Micro-Expressions – What are they?

Posted: March 10, 2010 in Mentalism

Simon showing a contempt expression

I have touched upon Micro-Expressions in a previous article but I think its time for me to take a more in depth look at them by explaining exactly what they are, what they look like, what they can mean, and how you can begin to spot them whilst out and about.

Micro-expressions were first discovered by Haggard and Isaacs during a study back in 1966, they discovered these “micromomentary” expressions whilst looking through hours of psychotherapy videos. Micro-expressions are very brief lasting only a fraction of a second and they often show the emotion that someone is trying to suppress.

Psychologist Dr. Paul Ekman set out on a task to find out whether these facial expressions were universal around the world and to do this, he found a very rural African Tribe, one that had, had no other human contact in their entire life, and what he found was astonishing. He found that despite them having no contact with other humans they showed emotion in exactly the same way that we civilization folk do. Paul Ekman then decided to look into expressions through different cultures. At the end of his research he had discovered that there are 7 universal expressions. These are;

  • Happiness
  • Sadness
  • Contempt
  • Anger
  • Fear
  • Surprise
  • Disgust

Each of these expressions appeared to be the same on everyone’s faces, despite their culture and origin. Micro-expressions can be used to tell how a person is really feeling inside and it can also be used to see when someone is lying, for example if someone is trying to be happy about something, but keeps showing a micro-expression of disgust or anger.

Paul Ekman discovered that out of the entire population, roughly 1% of people can spot micro-expressions without any training at all, these people are called “naturals” or “wizards”. If you’ve ever watched the hit US show Lie To Me you’ll know that Ria Torres is one of these naturals.

Spotting Micro-expressions is hard because of how quickly they flash on and off the face, and indeed how little information people really know about them. Micro-expressions cannot be faked so when you see one, it will be real. I’m just going to give a brief overview of each expression and what it looks like, and then in the next article i’ll go into deeper detail about them. Please remember though, micro-expressions last a fraction of a second, so they are not easy to spot.

Happiness – Probably one of the most obvious ones, a happiness Micro-Expression is a very brief smile, the eyes may light up and both corners of the lips will rise upwards.

Sadness – Slight pulling down of the lip corners, inner corners of the eye brows raise causing light wrinkles to appear on the forehead, upper eyelids may droop.

Contempt – only appears on one side of the face, usually around the lips. One lip corner stretches outwards towards the ears.

Anger – Anger involves lowered eyebrows, a wrinkled forehead, tensed eyelids and the red of the lips disappearing because the lips are being pressed together.

Fear – In fear, the mouth and eyes are open, eyebrows are raised and the lip corners stretch directly sideways towards the ears.

Surprise – Surprise appears with a dropped jaw, relaxed lips and mouth, widened eyes and slightly raised eyelids and eyebrows.

Disgust – Raised upper lip, wrinkling around the nose and central line of the face, eyes look like they’re staring.

During the next article I’ll go into much more information about each expression, and how they may appear inconsistent with what’s being said.

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  1. […] Micro-Expressions – What are they? « Weather and Mentalism […]

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