If you go to the other side of the world and interact with people there, can you recognize the emotions they are feeling by looking at their facial expressions? Paul Ekman says the answer is yes. He has been studying emotions for many years and in different geographies and cultures. He has identified seven emotions that seem to be universal:
What is an emotion? — Considering how important emotions are in our everyday life, there is not as much research on emotions as you might think. In order to study emotions it’s necessary to define them first. Scientists studying emotions contrast them with moods and attitudes:
- Emotions = have physiological correlates, expressed physically (gestures, facial expressions), often result in an action, and result from a specific event.
- Moods = last longer than emotions, perhaps a day or two, may not be expressed physically, and may not come from a specific event.
- Attitudes = have a more cognitive, conscious brain component.
Learn how to read facial expressions — Paul Ekman is the expert in how to read emotions in facial expressions. He has two books (2007 and 2009) and is a consultant on Fox for their TV series “Lie to Me”. According to Ekman’s work, there are 40 facial muscles that are the main muscles used in showing emotion. He offers a one-hour online course to learn how to read “micro-expressions” to tell what people are feeling. Several different research teams around the world are working on software to automate the reading of facial expressions (for security and anti-terrorism work for example).
Gestures are not universal — Facial expressions seem to be universal, and so are many vocalizations that are used to express emotions such as crying and laughing (Sauter, 2010) but gestures accompanying emotions are not as universal.
What do you think? Would you spend an hour to learn how to read facial expressions?
For those of you who want to read more:
Ekman, Paul. (2007). Emotions Revealed: Recognizing Faces and Feelings to Improve Communication and Emotional Life, 2nd Edition. Holt.
Ekman, Paul. (2009). Telling Lies: Clues to Deceit in the Marketplace, Politics, and Marriage, 3rd Edition. Norton.
Sauter, D., Eisner, F., Ekman, P., & Scott, S. K. (2010). Cross-cultural recognition of basic emotions through nonverbal emotional vocalizations. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 107(6), 2408-2412.