Real World of the Basic Science of Facial Expressions and Emotion

Findings concerning the universality of facial expressions of emotion and the existence of microexpressions can help people in a range of professions requiring face-to-face interactions improve their skills in reading the emotions of others. Reading facial expressions of emotion, and especially microexpressions, can aid the development of rapport, trust, and collegiality; they can be useful in making credibility assessments, evaluating truthfulness and detecting deception; and better information about emotional states provides the basis for better cooperation, negotiation, or sales. Health professionals can develop better rapport with patients, interact humanely with empathy and compassion, and make the right diagnosis by obtaining complete information. Teachers can read the emotions of their students to obtain cues about the progress of their lesson plans so they can adjust accordingly and deliver them more effectively. School administrators who read the emotions of their teachers can reduce burnout and maintain and improve teacher effectiveness. Businesspersons and negotiators who can read the emotions of others can nurture mutually beneficial collaborations. Product researchers can improve the qualitative data they obtain from consumers by reading consumer’s emotions when evaluating products, giving hints as to what they truly feel despite what they say about it. Parents, spouses, friends, and everyone with an interest in building strong and constructive relationships can benefit from improving their ability to read emotions.

People often get emotional when they lie, especially when the stakes are high. These emotions can occur because of the fear of getting caught, guilt or shame about the event lied about, or even because one likes the thought of successfully lying to others, especially those in positions of authority. Facial expressions, especially microexpressions, can be signs of these emotions and the ability to detect them may be important for individuals working in law enforcement, national security, intelligence, or the legal system. Individuals and organisations with interests in detecting lies have used programs we have developed that are based on information that has been substantiated in scientific research and informed by law enforcement experience observed in the real world by officers and agents like the managing director Nicholas Gill. Our instructor-led training programs involve a combination of didactic, individuals, and our group-based participatory exercises. We introduce trainees to knowledge about the nature of emotion; facial expressions, microexpressions, and other nonverbal behaviours including voice, gesture, gaze, and posture; and the nature of truth-telling and lying and the nonverbal signals associated with both. Trainees in the Facial Expressions Group use the training tools to improve their skills at reading micro- and subtle facial expressions of emotion. And they put these newfound skills and knowledge together by watching videos of actual interviews or interrogations, and interviews they would be doing.

People often find over the course of the training that they are able to see and understand behaviour that they previously could not understand or had misinterpreted, and these additional skills help them to find ground truth in testimony, depositions, interviews, and interrogations which our group do all the time.These new skill sets them complement their existing skill sets, not substitute for them, and help trainees to be more accurate and more efficient in their jobs.

Our training curriculum also includes stand-alone courses that people can access from anywhere via the internet. Our microexpression recognition training tools help people improve their ability to recognise microexpressions when they occur. They all include a pre-test so that users can gauge their natural propensity to see microexpressions; an instructional section providing audio and videos describing each of the universal facial expressions of emotion; a practice section where users can practice seeing microexpressions, with the ability to replay and freeze-frame on the expression to maximize learning; a review section where users can once again see examples of the universal expressions; and a post-test to assess their improvement. Our latest studies in this area have shown that training with our tools produces a reliable benefit not only at the end of the training but also that lasts beyond the training session and carries over into the work environment ( In this study, the benefits of training were retained for two to three weeks after training in a sample of trial consultants, and improved emotion recognition scores were positively correlated with third party ratings of emotional and communication skills on the job for retail store employees.

Our stand-alone courses also include tools to help train people to see and recognise subtle expressions. Subtle expressions are emotional expressions that occur when a person is just starting to feel an emotion, when the emotional response is of low intensity, or when a person is trying to cover up their emotions but is not being entirely able to do so. They can involve the same muscles in a full-face expression just expressed at very low intensities. Or they can involve just parts of the face, such as just the brows and eyes, or just the mouth. Although microexpressions have received a lot of media attention in the past few years, research has shown that the ability to read subtle expressions better predicts the ability to detect deception than the ability to read microexpressions. This makes sense because even though micro expressions are clear signs of concealed emotions, they probably occur much less frequently than subtle expressions. This is true not only in deceptive situations but in most emotional situations in everyday life. Thus the ability to see and recognise subtle expressions likely has a much higher benefit for practitioners. Designed much like our microexpression rec ignition tools described above, our latest studies indicate that people using our subtle expression training tools can reliably improve their ability to see subtle expressions (Facial Expressions Research Gropu, 2010). Given that subtle expressions occur in real life more frequently than micros or macros, and given that the ability to recognise subtle expressions is associated with the ability to detect deception, the availability of tools to train the ability to see subtle expressions is a major advantage for practitioners.

Our instructor -Mr Nicholas Gill is the trainer in some of theese programs and in use of training personnel in a variety of agencies and professions, including those entering the Foreign Service Institute of the U.S. State Department, airport security personnel of the Transportation Security Agency, the U.S. Marshall’s Service, the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s National Academy, and other federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies.