Micro-expressions – An In depth Look

Posted: March 21, 2010 in Mentalism

I mentioned on a previous article about Micro-expressions that I’d write an article explaining exactly what they look like in more in depth detail about what they look like and how you can spot them. They are quite hard to spot because they happen so quickly, the easiest one to spot for me, is Disgust because it involves the central line of the face, which is where most of us look anyway.

Disgust Expression - Click to Enlarge


Disgust is perhaps the easiest micro-expression to see because it involves a large portion of the face. If you’re with a girlfriend/boyfriend and you see them showing disgust towards you then chances are that relationship is coming to an end. Disgust is a very strong emotion, perhaps one of the strongest emotions you can have towards another person because its very likely to last longer than any other emotion you might have towards someone, such as anger. If someone shows a disgust expression whenever they talk about a certain thing, place, or person then chances are they do not like to be around them and do not like them, if they’re talking in a nice way about them but keep showing a disgust expression, then chances are they’re simply pretending.

When someone shows a disgust expression, their upper lip will be raised and you’ll see wrinkling around the nose area, the eyes will seem to stare at you and this is what we call a concealed scorn.

Surprised Expression - Click to Enlarge


Surprise isn’t something that we need to focus on too much when it comes to knowing how someone feels. However surprise is very easy to fake, so if you confront someone about something and you see this expression for longer than one second then its fake, and they know exactly what you’re talking about but they want to appear for some unknown reason, that they’ve only just found out.

Surprise is often confused with fear. When the surprise expression is shown on the face, the eyebrows and eyelids go upwards causing wrinkling on the forehead, and the jaw drops causing an oval shape around the mouth.

Fear Expression - Click to Enlarge


Fear is often confused with surprise because there are some similarities. Fear will show across someones face if they become scared of getting found out, or perhaps they’re just going to an interview and they’re scared of how things will go, they might try to appear calm and confident, but a quick fear expression would tell us that inside, they’re scared.

When fear comes onto the face its fairly similar to surprise, but their are some very distinct differences, the eyebrows go up and they’re pulled together which creates wrinkling between them, the lower eyelids become tensed and the corners of the lips stretch horizontally.

Anger Expression - Click to Enlarge


Anger has a fairly jagged onset and never comes on suddenly. So if someone is sitting there nice and calmly and then suddenly reacts in anger with fists raging, then chances are that anger is fake. Anger is an emotion that many people will try to hide until it gets to much and this is when anger may appear on the face as a micro-expression. It may also appear when someone is talking about someone, and they’re trying to hide their anger for them.

When anger appears on the face, the eyebrows are pulled down and together, the eyes begin to glare and and red part of the lips begins to narrow because the lips are pressed together.

Contempt Expression - Click to Enlarge


Contempt is the only Micro-expression that appears on one side of the face, and usually appears around the corners of the lips. This expression is probably one of the more subtle expressions, but with a little practice fairly easy to spot. Contempt may occur just after someone has told a lie, or someone of a higher authority of you may show contempt when having a go at you, or simply giving you orders.

When contempt appears on the face it’ll appear on either the left or right side of the face and around the lip corners. When someone shows contempt one lip corner will tighten and stretch out towards the ears, as shown in the picture of George Bush on the right. His contempt is showing on the right hand side of his face.

Sadness Expression - Click to Enlarge


Sadness will appear on someones face while, well, feeling sad inside. They may try to hide the sadness with a masking smile (we’ll talk more about masking smiles in future articles) so that people cannot see how they’re truly feeling. But the feeling of sadness will leak through in a micro-expression. Sadness for me, is one of the hardest Micro-expressions to spot because it’s very subtle and fairly hard to spot. Remember Micro-expressions happen in 1/5th of a second, so they happen very very fast.

When sadness appears on the face, the corners of the lips are pulled down slightly to make the lips appear a little pouted. Eyelids will droop and it’ll look like their eyes are losing focus. The inner eyebrows will also be pulled upwards and together, causing wrinkling between them as seen on the picture to the left.

Happiness Expression - Click to Enlarge


Happiness is perhaps one of the easiest to spot because everyone can easily recognise happiness. Happiness can appear inconsistent with what someone is saying after a family member has been killed, they may pretend to be sad but in reality, keep showing subtle smilies which would be inconsistent with the situation. You can also tell when someone is “pretending” to be happy, when someone smiles the corner of their eyes will wrinkle.

When happiness appears on the face their will be wrinkling around the eyes, the cheeks will be pushed up and and their face will simply light up.

  1. Astra says:

    Is this information from the TV series of ‘Lie to me”? The season 1st ep 01 starts with describing the same microexpressions (with practically the same words)… Or maybe that’s taken from some more professional source?

  2. Hi, You have error. Bush is not contempt he is sad.

    • Daniel Smith says:

      Thanks for the comment, however that’s definitely contempt. His inner eye brows are not at all raised and one side of lip is tensed and pulled up, classic contempt

  3. Jonathan says:

    Hi, I was actually wondering where you got the picture of the woman with the surprised look and if I might be able to use the image for a postcard I am making?

  4. Sierra Harvey says:

    I just wanted to inform you that this information listed is very helpful. I’m doing an informative speech on microexpressions and this page will be listed in my sources. It’s just so amazing to me how people can express how they are trully feeling through their facial expressions. Kudos to you for being one of the people that can read them. Hopefuly I’ll be able to try reading them after this research. Thank you for putting this up.

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