Facial Revelations

2 Nov

How would you like to know what people are precisely feeling just by looking at their faces?  Psychologist Paul Ekman was one of the first scientists to study the connection between facial expressions and emotions. Ekman categorized these muscle movements in the late 1970s into the Facial Action Coding System (FACS). He correlated the constellation of facial muscle contractions with numerous specific emotions. His findings are obviously useful to all of us and particularly helpful in business settings.  For example, managers need to sense when others disagree with them even if they are not verbally expressing their disagreement.  Although we have no problem identifying obvious emotions like anger and joy, there are many more subtle feelings that can be identified with study.

Real vs. Fake Smile

His work can help us discern real smiles from fake smiles. One can tell the difference between these two by the presence of crow’ feet around the eyes.  In a fake smile, known as a Pan-Am smile, only the zygomatic major muscle is activated to pull back the corners of the mouth.  In a true smile, known as a Duchenne smile, an additional involuntary muscle, the orbicularis oculi is activated, causing the crow’s feet around the eyes.  The picture below on the left is a Pan-Am smile, while the smile on the right is a Duchenne smile. I think acquiring expertise in reading faces has big social and business payoffs.

Fake Smile

Duchenne (real) Smile


by Philip Voron


One Response to “Facial Revelations”

  1. Timothy Wang November 10, 2011 at 1:20 am #

    Philip-cool post!

    The ability to quickly recognize people’s true emotions by analyzing their facial muscles reminds me of the book Blink, by Malcolm Gladwell.

    Here, Gladwell describes how some experts can seemingly be able to “predict” outcomes of events in a “blinklike” instant. He attributes this predictive ability to the expert’s long hours studying their field and then being able to “thin-slice” events and subconsciously know when something is about to happen.

    He cited famous tennis coaches being able to somehow know when a player was going to fault on his serve as he served, or a famous marriage psychologist who could watch a couple hold a conversation and then be able to predict with 95% accuracy whether or not they would be married in 15 years by closely reading their facial muscle contractions!

    Again, very cool post and I agree, this would be a very powerful ability to have in our profession!

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