I grew up on the original Star Trek (I'm so old I even remember seeing it during the original airing a time or two), so there was a long time where all I had was the original series, then the animated one, and finally, the movies. During that time my friends and I, and those we met at conventions, were sure Vulcans didn't have emotions, or if they did, only vague ones, and the reason it was tough for Spock was because he was half human, so he had emotions full-blood Vulcans didn't have.

There's a lot of support for this, for example, these quotations:

From Where No Man Has Gone Before:
Kirk: Dr. Dehner feels he isn't that dangerous! What makes you right and a trained psychiatrist wrong?
Spock: Because she feels. I don't. All I know is logic. We'll be lucky to repair this ship and get away in time.

From Dagger of the Mind:
Mr. Spock: Interesting. You Earth people glorify organized violence for 40 centuries, but you imprison those who employ it privately.
Dr. McCoy: And, of course, your people found an answer?
Mr. Spock: We disposed of emotion, Doctor. Where there is no emotion, there is no motive for violence.

From Spectre of the Gun:
Spock: My feelings are not subject for discussion, Doctor.
McCoy: Because there are no feelings to discuss!

From The Making of Star Trek by Stephen E. Whitfield, Page 226:

Vulcans long ago concluded that emotion was dangerous, set about to repress it and replace it with logic. Century after century, through practice and custom, they repressed emotion until they became almost incapable of it. Logic became breath, sensation, as uplifting and delightful as the emotion it replaced....

Because of his Mother's origin, however, Spock does have a human side to his personality. A human side with emotions.

When Star Trek: The Motion Picture came out, what seemed to be the common understanding at the time was that the kolinahr was a ritual where, as Memory Alpha states, "all remaining vestigial emotions were demonstrated as purged." Again, this indicates that Vulcans had few, if any emotions. Spock was going through it because he was purging the emotions from his human side.

But later in Star Trek, the story is different. In Sarek Troi says, "Vulcans have the same basic emotions we do. They've just learned to represse them." Later Sarek states, "Vulcan emotions are extremely intense. We have learned to suppress them." (The episode is about Sarek dealing with Bendii Syndrome, which is "a degenerative neurological illness affecting a minority of elderly Vulcans. Initially it is characterized by wasting, weakness, fatigue, fever, and a gradual but accelerating loss of emotional control, with victims exhibiting sudden bursts of emotion.")

There's a shift here, from little to no emotions in the original to intense emotions that they repress. It's a relatively easy retcon, since most statements, up until then, were more in the line of casual conversation.

When did this change happen? Is there any thing to show it was a gradual change, or was it a change that happened within one or two episodes?

Note: For once I'm not asking about an in-universe change, since this was clearly changed in terms of writing and was retconned (not a hard retcon, honestly) so the idea was no longer that they didn't have emotions than that they had intense ones and repressed them. I know about Surak, but, again look at the quotations from the original series. At that time, in the 1960s, they only had, if anything, vestigial emotions. But in ST:TNG, in the 1980s and 1990s, it's different. So when did the shift or retcon happen? I think it was in the episode Sarek, but I'm not sure and I'm wondering if I missed something along the way.

  • 1
    I'm hesitant to add this as an answer because Spock does have a human side which would cause emotions, but: as early as 1x06, The Naked Now, he has an emotional breakdown after getting affected by the polywater.
    – Izkata
    Commented May 18, 2012 at 0:55
  • @Izkata: That's a good point, but over and over, in the original (and I know, because I grew up watching every episode every time it aired and even saw it in the original run when I was VERY young), it's said that Vulcans don't have emotions.
    – Tango
    Commented May 18, 2012 at 17:40
  • 2
    The change has happened when Rosemary died and all the memories had suddenly returned to the people.
    – b_jonas
    Commented Dec 16, 2013 at 13:26
  • I think this just reflects the tension between Spock's character as Roddenberry first fleshed it out, and the demands of scriptwriting to build engaging stories around Vulcan characters.
    – Anthony X
    Commented Feb 11, 2017 at 4:18
  • 1
    @AnthonyX: "the demands of scriptwriting to build engaging stories around Vulcan characters" - I for one never understood why a story about a Vulcan at the verge of mental/emotional breakdown should be more interesting than a story about a Vulcan with a clear mind and a stern control of their emotions. To me, the latter sounds like the far more inspiring character to follow. Commented Aug 28, 2017 at 20:26

17 Answers 17


I would have to say that the shift, in terms of Vulcans generally, was implied in The Motion Picture, in which Spock is attempting Kohlinahr as a last-ditch attempt to become more like "full Vulcans" (As if you could cut a psyche in half!). From where I sit, it is implied that not all Vulcans master this level.

