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When we teach our students to read body language during our course, I often encourage students to ignore the face of the person that they are observing. Why? Because I believe that the face can deceive us more easily than what is shown below the shoulders, and focusing our observation on the body will create a more sound assessment of the meaning of the person’s gestures. Because of social demands placed on us, we often put conscious effort into controlling our face, which may help a person conceal a true emotion from others not trained to identify the discrepancies. That is the problem that most concerns me when reading body language, when it is being controlled consciously.
Through some training I have recently received and some self-research that I have conducted, I have learned a great deal more about the kinesic slips of the face. Paul Ekman, the author of a number of books, specifically Telling Lies, he talks about his research on micro-expressions. What we refer to in our class as kinesic slips he calls leakage, which relates to the true emotion that a person is feeling at that time. Micro-expressions are the way in which these slips are displayed on a person’s face. Micro-expressions offer us a way to observe those unconsciously controlled facials expressions.
Before I go on, though, I do want to make one disclaimer: Micro-expressions are just one more piece to profiling to use, not the only area to focus on. Often times, these expressions are displayed so quickly (1/25th of a second,) that only a person watching a conversation frame by frame on a video will be able to identify them. For the Marine on patrol or a police officer on the street, we will likely miss those expressions displayed for such a short time. However, that is OK. If you go through the training and can identify micro-expressions at that speed, your ability to observe that same emotion, both as a micro-expression and when it is displayed for a longer time period on the face goes up exponentially.
Take a look at the Randy Moss interview in the video here. For a little background and context, Randy is speaking to the press about the way he feels he has been treated by the press, the fans, and the New England Patriots organization in September of 2010. In the first few minutes of the video, he displays a lot of emotions on this face, and I believe that many of them fit with the context of what he is saying at that time. I am going to ignore those for now.
If you watch the segment from 2:22 of the video to 2:28, you see a good example of a micro-expression that does NOT fit the baseline. He says that he thinks the team is a great group of guys and is well coached, and that he never wanted to leave New England. Those words are positive, but immediately following them he displays the emotion of disgust on his face. It is easily identifiable by the raised upper lip and the deep pockets next to and under his nose. These facial features make disgust easy to identify.
The reason that this emotion is significant to me is because it does not fit his baseline. Disgust is a negative emotion; it does not make sense with the words he has chosen at that time. The words required conscious thought; he could craft, rehearse, and choose them carefully before the interview**, but that flash of disgust across his face was likely not intentional, nor did he likely realize that he was doing it. The expression was unconscious, but showed his true feelings, and that makes it significant to me. If I was interested in questioning Randy Moss further, I would come back to that topic later on to try and confirm how he truly feels. This will help us collect higher quality intelligence from our sources.
To learn more about what each of the seven universal emotions are, visit http://www.paulekman.com. His site has online training programs and links to his books that expand on his research. These posts will likely not contain enough information on the meaning of the emotion or how it is displayed, and certainly not have the research that he has put into identifying what that emotion is. We just want to find usable ways to apply that information to identifying threats in real-time.
** The author makes no claim that Randy Moss has EVER carefully chosen the words he has spoken to the press, just that he had the opportunity to. **
Information contained in this post is referenced from Telling Lies by Paul Ekman