How to Detect Micro Expressions

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Do you ever wonder what someone is really feeling or thinking when they tell you one thing? Do you sometimes wonder if your being told the truth? The human face of capable of making over 50,000 different individual expressions, but it all boils down to only 7 different combination that form the expressions we all know: Happiness, Sadness, Anger, Disgust, Fear, Surprise and Contempt. These are called micro-expressions and last less than a second. Learn to spot micro-expressions and gain the key to understanding the real feelings behind the face. This how-to will cover the basics of spotting the seven micro-expressions.

Things You'll Need

  • Nothing
  • Know what to look for! Spotting microexpressions can be difficult. There is small percentage of people in the world who can naturally pick up on microexpressions, sometimes, they don't even know they can. You may be one of these people if you 1) Can always spot a lie, 2) Know who someone is with out really getting to know them, 3) Can accurately predict motive, 4) Don't trust people and don't have a very good reason for why.

    Don't worry though, if your not a natural, you can learn. I seem to have been a natural for most of my life, but I never knew what micro-expressions were until recently, then things all started to make sense.

    Anywho, when looking for microexpressions, focus on the subject's face. Most muscle activity during a microexpression will occur around the eyes and mouth. Stay sharp though, the thing that makes a microexpression micro is the duration. Most microexpressions last an average of 1/25th of a second to 1 full second.

    In the next 7 steps, I will walk you through each of the seven microexpressions. And then I will give advice on learning and practicing microexpression detection.

  • Happiness. We all know that when someone smiles they are happy. But it isn't to difficult to "fake" being happy. This can occur when someone is saying something you don't agree with or don't like and you pretend to think its funny or good. There are numerous other cases when someone will pretend to be happy. Other times, someone may flash a sign of being happy when they shouldn't be. This will often be the case when someone is proud of something they are being scolded or reprimanded for. Often times when a serial killer is asked about their crimes in jail, they will flash a quick microexpression for happiness because they are proud of what they've done.

    The key attribute of happiness is, yes, the smile. But is isn't just any smile. In true happiness you will see the corners of the lips turn up and the cheeks will raise slightly. But the tell tale sign of true happiness are the crow's-feet that appear at the corners of the eyes. If you don't see movement from the muscles around the eyes or crows-feet, the smile is a fake.

  • Sadness. Most of us can tell when someone is feeling a bit blue. But there are times when it's very important to know someone is truly sad, even if they swear up and down they are fine. Many people who really want to end their lives will appear very happy just before letting go. But you can always catch that hint of sorrow behind their front. On a happier note, many people will pretend to be happy when they are not because they don't want to bring others down. They really want to talk to someone about it, but will never admit it, being able to spot their sadness can be a helpful hint that they could use a good conversation.

    In sadness the upper eyelids and outer edges of eyebrows will droop. The subject will appear to have very little focus in their eyes. Also, the corners of the lips will be pulled slightly down.

  • Anger. Anger is usually pretty easy to spot. But sometimes there lies anger hidden beneath the surface and it good to be able to spot this incase someone is about ready to snap.

    Anger's microexpression consists of the lips being narrowed and pressed together tightly. You will also see the eyebrows slanted down and towards the nose. And perhaps the most revealing characteristic of anger; glaring. The subjects eyes will glare intensely.

  • Contempt. Contempt is my favorite microexpression, and coincidentally it's the easiest to spot. Interestingly, it is the only microexpression that is unilateral, that is, the only one that is biased to one side of the face. All other microexpressions are equally distributed across the face about a vertical center-line.

    The dead giveaway to contempt is the raising of one side of the lips. It can be very subtle and even look like just a twitch. Occasionally the lip raise is paired with the head tilting back slightly so that the subject can look down slightly at the focus of their contempt.

  • Disgust. This is another one of those indicators that someone does not like what you are talking about, or very much disagrees with something you have done or believe. Also, if you have secretly passed a bit of gas, it is a good indicator that someone knows you have as it seems to be a instinctual response that Darwin suggested closes off the nasal passages.

    Disgust is characterized by the upper lip being raised generally exposing the teeth. This will be coupled with a wrinkling of the nose.

  • Fear. Fear is feeling we all know. Wether someone makes us uneasy, we are in a situation we don't like, or we are watching a scary movie, we show the expression for fear.

    In fear you will see the lips stretched horizontally towards the ears. The lower eyelids will be tensed and the upper eyelids will be raised. You will also notice the eyebrows being raised and pushed together.

  • Surprise. This is a very important micro-expression. It can be used to help in the lie detection process. If you accuse someone of something, and they seem surprised, it could be the that your accusation is incorrect. However, it is easy to fake surprise, but what people don't know is that faked surprise is easily recognizable.

    Surprise can be spotted by widened eyes and raised eyebrows. Also the mouth will open a little bit.

    Note that in a true expression of surprise the eyebrows will be raised for less than a second. So if someone is acting surprised, but leaves their eyebrows lifted for more than a second, they are lying, no questions asked.

  • Learning micro-expressions. Learning micro-expressions can take time. But, one of the best ways to learn them is to just read and read. Pictures and videos are also a great tool. Fox has a TV show called Lie To Me, most people think it is just TV, but I did a bit of research and the show is based of a real person named Dr. Eckman who was the pioneer researcher in microexpressions. The information in the show is true and they have a scientific adviser that helps them stay true to the facts. I've noticed that watching it has greatly improved my ability to spot microexpressions.

    One of the things you will hear over and over again from people who train in microexpression detection is to learn to make the faces yourself. Find pictures of the expressions, and then get in front of your mirror and mimmic them. The muscle memory of the expressions will your brain recognize them.

    There are a few tests that I've found helpful in testing the effectiveness of my training. Also, the tests can be used as a training tool by learning from your mistakes. You can find a practice test created by Dr. Eckman himself at www.mettonline.com. I will post this in the related links section. Another one that is a little more fun and focuses more on lying are the Lightman Tests on Fox's Lie to Me website. I will post this link as a related link as well.

    The last training tip I can offer is to not be afraid to practice. When you are practicing, make sure its with someone you know well and who won't get mad at you. Also, it might be a good idea to ask them if you can use them as practice. Don't sit down and have a "practice session", instead inform them you plan to use them as a test subject at random, and then sometime later, when you spot a micro expression ask them if you are correct. Until you are very comfortable with your abilities you should probably not use the micro expression detection in any arguments or accusations.

    Also, please note that Test 1 of the Lightman tests is pretty much useless, its just a quiz about lying statistics. Test 2 is the best.

    I hope this information has been helpful to you. Once you learn it, its not something you can make go away so be careful, it's not always a blessing; you may learn things you didn't want to know. Use this information responsibly.

Tips & Warnings

  • Use your knowledge of micro expressions for good, not evil.
  • Never make accusations unless you are sure.
  • It is not always the case that a micro expression means what you think it means.
  • Photo Credit Image by HowStuffWorks
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