An emotion wheel provides you with an excellent tool to help you understand and process your emotions and become more emotionally literate.

How and why you feel a certain way can be confusing and complicated. Emotions are a complex and not well-understood concept, even among psychologists and researchers.

Emotional literacy involves naming and communicating your emotions. People who are emotionally literate can often identify their own, and others’, emotions. They also tend to have a good sense of how each of their emotions interacts with each other and how experiences can influence them.

An emotion wheel is a type of visual aid that shows the complexity of emotions. It helps a person identify and work through their understanding of their or other people’s emotions.

One of the most famous examples is the Plutchik wheel that psychologist Robert Plutchik developed. On his wheel, he broke down eight core or primary emotions into opposite pairs. They include:

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

His theory suggests that these core emotions can become milder or intensify. Emotions listed closer to the outside of the wheel represent mild emotions. Emotions closer to the center represent more intense or stronger emotions.

Proximity also plays a role in understanding the Plutchik wheel. Emotions that are closer together share more similarities with each other than those that aren’t near each other.

Benefits of using an emotion wheel

  • improving emotional intelligence
  • help identify root causes of emotions
  • see how different emotions connect
  • find new ways to cope with emotions

Emotion wheels are visual guides with no real start or endpoints. This means you can start where it makes sense to you. Some helpful tips for using the wheel include:

1. Identify the emotion closest to how you are feeling

Emotions closer to the center are more intense, core emotions are in the middle layer, and those furthest out are milder forms of emotions.

Between each spoke on the wheel are combined emotions. Try to find the emotion that best describes how you are feeling at the moment.

2. Try to figure out the trigger

Emotions often don’t just occur out of nowhere. Often, something triggers or causes you to feel the way you do. It may not be a simple, single event either. But other times, figuring out the trigger may be easy.

3. Analyze connections

You may notice that some emotions you identify can lead to other emotions. For example, if you’re in a healthy romantic relationship you may experience emotions, such as trust and joy.

This may lead to feelings of optimism, which falls between anticipation and joy on the emotion wheel.

4. Make changes or take other action

When you start to identify your emotions and triggers, you can start to figure out ways to take positive action. In the example of having a romantic partner, you may notice that you experience emotions connected with love because they make you feel safe.

But if you’ve been in unhealthy relationships in the past, this may cause you to worry about possible changes that can happen in the future of your relationship. Instead of avoiding the emotions you’re experiencing, it can help to honestly express how you feel with your partner when you’re ready.

In other words, you can use your acknowledgment of your emotions to help you find ways to cope and work through them.

Examples of using Plutchik’s emotion wheel

You can use the wheel to build similar combinations and explanations for feelings across all eight emotions.

For example, joy and anticipation are near each other on the wheel. A child may feel joy from the anticipation of a birthday celebration. They may feel optimistic about the presents they may receive, the people they will see, or the food they will eat.

Optimism is a combined emotion of joy and anticipation. But anticipation is also close to anger. This works or makes sense as well.

For example, you may feel annoyance (a milder form of anger) start to build in anticipation of an upcoming meeting with a co-worker you do not like or do not respect.

When the meeting arrives, you may find that you act aggressively toward your co-worker with terse responses, tense body language, or disengaging from actively participating.

Aggression is a combination of anticipation and anger.

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Though the Plutchik wheel may be one of the most well-known emotion wheels, there are others. Like the Plutchik wheel, they are visual aids to help you get a better understanding of how emotions connect so that you can improve your emotional intelligence.


The Geneva Wheel divides emotions into four sections or quadrants.

Emotions go in one of two categories: pleasant or unpleasant.

They further divide into how well you can control your emotions. High control are ones that you generally have a good amount of control over. Low control emotions are ones that you have a harder time controlling.

For example, at the end of a large, successful project, you may feel pride, a pleasant emotion. But it borders unpleasant emotions and anger because it’s possible your boss did not recognize your hard work and refused to give you a promotion. You may feel anger and hurt pride.

These are both highly controllable emotions. You may feel pride, but you do not need to boast about your accomplishments to a co-worker. Similarly, you may feel anger toward your boss, but you can respond thoughtfully in a way that may help you gain recognition.

Another feature of the Geneva Wheel is a blank space in the middle. This represents general emotional numbness or emotions that are not listed on the wheel. This allows you to name and categorize how you’re feeling.

Junto wheel

The Junto wheel offers a large array of emotions to choose from in a relatively simple layout. Six emotions make up the core, color-coded wedges. They include:

  • anger
  • love
  • joy
  • surprise
  • sadness
  • fear

The further out from the core of each wedge are the more specific emotions. For example, jealousy stems from anger and could become resentful or envious.

The wheel allows you to start with a basic emotion and further explore what you may be actually feeling. You may describe your feelings as joy, but you may also be able to build on that further and identify feelings of optimism or hopefulness about a new opportunity.

You can also do the reverse. You may start with a well-defined emotion, such as feeling inferior and trace that back to a root feeling of fear.

Similar to the other wheels, you can use the exercise of finding your emotions to come up with better coping skills and responses to negative emotions.

An emotion wheel is a visual guide with no set start or end.

Emotion wheels can help you identify your emotions and help increase your emotional intelligence. You can use it to help figure out what may have caused your emotions and then ways that you may be able to handle them positively.

It may also serve as a good visual guide to help children recognize emotions. For more tips on working with helping children identify emotions, visit Psych Central’s resource page.

Though different wheels exist, they share similar qualities and can help you start to develop stronger emotional literacy as you start to name your emotions and trace their roots.