You might have heard people saying this all the time around you:

“The face is the window into the soul, if you know how to read it.”

That very moment, when you realize, how to read it? What to read? Why to read? Sometimes, it also happens that a person, who appears to be happy in front of you, for a split of a second, gives you a feeling of some other emotion such as sadness or anger. It seems that he is hiding something under the cover of his smile.
Basically, a face is the canvas that reflects thousands expressions every single day. Therefore, the feeling that you caught on your peer’s face is the masked micro-expression that occurs only for the 1/15th or 1/25th of the second. Imagine how small a duration they need to occur. Amazing! All they need is a nose, a mouth and two eyes; with the help of them they can be conveyed. Dr. Ekman who discovered these micro-expressions defines them as follows:

“Micro expressions are the rapid movements of facial muscles which are tied to underlying emotions.”

Interestingly, whatever our religion, caste, color, region, age or gender is, we produce the same micro-expressions which means that we express sorrow and happiness in the same way since we are the creation of the same God. It implies that these are not unprejudiced expressions, rather they are universal, possessed by every human being.
Before analyzing these micro-expressions, firstly we will look into how they were discovered.
Ekman and Friesen are the pioneers who discovered these expressions. They studied these expressions in their study of deception. After that, Ekman published a book named “Telling Lies” and his colleagues inquired of him, whether there was any tool to know that their patients were lying to them. To answer these queries, he started looking through his patients’ filmed interviews so that he could find a way to detect when his patients lied to him.
Fortunately, he was successful in examining one of his patients just when these micro-expressions appeared on her face. This was Mary a 42 years old housewife and a patient of hypertension. She attempted suicide thrice but always failed. She was treated by a psychiatrist in a hospital, where she appeared to respond well to the treatments, telling her doctors that she was feeling much better. In her interview, she posed to be completely normal and got a chance to go home. Later on it was revealed that she was still in that phase of depression and she just pretended them she was okay. She wanted that pass for home just to try another suicide. Doctors spent a lot of time in discovering any act of hers that could help them expose her lie. Eventually, they found a quick facial expression of agony, that they missed in her interview. This triggered Ekman to do more research on micro facial expressions and ultimately he discovered 7 micro facial expressions of sadness, anger, surprise, fear, disgust, happiness, and contempt.

1. Sadness

The most common feeling that people try to conceal is sadness, which can be caused by many reasons such as loss of a loved one, a broken family, an unhappy marriage, failures and many more. Even though it happens to every single person throughout his life in different forms and at different times, people still try to hide it. They believe that expressing their sadness will portray the weaker aspects of their personality, which they don’t want to have exposed. But, there are some loved ones around us who are keen observers and always see the hints of sadness on our faces.
This expression is very brief, involving a slight pulling down of the lips corners, droopy eyelids and a loss of focus in the eyes.

2. Surprise:

It is somewhat similar to fear, but a person is not scared, rather he is shocked. It happens when we get a surprise birthday party or a gift from our loved ones. In other words, when something happens in our life beyond our expectations, it is a surprise. It can be identified by raised eyebrows, an open mouth and widened eyes.

3. Anger:

It is the expression that needs to be handled with care because it gets people into trouble when they are unable to control it. Few people have the amazing skill of hiding their anger, while others release it in so many different forms. If you want to figure out whether the person in front of you is angry or not, you just need to know the elements of micro-expression. While expressing anger, the nose and eyebrows scrunch up, the mouth tightly closes and eyes will give a certain glare.

4. Fear:

Fear is also a very important micro-expression that needs to be learned very carefully because it helps those people who work in investigation agencies. This expression appears for nanoseconds on the faces of criminals mostly when they are about to get caught. Other than that, people get frightened while watching movies or sometimes small kids feel fear when they watch their parents fighting. Consequently, the best way to spot the feeling of fear is that one must notice the micro-expressions during fear i.e. the eyebrows raise and pull together, the upper eyelid rises, the lower lip is tense and the lips are stretched horizontally back to the ears.

5. Happiness:

It is very easy to identify because most of the people are really good at reading faces when someone is happy. There are a lot of reasons one can be happy but his face truly depicts that his heart is filled with joy and glee. His happiness would cause his lips to rise, forming wrinkles around the mouth especially in the corners of the eye.

6. Disgust:

Watching someone eating snakes or bugs, you feel disgust. You feel like “ewww what the hell he is eating?” Meanwhile you make a facial expression which involves a crunched up nose and a raised upper lip. It is the “disgust” micro-expression. So, if you feel somebody is not feeling good with your cooking, try to catch their disgusting micro-expression hidden behind the smiles of tasty food.

7. Contempt:

You might have encountered some people in your life who seem full of themselves and consider themselves superior to others on the basis of status, knowledge or wealth. The simple indicator of their feelings will be depicted when they will raise the corner of their upper lips.
These micro-expressions will not only assist you in reading your loved ones’ faces rather they have been carefully studied by psychiatrists, scientists, law enforcement officers, and other professors for practically applying them in their respective fields. If you really want to excel in reading these expressions, you can get yourself trained after getting training courses of Dr. Ekman which are available at this link.

I found them extremely beneficial since I am a very curious person who always tries to figure out the real person behind the masks of happiness or anger. I was a kid when I use to read my friends’ faces correctly but I think it was all God-gifted. I never had the slight notion of the amazing knowledge of these micro-expressions. I would request you all to learn them and let your instincts interpret the true reality around you.


Written by: Shehzadi Talib

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