It was not until the episodes in TNG that this was specifically written into anything. I think, as others have stated, that writers by this time had decided that Vulcans needed to be more complex than simple "walking computers". At this point in history, people are beginning to be more in the belief that we are a lot more alike as humans than not. So why shouldn't hominid aliens we are familiar with be similar?


I don't think there was a shift at all. The original series mentions that Vulcans were once a violent people, and then consciously chose the path of logic. This would indicate that their lack of emotions is a cultural trait rather than a biological one.

  • See the referenced quotation from The Making of Star Trek in the question. It addresses that.
    – Tango
    Commented Feb 1, 2012 at 21:12
  • 20
    even in TOS - it's pretty obvious that Vulcans have repressed emotions - Sarek's disapproval of Spock's enlistment into Starfleet, and the episode where Spock has to fight another Vulcan for his betrothed are just two examples...
    – HorusKol
    Commented Feb 1, 2012 at 22:57
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    I agree that there wasn't a shift. It's explained in the episode "The Savage Curtain" (TOS 3x22), by Spock, some of the history of Vulcan and the importance of Surak in that history. Also in "The Enterprise Incident" (TOS 3x04) when Spock attempts to romance the Romulan commander, they talk about how the Romulans choose a different path than the Vulcans did. And when McCoy talks to Spock we all know he tends to exaggerate to get Spock goat. As for Spock talking about himself, he's of course reinforcing his cultural notions of himself... his identity as he sees it. Commented Dec 16, 2013 at 7:30
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    Even in the three quotations in the question here, we see Spock talking about his feelings, and saying "interesting" and "we'll be lucky". As if those aren't expressions of emotions.
    – Mr Lister
    Commented Sep 2, 2015 at 11:18
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    More than Sarek's disapproval of Spock joining Starfleet--after all, disagreement can be entirely logical--is the fact he carried a grudge over it for years, and Spock reciprocated. Once the decision was made, there was no real logical reason to act like a jerk because Spock didn't do what he wanted, yet that's what Sarek did. There was no real logical reason for Spock to get ticked off and refuse to talk to him for those years in response, which is what he did. On the other hand, anger and resentment provide simple explanations. The two of them are simply lying about their reasons. Commented Jul 5, 2018 at 21:41

The Episode This Side of Paradise (episode 1.24) demonstrates that Spock's emotions are merely suppressed, not absent.

Amok Time (Episode 2.1) also shows that the emotional content is present in the Vulcan race; fundamentally, the episode is all about T'Pring's desire not to be Spock's wife, as evidenced by T'Pring saying, "And as the years went by, I came to know that I did not want to be the consort of a legend."

Journey to Babel (Episode 2.10) shows that Amanda is aware of the buried emotions in Spock, but speaks not at all to show much for the rest of the Vulcans. There is a small but subtle hint in Sarek's reason for marrying Amanda: "At the time, it seemed the logical thing to do." It doesn't prove much, but implies some.

All Our Yesterdays (Episode 3.23) shows that, when adjusted back to primitive by the Atavachron, is robbed of his ability to hide his emotions, and makes note that his ancestors at that time are also violent barbarians.

All this shows that it was clear in TOS that emotions were suppressed. It's not so clear that This Side of Paradise wasn't a change; the series "bible" makes it fairly clear that Spock was supposed to be emotionless. Therefore, the change point is somewhere during season 1; Seasons 2 and 3 both continue to show Vulcans as emotionless in action, but with a buried emotional state.

