Emotions Revealed: Recognizing Faces and Feelings to Improve Communication and Emotional Life

Emotions Revealed: Recognizing Faces and Feelings to Improve Communication and Emotional Life
by Paul Ekman
NON-FICTION – Paul Ekman is a scientist and psychologist who has studied human emotion for several decades, especially how emotion is expressed in the face and voice. Ekman provides insight into a number of questions — When do we become emotional and why? How do we reconize the emotions we’re feeling and can we changed them, or change how we react to them? How do we recognize what others are feeling, even when they may be hiding their emotions?
You start the book by taking a test in the appendix — a quiz on your ability to quickly recognize facial expressions. You may get a lot wrong, but by the end of the book when you retake the test, you’ll do much better.
In his early studies, Ekman sought to answer a controversy in emotional science – do all humans use the same facial expressions to indicated emotion, and are those expressions learned, or innate? To solve the question, he spent three months with a stone age culture of people in New Guinea that had virtually no contact with the outside world. After working with and photographing the people in a small village, he came to the conclusion that facial expressions are universal — all people make the same expressions for fear, anger, sadness, enjoyable emotions, etc.
Ekman walks through a number of different emotions and illustrates how they are expressed in the human face to help recognize subtle, partial or hidden expressions that will help you understand what emotions are being expressed by others.
One of the expressions I found really interesting is the “Duchenne” smile — a smile we express when we’re really happy, versus a “social smile” that we use to be polite or when we want to conceal unhappiness from others. I’ve always been able to reconize the difference between the two (I described them as a “real smile” versus a “fake smile”) — particularly in my girlfriend, but also in other people I know well, like my mom and some of my friends. A “Duchenne smile” — a smile of true happiness — involves not just the mouth but muscles around the eyes, and is impossible to fake because the eye muscles can’t be controlled voluntarily.
Ekman’s current studies are about how emotions are expressed by individuals — do some people have different levels of response to the same emotion than other people do? If so, how does that affect them, and can they learn to handle those emotions in ways that stimulate good communication with the people around them?
I sought out more about Paul Ekman after reading about him in Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking, where Gladwell discusses Ekman’s ability to “thin slice” human expression because he’s spent so many years studying the human face. I checked the book out from the library, but it’s definitely one I’d consider adding to my personal collection, because I’d like refer back to it from time to time, especially the sections on becoming more emotionally attentive — aware of what I’m feeling so I can control how I react to improve my relationships with others.

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