The human face tells a fascinating story about the nature of physiology and psychology. As a mode of communication, the amount of information that the human face relays through facial expressions is endless. While the face can display over ten thousand unique facial expression combinations, there are only a handful of specific expressions that are proven to communicate the same universal emotional meaning. Happiness, anger, sadness, contempt, disgust, surprise, and fear make up the 7 basic and universal emotions that all people regardless of race, ethnicity, culture, gender, religion, and age express using the same specific muscle combinations on the face.
Our facial expressions are designed to communicate our most basic yet necessary emotions for survival. Consider the emotion of sadness for example. In a state of sadness our bodies become depressed, the energy is depleted and our ability to respond or defend are incapacitated. The facial expression of sadness becomes the primary communication mode that signals to others that we need help. Looking at a grief stricken parent who has lost a child will easily trigger for most observers an overwhelming sensation of empathy. On the other hand an angry expression often serves as a warning sign and in certain situations can be a life saving forewarning especially in physical attacks.
The face is a primary channel of communication rich in information about the other person and also highly accurate in the nonverbal messages that it sends to observers. Besides the basic emotions it also provides clues to cognition, regulates conversation, and with emblematic gestures, replaces the spoken word. Despite the high accuracy and reliability of nonverbal many people do not capitalize on this rich source of information and focus solely on the spoken language. With the sophistication of common verbal language, the communication focus has shifted to primarily gathering information from a single channel – words, whereas a message in its fullest form is often generated from up to 5 channels; face, body, voice, verbal content and verbal style.
Tuning into only one channel can put the receiver at risk of only getting part of the message, further increasing the risk of misunderstanding the other person or even being deceived.
Let’s briefly examine the communicative relevance of each of the 5 channels:
It is no secret that deception is pervasive in most societies and has played an instrumental role in the survival of evolving human beings. As such, humans have developed a keen ability to deceive with words and trickery and to also mask, suppress, and fake facial expressions and body movements in order to lie, cheat, manipulate, and influence others. However, over 40 years of research in emotion and expression, conducted by Dr. Paul Ekman and other researchers alike, has revealed clues from each of these 5 channels that can expose not only true emotions but be critical clues to uncovering deception.
Because many nonverbals are directly linked to our autonomic nervous system (ANS), they are equally likely to appear involuntarily when emotions run high. Not being in complete control of your facial muscles for example, means that true emotions can leak out via small flicker-like expressions or micro expressions on the face revealing genuine internal feelings. Even practiced liars have been caught giving themselves away through small and very brief but observable expressions of emotion.
The science behind facial expressions of emotion and nonverbal communication has been around since the 1960’s, but only recently has it made its way into the training curriculum of law enforcement, business professionals, psychologists, counselors, medical professionals, market researchers and even to a prime-time hit TV show called Lie to Me.
Specific training in reading nonverbal and verbal communication cues as part of a holistic communication mode is a skill in high demand across many disciplines where face to face communication is of high importance due to its low-tech, un-invasive approach to reading people. It’s a tool that anyone can carry with them and use in any encounter whether it is a formal interview or a face-to-face casual interaction on the street.
WJM Faculty member Mike Palestina, along with his partner Maggie Pazian have formed the People Intell Institute, the first U.S. distributor of Paul Ekman licensed services and training in the field of emotional intelligence and deception detection. Mike is offering trainings in Emotional Skills and Competencies (ESaC), Evaluating Truthfulness and Credibility (ETAC), and Truth and Lies –The Science. The programs are delivered in Teaneck, NJ and begin in June. To read course outlines, learn about additional discounts and to get more information, please click here.