All links to transcripts hosted at http://www.chakoteya.net/StarTrek/

  • In This Side of Paradise and Journey to Babel that's about Spock and I address that in my first paragraph in the question. All Our Yesterdays fits with the idea that their emotions were stronger before they were "bred" out. So the only one that really addresses emotions in Vulcans after they spent centuries working on eliminating them (see my quotation from The Making of Star Trek) would be Amok Time, and even there, we don't know why they desired each other -- there could have been a very logical reason for it. (T'Pring did give a logical reason for not wanting Spock.)
    – Tango
    Commented Feb 2, 2012 at 8:33
  • 1
    T'Pring says, "And as the years went by, I came to know that I did not want to be the consort of a legend." Literally, want is a matter of emotional content.
    – aramis
    Commented Feb 2, 2012 at 16:59
  • What is more logical? Consort of a legend means the focus is on him and it means a lot of activities that are his, and not much space to do what you want. It would be the same kind of logic where a woman might say, "I do not want to be a Senator's wife." Maybe she had her own career and didn't want it to be subjugated by or secondary to his career.
    – Tango
    Commented Feb 2, 2012 at 17:28
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    You could argue that Spock might be a unique case due to his half human nature. Stonn, on the other hand, obviously isn't being "flawlessly logical" as T'Pring manipulates the Ponn Farr.
    – Oldcat
    Commented Aug 12, 2014 at 23:35
  • Want is an emotion. As is disdain. Further, her reference to Spock being a "legend" is also quite revealing. Not to mention T'pau's reactions to Kirk and McCoy. By that point the change is tangible.
    – aramis
    Commented Aug 13, 2014 at 9:28

The apparent discrepancy was dealt with in a 3-parter in the final season of Star Trek: Enterprise - The Forge, Awakening, and Kir'Shara

The basic plot outline is:

Over the centuries since Surak's time, followers of his teachings have split into a few interpretations, because the original writings were lost. The predominant one, that the Vulcan High Command supports, is that all emotions are to be suppressed and purged completely, just as it was described in The Original Series.

The only group that had believed the Kir'Shara - the original writings - actually existed was the one that turned out to be following Surak's teachings most closely. Probably because they were actually in possession of Surak's katra. Surak taught that emotions should be understood and controlled, not suppressed.

Now, while this may make it appear as if the Vulcans would have shifted their teachings by the time of The Original Series, consider both how long-lived they are, and how stubborn they are, not to mention the fact that the Kir'Shara had to be studied, to be sure they understood what Surak meant. Oh, and now the High Command is now siding with the group they were, days previous, preparing to exterminate? Yeah, of course that's going to be a good recipe for an immediate change of the foundations of their entire culture...

By the time of TNG/DS9/VOY, the Vulcans now fully understand Surak's teachings, and Tuvok even tried to give Kim a lesson in what it means to control their emotions.

  • I'm editing to make it clearer: I mean at what point in terms of writing? In other words when did the retcon happen?
    – Tango
    Commented Feb 2, 2012 at 0:41
  • 1
    @TangoOversway Ah, that I have no clue - although I suspect it was early in TNG, to offset Data who we know for certain didn't have emotions
    – Izkata
    Commented Feb 2, 2012 at 0:48
  • I know TNG well, since I had to keep it all in my head when I was pitching to the producers, and I think it was the episode Sarek, but I'm not sure and I'm wondering if there might have been hints during the movies.
    – Tango
    Commented Feb 2, 2012 at 1:40

I don't see the exposure of the Vulcan's emotional side as a retcon, so much as a delving deeper into the society. Vulcans pride themselves on being able to control their emotions, and showing emotion, especially in public is full of negative connotations to them. To a Vulcan one who cannot control their emotions is a throwback to the darkest recesses of their violent past. Their society negatively responds to such behavior through shaming and shunning the offender.

