Presumably, there are emotions that almost any person can feel, such as happiness, sadness, guilt, and embarrassment.

  • But are there emotions that only a small fraction of the population can feel?
  • How might it be established that an uncommon emotion existed?
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    $\begingroup$ Welcome. Are there any particular emotions that you had in mind? $\endgroup$ Commented May 28, 2012 at 23:13
  • $\begingroup$ @JeromyAnglim Hello. No, I did not have any in mind. $\endgroup$
    – Owen
    Commented May 29, 2012 at 0:29
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    $\begingroup$ "Emotion" is an emergent property. It has several degeneracies associated with it and it's old language: not very well defined and loaded with connotation. That being said, maybe some such "rare emotions" require unique alleles or mutations, while others require social placement that is rare to be felt (maybe its always a combo of the two). Someone with synesthesia might have unique neural circuits that allow them to experience unique emotions. World leaders might experience unique emotional states brought about by their position in society. Could also be that everyone has unique states. $\endgroup$ Commented May 29, 2012 at 4:46

1 Answer 1


There is strong evidence that there is indeed a interindividual differential distribution of emotional processes or capabilities. For instance, Bartels and Pizzarro (2011) could show that some antipersonality traits connected to the lack of compassion and empathy towards others are varying among people. Those who endorsed a more pragmatic and "straight" (utilitarian) view of life scored lower in social (and hence empathic) questionnaire batteries. When people are asked about their spiritual attitudes and habits and what emotions they connect to this, they respond very different. For example, mystical experiences - the strong feeling of oneness with the environment - are more likely to score on altruism and empathy (no reference ad hoc present). A more "realisitic", grounded person would deny having such feelings simply because his or her internal self-construction processes do not attach with the same strength to those emotions. They would have different emotional attachments. A very simple, common and intuitive (needs not really a scientific approach) illustration is when you consider "self-confidence" as an internal state. This is obviously a dramatically varying emotional state in humans. Overconfidence evokes internal security about own capabilities and the feeling of "i can master that", in contrast to a lack of confidence.

So, people have different default emotional states and they evoke different feelings in themselves due to different interaction with the environment.


  • Bartels, D. M., & Pizarro, D. A. (2011) The mismeasure of morals: Antisocial personality traits predict utilitarian responses to moral dilemmas. Cogntion PDF
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    $\begingroup$ Interesting answer. I guess there is a difference between ability to feel and prevalence of feeling. For example, the concept of negative affect as a trait is based on the idea that people high on such a scale tend to experience negative emotions more often. That said, people low on negative affect would still typically be expected to experience negative emotions from time to time. I was wondering whether you could clarify to what extent you are talking about prevalence of feeling and to what extent you are talking about ability to feel. $\endgroup$ Commented May 31, 2012 at 0:37

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