Have you ever heard of intuition, most of as investigators are naturally intuitive in certain areas? The kind of intuition I am speaking about is related to communicating with people. After taking just one look at someone, why do we sometimes immediately know we don’t like him or her? We usually chalk this up to intuition, instinct or a “gut feeling,” but researchers have found that there’s something more going on that just barely meets the eye — microexpressions
Micro-expressions are signs that are given to us by the face and they can tell us a very powerful story. Often times when we read faces, there is a ton of data to go through. We are comparing their faces to previously known expressions, signs of deception, emotions, and then we have to take into effect the size, tone, length of the face. Even more so then we have to take into consideration eyeglasses, makeup, tattoos or piercings, we make personal judgments based on what the person has added by choice.
Providing more immediate information are the changes in a person’s face, such as smiles, frowns or scowls. These changes provide us with the most obvious information about someone’s mood or immediate intentions. Expressions represent the person’s intended message, the one he or she is trying to convey. A person trying to gain your trust will smile. Someone trying to scare you will scowl.
- Exploit our understanding of the people we interact with
- Advance our outlook on the situation
- Guard ourselves against harm, deception, shame or loss of social standing
- Direct, assure or influence the perceptions of another
You know that when you speak to your parent or child, a frown indicates sadness or dissatisfaction. But is it because a frown is a learned behavior? One researcher, Paul Ekman, wondered this same thing. He set out on a journey to understand and study people from different cultures to determine if our expressions are learned behaviors.
After studying people from all around the globe, Ekman learned that all humans share at least seven primary facial expressions with identical meanings:
- Happiness. The expression for happiness involves raising the lip corners, raising and wrinkling cheeks, and narrowing eyelids, producing “crow’s feet” (wrinkles in the corners of the eyes).
- Sadness. This expression features narrowed eyes, eyebrows brought together, a down-turned mouth, and a pulling up or bunching of the chin.
- Fear. In fear, the mouth and eyes are open, eyebrows are raised and nostrils are sometimes flared.
- Anger. Anger involves lowered eyebrows, a wrinkled forehead, tensed eyelids and tensed lips.
- Disgust. A look of disgust includes nose scrunching, raising of the upper lip, downcast eyebrows and narrowed eyes.
- Surprise. Surprise appears with a dropped jaw, relaxed lips and mouth, widened eyes and slightly raised eyelids and eyebrows.
- Contempt. Contempt is notable for its raising of one side of the mouth into a sneer or smirk.
Here is an online chart of a variety of microexpressions. Do you recognize some of these yourself?
Ekman went even further and, with fellow researcher W.V. Friesen, mapped out (through observation and biofeedback) which facial muscles were responsible for which expressions. He codified them into a system called the Facial Action Coding System (FACS).
Stay tuned for next week’s follow up to this where we explore the FACS and how you can use it.