pleasure in cooperation
  • team spirit
  • esprit de corps
  • camaraderie
  • group spirit
  • common bond
  • communion
  • community
  • community of interests
  • cooperation
  • esprit
  • fellowship
  • group loyalty
  • group spirit
  • morale
  • solidarity
  • team morale

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