I remember being a little kid and always being asked the question of what super power I would want to have. In hindsight, it seems like a funny thing to think about now as I always went back and forth between wanting to be like Spider-Man and wanting to read people's minds. Unfortunately, the spider man thing hasn't worked out, but I recently read a book that spiked my interest regarding the art of mind reading. The book was Blink by Malcolm Gladwell and while it doesn't quite literally mean mind reading, it talks a great deal about reading facial expressions and the science that goes behind them.
The majority of what we know to date about reading facial expressions is derived from the research of Dr. Paul Ekman. Interestingly enough, his research is also the premise of the popular television show, Lie to Me. It centers around something called "Micro expressions." These are a very brief, involuntary facial movement that results from the inner emotion of that individual. Unlike regular expressions, these are nearly impossible to fake as they come subconsciously and are usually only visible for between 1/25 and 1/15 of a second.
Ekman believed that facial expressions were universal meaning that regardless of where one came from, happiness would look the same on an American's face just as it would a tribal member's face from Africa. To test his hypothesis he traveled to Japan, Brazil, Argentina and even remote tribal villages in the jungles of eastern Asia. He carried pictures of distinct facial expressions and tested individuals in each region in order to see if they could recognize the emotion. The results spoke for them self as regardless of location, people could recognize the emotions displayed in the pictures as well as display identical emotions across the globe.
Initially, there were seven universal emotions that were depicted: disgust, anger, fear, sadness, happiness, surprise and contempt. However, over time, Ekman has expanded his research by deciphering that there are approximately 43 unique muscle movements the human face can make. This can go on to determine emotions such as guilt or pride. By combining two facial movements there are 300 potential combinations and by increasing that number to five movements, there are nearly 10,000 different combinations. In turn, only about 3,000 combinations turned out to have an actual meaning. Ekman and his colleagues spent seven years conducting this research while meticulously cataloging the different potential micro expressions. This resulted in the completion of the Facial Action Coding System (FACS).
Worldwide, only 500 people are certified to use FACS in research, but its impact has already been considerable. John Gottman, a leading psychologist in dealing with relationships has worked closely with Ekman to incorporate FACS to determine the potential success of a certain marriage. By simply observing a 15-minute conversation between a couple, Gottman is able to predict whether or not a couple will get a divorce with 95 percent accuracy. Imagine being a newlywed, and some complete stranger can say with such certainty as to whether the relationship will work out or not by watching the two of you chat over a quick dinner. That is both alarming and astounding, but in the end, it is a testament to Ekman's research. Gottman claims the biggest indicator is one of the seven initial universal emotions, contempt. If an individual displays repeated looks of contempt for his or her partner, the relationship is likely to fail.
This research is unlike any other as is it possible for any person to pick up over time. Micro expressions truly are an insight to the soul and true intentions of the person sitting across from you. Attempting to deceive someone acute in the reading of micro expressions will certainly backfire as the subconscious mind tells no lies. Research has even gone on to tell that people who can read these quick expressions are more popular and liked by their co-workers as they have an easier time connecting with people. It is so often that words contradict one's emotions, and being able to pick up on that is an invaluable skill.