Microexpression and Science

Micro-expression and Science

Before we describe a micro-expression, let us first try to understand what a macro-expression is. A macro-expression can be described as a normal expression on a person’s face, corresponding to an emotion. Consider that you are with your friends. Someone cracks a joke and everyone starts laughing. The emotion will be expressed on your face and it will usually stay there for some time, ranging from half a second up to 5 seconds. This is called a macro-expression.

Micro-expressions are facial expressions that show for less than half a second. Some have been clocked at 1/10th or 1/15th of a second even. Since they are so quick and fleeting, most people do not see them. Even if they manage to see them, they are not able to explain what it was. Micro-expressions are signs that a person is having an emotion, but is trying to control it.

The Difficulty in Reading Micro-expressions

When you see an individual’s face, you will look for signs of anxiety, anger, sorrow, and happiness. This is a natural process and everyone does it. It may so happen that you are not able to read an emotion properly, which can lead to a sticky situation. Paul Ekman calls it Othello’s Error. In the Shakespearean drama of the same name, Othello misinterprets the look of fear on his wife’s face and concludes that she was committing adultery. The truth was, she was alarmed at his jealous and unjust rage. Othello subsequently committed a fatal error by killing her.

The foremost researcher in this field is Paul Ekman, who has spent decades researching non-verbal communication. Paul has catalogued thousands of facial expressions that can reveal how a person is feeling. But the art of reading micro-expressions is no magic wand. At the most, as Paul himself says, by studying a person’s micro-expressions, you can find out what that person is feeling, but you cannot read his thoughts.

When Paul first started studying emotions, people were not interested in conducing research into the subject because they thought that a person’s emotions could not be accessed and scientifically scrutinized. But Paul was fascinated by non-verbal communication. He went on to spend the next 40 years of his life, deciphering the mysteries of the subject, including facial expressions.

How Can Reading Micro-expressions Help?

Here is an example to explain their relevance. Suppose you are speaking to a person and the conversation is one that is capable of eliciting strong emotions. But the other person is trying hard to control his or her feelings and tries to conceal the emotion. If you know how to read micro-expressions, you might have gotten a glimpse into their emotions at that point. Security personnel in the US are already using the tool to identify and interrogate terrorism suspects.

Furrows, tics, frowns, blinks, wrinkles, and smirks, as and when they emerge on a person’s face, are an accurate window to the underlying emotion. The muscles on the face such as the corregator, risorius, and frontalis are given to unconscious movements which are expressed in the form of facial expressions. These are caused by hidden emotions and in most cases, they cannot be controlled.

Note that micro-expressions do not prove anything by themselves. They must be accompanied by other behavioural cues. Even when behavioural cues are present, micro-expressions are only good clues and nothing more.

However hard a person tries to remain stoic, the truth is we have limited control over facial expressions. This means that with training, anyone can learn to read micro-expressions. You can use the technique to improve your interaction with your friends, colleagues, and family members. Let’s Live Coaching offers a number of Human Lie Detection courses, which include ways to read micro-expressions. Contact us to learn more about our courses and how they can help you.

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Francois Janse van Rensburg – Let’s-Live Master Coach – South Africa
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