To outsiders, this gives the impression that Vulcans have no emotions because they don't show them. And the Vulcans are loath to correct this impression since they treat emotions like some humans treat their left hand, feet, or genitals, as something dirty or shameful. They probably take it as a matter of pride (only internally though) that outsiders think they have no emotions because it means they are succeeding at repressing them, which is a virtue. It is to a point that even if a non-vulcan is told that Vulcans are emotional beings they often dismiss the idea out of hand because it flies contrary to their own experience. It is a rare few, Kirk, McCoy, Amanda, Picard, Archer, who understand what it truly means to be an emotionless Vulcan and what it costs.

As mentioned, for the most part Spock does his best to give the impression that he doesn't have emotion. Even neglecting to correct McCoy's "insults", since Spock sees them as compliments towards his control. In the second season episodes Amok Time(2.01) and Journey to Babel(s2.10) offer peeks behind the wall of control even in mainstream Vulcan society. First with the barely covered rage of Stonn, and later with Sarek's behavior and Amanda's insight from raising a child in a Vulcan society.

Later incarnations of Trek have used Vulcan society as a way to shine a lamp on the hypocrisy of cultural oppression, the dangers of repression, the value of of attachment and conversely the dangers of attachment.


I agree with those who say that the view of Vulcan emotion did not need to change -- from the original series it is clear that they are not simply an alien species completely lacking in emotion.

In TOS it is made clear that Vulcans have extremely strong emotions which nearly caused them to destroy themselves (All Our Yesterdays, Balance of Terror). Their response was to develop, and train their children from a young age, techniques to manage their emotions. They also have to learn how to make decisions without involving any emotions they may still feel.

It sounds like more than just repressing emotion -- they change their view of situations and the world so that they feel (all or most) emotions far less often and far less intensely when they do. This does require control of emotion as well, but it is more than that. In "Plato's Stepchildren" Spock refers to it as "mastering" emotion (speaking here of the anger that they all felt):

"Then you must release it, gentlemen, as I must master mine. I might have seriously injured you, Captain, even killed you. They have evoked such great hatred in me, I cannot allow it to go further. I must master it. I must control."

Once they have 'mastered' or 'controlled' the emotion, they cease to feel it or cease to be affected / influenced by it:

(Balance of Terror):

"I saved a trained navigator so he could return to duty. I am capable of no other feelings in such matters. "

"Where No Man Has Gone Before":

"Because she feels. I don't. All I know is logic."

In these examples, he is not just faking, or repressing, because his decision-making process and his actions show that he is not reacting in a way influenced by such feelings. It is from scenes such as these that some get the impression that Vulcans have no emotions whatsoever. But this is learned and practiced.

This is reinforced later, in the movies. In The Wrath of Khan

"I have no ego to bruise"

-- it does not appear that there is a change in the understanding of the Vulcan capacity for emotion; this seems quite consistent.

In The Savage Curtain, we see that Surak himself (well, sort of) accepts that there are situations which are unusually evocative and thus are considered sufficient cause to display (and, clearly, to feel) emotion.

Spock: I displayed emotion. I beg forgiveness.
Surak: The cause was more than sufficient

And, of course, other Vulcans who display and/or act based on emotion, as others have mentioned as well (Sarek not speaking to his son for 18 years. Stonn in Amok Time is not emotionless. Etc.)


I don't have any examples or quotes to paste, but I don't think there has been any conflicting story lines. In other words no point where there was a change. Spock is half-human and has a harder time controlling his emotions but he does have them. As did his father and other Vulcans they just used logic from an early stage and as a culture to exorcise almost all emotions from them. So if the felt they had an emotion they would use logic to explain it away. People do this even now. There are three episodes I can think of that I believe show this. There is the episode where Spock's father and mother visit. The episode where Spock has to fight Kirk which I think also shows the Vulcan seven year itch for the first time. Vulcans definitely have emotions during that time and I would say it works the same as repressing their feelings until they can't control them. Also in Next Generation the episodes where Picard finds the ancient Vulcan device that caused them to forsake emotions.

