Microexpressions: The truth is written all over our faces

Body language is a fascinating topic. It has always been on my top topics of interest. Body language is a form of non-verbal communication which consists of body posture, gestures, facial expressions, and eye movements. We humans send and interpret such signals subconsciously. And thus is where the power of being able to consciously decipher and make sense of body language come in.

Everybody Lies ~ Lie to Me

In a previous post I delved into reading eye movements to help you become an effective communicator. This post complements the previous by helping you understand body language. Why? Because as John Borg attested, that human communication consists of 93 percent body language and paralinguistic cues, while only 7% of communication consists of words themselves. This means something extraordinary is happening under the layers of communication. Today, in our society we are primed with speaking skills and educated on the importance of good communication. Yet most of the magic happens beneath the spoken world.

Dr Paul Ekman’s research on microexpressions

Every person has 43 facial muscles that create the same expressions, says my favorite pioneering researcher in this space Dr. Paul Ekman. Unlike normal emotions which can last up to four seconds and are clearly yoked to the emotions on vocal and verbal display, “micro-expressions” are fleeting facial expressions that last between 1/25th and 1/15th of a second that occur when a person covers up an emotion. Something not even a poker face expert can avoid / control.

After 30 years of research in this field in Papua New Guinea with stone age tribes, Dr. Paul Ekman proved facial expressions of emotion are not culturally determined. They are universal across human cultures and thus biological in origin. Further, he summarized these 43 facials muscle types into 7 universal emotions. These 7 are scientifically proven to trigger the “same” muscles in each of our faces, backing up Charles Darwin’s theory that the facial expression of emotion was intrinsic.

This and more is documented in detail in Dr Paul Ekman’s book on emotions. Ekman examines and explains how, when and why we become emotional and how far we can change what we get emotional about; why we sometimes get emotional when others don’t; how to recognize and understand the subtlest signs of emotion both in ourselves and other people; and much more.

Lie to Me – TV show

Lie to Me was an intelligent series educating the viewer on micro expressions while wrapping the whole show in a 1 hour TV drama. Based on the real-life scientific discoveries of mentioned Dr Paul Ekman, the series follows Dr Lightman (Tim Roth) and his team of deception experts as the assist law enforcement and government agencies to expose the truth behind the lies. If you want to be entertained and learn the art of body language & micro expressions then this show is a must. They even show photos of famous people caught lying. You can get all 3 seasons off Netflix or Amazon.

The truth is written all over our faces ~ Lie to Me

The 7 key emotions

Ekman determined that all humans share the following 7 emotions: Anger, Disgust, Fear, Happiness, Sadness, Surprise and Contempt. According to Ekman, emotions developed through evolution as a sign of letting others know we sensed danger. Being able to comprehend an emotion consciously can help you understand people better. The following is a visual representation of these 7 emotions using Dr. Cal Lightman (Tim Roth) from Lie to Me TV series.

Study these. Learn these signs off by heart. Then try to spot them in people you interact with daily and on television. You will get better and better over time till it becomes an automatic function in your brain.

Knowledge & Application

Having this power to detect the 7 signs will allow you to:

  • Identify when you should back off from a dangerous conversation before it turns nasty/violent.
  • Change topics when the other party gets irritated and/or out of patience.
  • Bring peace and safety to people who are afraid or scared.
  • Immerse yourself with people who feel true love, satisfaction, pleasure, or joy towards you.
  • Help those that are have feelings of disadvantage, loss, and helplessness.
  • Catch a liar at work or in a social environment.
  • See whether that smile is truly genuine or fake.
  • Understand whether the other person has a lack of respect accompanied by a feeling of intense dislike towards you.
  • Be in a better control of situations within your environment and adjust accordingly to best meet satisfying objectives.

It is amazing how learning to recognize these 7 simple emotions can drastically alter your lifestyle and bring better clarity in human interaction. If you are like me you may be too outspoken and sometimes this can cause a clash if you questions their “real intent”. People lie. It’s that simple. And if you are confrontational about their lies then be ready for some clashing. So hold yourself back a bit 😉

Other microexpression signs to watch out for

  • A fake smile is usually shorter than two-thirds of a second or longer than four seconds.
  • Innocent people flash the most genuine surprise.
  • Guilty people flash an emotion of fear.
  • Fear held for longer is a sign of something being hidden.
  • To catch someone responsible watch how their brows and mouth move, and for how long. Prolonged surprise gives you a cue for further probing.
  • Be cautious of people who give you half-smile or smirk since this is an unmistakable expression of contempt and moral superiority – aka Killer Contempt.

Enjoy your new-found knowledge!

~ Ernest

Links mentioned in this post:

Author: Ernest W. Semerda

Aussie in Silicon Valley. Veryfi CoFounder (#YC W17 cohort). GSDfaster Founder. View all posts by Ernest W. Semerda

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *