Posted: September 30, 2009 in Mentalism

Over the last few weeks I’veDr Lightman become very interested in learning how to spot Micro-expressions. For those of you who have seen the hit US program Lie to Me, you’ll know exactly what Micro-expressions are. I was watching the program and wondered whether it was simply another fictional cop show, but after doing some research it turns out that Micro-expressions do actually exist. So what are they? Well Micro-expressions are facial expressions that only last a fraction of a second, which is why they are very hard to spot and actually, few people know they exist.

Dr Paul Ekman was one of the leading researchers into Micro-expressions, and the program Lie to Me is based on him. There are 7 universal expressions, these are happiness,  sadness, fear, anger, disgust, surprise and contempt. Now rather than me explaining what each of these expressions look like, I am going to copy and paste the descriptions from How Stuff Works..

  • 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.

(No longer copying from How Stuff Words, just the text in bullet points is from their)

So thats pretty much what you need to look for, although without training the chances of you being able to spot them are very low, roughly only 5% of people can see micro-expressions without training, and even those probably don’t know they are doing it.

Just to go through some of those in more detail, we’ll look at happiness for example. If someone is smiling this doesn’t mean they ARE happy. A real smile usually lasts between 3-6seconds, a fake smile will last much longer than this. (this does not include laughing, since thats something completely different all together) Another way to tell whether a smile is fake is by looking at their eyes, in a real smile the cheeks rise meaning their eyes will become narrower, if there eyes stay the same when they are smiling, then the smile is fake.

Surprise – Surprise is a good one, as you can see from the description above when you’re surprised your eyebrows move upwards, someone who is genuinely surprised will only have their eyebrows raised for 1-2 seconds, so if someone seems surprised by something but their eyebrows are raised for longer than this, the surprise is fake and they are either lieing or hiding something.

That’ll be all to get you started then, just a quick look at what micro-expressions are and how to spot them. So next time you’re having a conversation with someone, just keep an eye on their face to see if you can spot something (Don’t confuse natural expressions with micro-expressions, chances are you won’t be able to spot them, so if you’re interested then do some research on the internet, and find out everything their is to know about them)

  1. Genova Izguerra says:

    Hey! so I’ve been researching a lot about micro expressions over the last couple of days and this site was the only i saw that was free and loaded with what i was searching for… but when i noticed you stopped blogging around last year, it made me sad!, i read through all these articles and i was captivated! I would really like for you to continue with what you have been writing about. this is all great! Thank you.

  2. […] CLICK HERE to view Micro-Expression article. […]

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