  • The TOS episodes are "Journey to Babel" and "Amok Time", respectively. Commented Feb 1, 2012 at 23:36

I didn't see anything any of the Star Trek series to suggest that Vulcans were completely devoid of emotions. Only that they were masters of controlling their emotions. Spock talks about how Vulcans chose the path of logic to prevent their destruction. Clearly it wasn't a case of Vulcans being biologically devoid of emotion. This was the plot line from the original series and continued on through all the others. It was just explained more and more as things went along. In the original series and then to a greater extent in Star Trek Next Generation.

A person might have gotten the impression that Vulcans had no emotion on the first few episodes of the original series. So, if someone wants to say that there was a shift of some kind it would be in the first episode of the original series that Spock talks a little more about his Vulcan heritage. A couple of episodes come to mind, but I'm not certain which was the first. You are probably looking somewhere in season 2.

But taking the original series episodes as a whole, I don't see any sudden shift or inconsistency at all. It was merely a deepening of a plot line with more explanation with each passing episode. It was suggested on almost every episode that Spock had hidden emotions and there was nothing that specifically said that other Vulcans didn't have them as well. His human heritage was a wild card that confused the issue a bit, but still no glaring inconsistencies.


In the Original Series episode, "Balance of Terror", it was mentioned that Vulcan history of being overly emotional? I believe the last mention of it in the original series was in "All Our Yesterdays".

It is clearly stated without ambiguity that Vulcans have an ancestral nature of being overly emotional. I believe the notion of present-day Vulcans merely repressing their emotions (rather than not having them) comes from that.


I think it changed overtly in TNG, specifically the Sarek episode referenced above. Subsequent to that, specifically in Voyager and Enterprise, Vulcans were portrayed not as having no emotions, but repressing their emotions to achieve the ideal of logic. In one Voyager episode, the Vulcan character is detimentally affected by denying his emotions outright, and coached that acknowledging them is the key to controlling them, and Enterprise has an episode where a group of Vulcans rejects emotional suppression and freely expresses them. Prior to that, the scenes in Star Trek where Spock has an emotional reaction (rage, grief, etc.) could be explained by his human heritage, and there was no dialog about contemporary Vulcans possessing deep emotions


Here there is finally a proper addressing of that "Vulcan emotion" question. I believe it is answered without words in the "Journey to Babel" episode, not in yakking; in actions. Sarek is clearly angry with Spock and remains so. Later, Capt. Kirk has to suspect Sarek of killing the pig-man, and this implies a suspected flash of anger.

Their insistence on having no emotions is clearly a figure of speech. Not just Spock, who is half human, struggles with emotion. Has father struggles too, and it is implied that he married Amanda to help him along with that issue. It is also, as has been indicated already, quite clear that the Vulcans managed to will a part of their evolution by manipulating emotion into logic over a period of centuries.

Do not forget Diane Duane's seminal work, her novel SPOCK'S WORLD, more than half of which deals with this question. Most of Duane's material comes from the television series and nowhere else. She makes it clear that Vulcans do have emotions like ours, and on occasion when they feel it is safe, they show their emotions. They smile like humans, and they even laugh. Clearly from the original series ("Amok Time") they are capable of jealousy (T'Pring), covetousness (Stonn), and sudden anger (T'Pau). It is Spock who is most powerful when he manages to speak during the blood fever. T'Pau is then openly shocked (she stares in surprise at Spock then says, "Thee speaks?!")

The answers are all there and all very clear. Vulcans have emotion and are overly fond of saying they don't have emotions (that is very emotional). Also, Nimoy and Mark Lenard were famous for stating to fans and media that the raising of one eyebrow "is the Vulcan way of smiling" (sorry, I am too old to recall the citation for that). To wish another to live long and prosper is surely the most emotional thing anyone can do in the way of the greeting/taking leave of another.


In the second episode of the animated series, Yesteryear, (where Spock goes back in time to prevent himself from being killed) he explains to his younger self that Vulcans have emotions but they just learn to suppress them.


I agree, I think the shift is presented in the Startrek TNG episodes Unification I and II.

I think the shift was a necessary and interesting evolution of the Vulcan Story line. A species that is, by its inherent nature extremely emotional, and as such has been forced to learn emotional management, or emotional suppression; presents a more attractive story line than a species of biological androids could.


There really is no change. For most of TOS, we see Vulcans through the eyes of a single Vulcan who sees his people as the ideal they portray to others. What Spock sees Vulcans as is an ideal few Vulcan attain. Because he is half human Spock feels he must be a "better than average Vulcan". As we meet other Vulcans it becomes clear that although they all strive to meet their ideals, individuals have varying levels of success.

  • Yes, exactly you nailed it; Spock was always trying to "out-Vulcan" other Vulcans because of his being half-Human. That was something most later actors portraying Vulcan's never really understood, and so most of them just came off as bad, stiff parodies of Spock. Unfortunately, that bad Spock-impression became the standard for how Vulcans were portrayed, until Enterprise just outright turned them all into villainous hypocrites who were little different than Romulans.
    – Aaron Litz
    Commented Jan 18 at 4:17
  • In much the same way that Worf idealizes the honorable nature of Klingon society from the outside. Commented May 25 at 12:53

It feels opportune to address this again, and indicate that there has been an evolving attitude toward Vulcan emotion since the first day. Spock showed much emotion in the pilot film of The Original Series, because, as was stated, he was still very "young".

The truth is Rodenberry and Nimoy worked at this question, simply settling on the "language of no emotion"-- just as clearly settling on the fact the Vulcans do have emotions. My belief is there is a plain answer in JOURNEY TO BABEL and AMOK TIME. The Vulcans certainly seemed a dangerous group to anger. They swelled with both emotions and logic, and made the two coexist.


In the original star trek, episode The Naked Time, Spock says he DOES feel emotions due to his human blood but it's frowned upon and he feels ashamed about it. I think it's that Vulcans have learned to surpress their emotions and are "in control" of them, rather than they don't feel them at all.

  • That's Spock being hard on himself; he struggles with emotion so he blames it on his part-humanity, and other Vulcans (who later shows revealed had their share of racist jerks) were quite happy to put him down for it, even though they were just as capable of having to struggle with it. Commented Jul 5, 2018 at 21:33

I think the difference may best be explained by discussion of "Kolinahr" vs. "Cthia". The canon episodes never explored this closely, but a good resource is Diane Carey's "Spock's World" and some commentary from The Motion Picture.

"Cthia" (as described by Diane Carey) is the primary Vulcan discipline--that of mastery of emotion. This is often misinterpreted by aliens as suppression--partly because of the confusion with Kolinahr.


"Kolinahr" was an order of monks, basically, who ritualistically purged their emotions entirely. T'Pau said in TMP that the achievement of Kolinahr was what saved their race (presumably from the War of All Against All)

It seems likely that most Vulcans were not Kolinahr, but their successful purging of emotion made the monks trusted with steering Vulcan culture and politics. Call them the Jedi of Vulcan history.


Spock sought Kolinahr to free himself from his own human half. When the call to adventure (mental influence?) of V'Ger was detected by T'Pau, she knew that it called to his human side.

  • Please read the last paragraph of the question -- I'm not asking for in-universe. I'm asking for an answer of when the view of the writers changed from writing Vulcans as having no emotions to when they wrote them as having restrained or buried emotions.
    – Tango
    Commented Apr 4, 2012 at 3:49
  • Hmm, you're right, that's not quite what you asked. I'll do some digging.
    – gnome
    Commented Apr 10, 2012 at 2:56
  • Diane Duane, not Diane Carey
    – zwol
    Commented May 1, 2016 at 23:43
  • With regards to the Kolinahr scene in TMP, the Vulcan priestess who conducted the ceremony that Spock failed was not T'Pau. T'Pau was the Vulcan woman who was to oversee Spock's marriage to T'Pring, but instead supervised the Koon-ut-kal-if-fee, the challenge, issued by T'Pring as a way of rejecting Spock for Stonn. On the Internet Movie Database's page for ST:TMP, the Kolinahr character is referred to simply as the "Vulcan Master," and no name is given for her. The Vulcan Master in ST:TMP was played by Edna Glover, while T'Pau was portrayed in the TOS episode "Amok Time" by Celia Lovsky. (S Commented Aug 4, 2020 at 4:56

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