Reading people's emotions is an important part of human communication. Recognizing facial expressions is an important way to get a sense of how a person is feeling. Beyond being able to recognize facial expressions, you must also understand how to communicate what someone is feeling. It is important that you learn the 7 main types of facial expressions, that you know which one is used at any given moment and that you develop your interpretations.
Method 1 of 3: Learn the 7 Main Types of Facial Expressions
Step 1. Think about the relationship between emotions and expressions
Charles Darwin (1872) was the first to suggest that the facial expressions of certain emotions were universal. The studies carried out in his time were not concluded; however, research continued and in the 1960s Silvan Tomkins conducted the first study to show that facial expressions are actually associated with certain emotional states.
Studies show that emotions happen spontaneously. Congenitally, people who cannot see produce the same facial expressions as people who can. In addition, facial expressions are considered as something typical of the human being, but they have also been observed in primates, especially chimpanzees
Step 2. Learn to identify joy
A face that expresses happiness or joy includes a smile (the corners of the mouth will be up and back) with some exposed teeth and a wrinkle that extends from the nose to the outer corners of the lips. The cheeks are raised and the lower eyelids are tight or wrinkled.
A smiling face that does not involve the eye muscles means that it is a fake smile or a smile that is given out of commitment, and it is not really joy or happiness
Step 3. Identify sadness
A sad face has the eyebrows drawn in and up, the skin under the eyebrows forms a triangle with the inner corner, and the corners of the lips are down. The jaw rises and the lower lip pouts.
Studies claim that this emotion is the hardest to fake
Step 4. Learn to identify contempt
A face that shows contempt or hatred has a raised corner of the mouth, like a kind of half smile, which is actually contempt.
Step 5. Identify the dislike
A face indicating displeasure has the eyebrows down, but the lower eyelid is raised (this causes the eyes to narrow). The cheeks are lifted and the nose wrinkled. The lower lip also rises or curves upward.
Step 6. Identify the surprise
A surprised face features raised and arched eyebrows. The skin under the brow is stretched, and horizontal wrinkles appear on the forehead. The eyelids are so open that the white of the eye shows above or below the pupils. The jaw drops and the teeth are ajar, but there is no tension or stretching in the mouth.
Step 7. Identify the fear
A scared face shows raised eyebrows, which are usually flatter, not curved. There are wrinkles only in the center of the forehead, between the eyebrows. The upper eyelids lift, the lower eyelids also and even tighten. Usually the white part shows up on the upper eyelid, not the lower one. The lips may be tight, the mouth may be open, and the nostrils may be flared.
Step 8. Identify the anger
An angry face will show the eyebrows down and united. The eyes are staring and penetrating with vertical lines appearing between the eyebrows, and the lower lids are tight. The nostrils may be flared. The mouth firmly presses the corners of the lips that may be downward or square, as if the person were screaming. Also, the lower jaw sticks out.
Method 2 of 3: Identify When Expressions Are Used
Step 1. Identify a macro expression
A macro expression is when a gesture is made that goes along with a feeling and lasts for 4 or 5 seconds. Usually it involves the entire face.
- These types of expressions are shown when a person is alone or is with a close family member or friend. They last longer than macro expressions because the person is comfortable in their environment and does not have the need to hide their emotions.
- Macro expressions are relatively easy to see if you know what to look for in a person.
Step 2. Identify a micro expression
A micro expression is a shortened version of an emotional facial emotion. They show up on the face in a fraction of a second, sometimes 1/30 of a second. They come so fast that if you blink, you can miss them.
- Micro expressions are usually a sign of hidden emotions. Sometimes emotions are not hidden on purpose, but are processed quickly
- Research suggests that micro expressions occur because facial expressions cannot be completely voluntarily controlled, even if the person wants to control their emotions. There are two neural pathways in the brain that regulate facial expressions and these go into a kind of "tug of war" with the face when someone is in an intensely emotional situation, but tries to hide their feelings.
Step 3. Start looking for these expressions in others
Being able to read facial expressions benefits people from various professions, especially those who work with the public; for example, health professionals, teachers, researchers, business professionals or anyone interested in improving their interpersonal relationships.
When you strike up a conversation with someone, try to establish a baseline of their face. The baseline is the neutral muscular facial activity, when almost nothing is felt or there are no emotions. Then, throughout the conversation, look for macro or micro expressions and see if they match what the person is saying
Method 3 of 3: Develop Your Interpretations
Step 1. Confirm your observations carefully
Keep in mind that being able to read facial expressions does not necessarily reveal the cause of the emotion, it only shows that the emotion can occur at that moment.
- Don't make assumptions or ask questions based on what you assume. You can ask "do you want to talk more about that?" if you suspect someone is hiding their emotions.
- Asking "Are you upset?" or "are you sad?" A person you don't know very well or someone with whom you have a professional relationship can be very invasive and can upset or aggravate the person. Make sure the other person is comfortable with you before asking questions about their emotions.
- If you know the other person well, it may be fun and helpful to ask them directly about their feelings if you are suspicious about an emotion, it can be a type of play. First, you should tell him that you are learning to read facial expressions and that it would be helpful to practice with him or her from time to time.
Step 2. Be patient
Being able to read facial expressions does not give you authority over the feelings of others, and you should not assume that you know exactly how they feel without having a conversation first.
- If a person has received bad news (they were not promoted to the position they expected), you may not want to ask them "are you upset?" just because you identified a micro expression of anger. Saying "I'm willing to talk about this anytime you want" would be a much better response if you suspect that the other person is upset.
- Give people time to express their feelings when they are ready. People have different ways of communicating. If you think that a person feels a certain way, it does not mean that they are necessarily willing to talk about it with you.
Step 3. Don't assume someone is lying
If someone's micro expression contradicts what that person says, they may be lying. People tend to get emotional when they lie for a number of reasons: out of fear of being discovered, out of embarrassment, or even because they enjoy lying about something they want to avoid.
- Unless you are a professional trained in detecting lies, such as a law enforcement officer, assuming that a person is lying and then acting on that assumption can damage your relationship with that person.
- People who work in law enforcement, such as the FBI and CIA, usually spend years learning to read people's body language, not just their facial expressions, but their voices, their gestures, their gaze, and their postures. Always be careful when reading facial expressions, unless you are a professional.
Step 4. Look for definitive signs of the lie
While you can't just rely on facial expressions to know for sure if someone is lying, there are other signs that generally expose the lie, and if they occur alongside inconsistent facial expressions, it is possible that someone is hiding the truth. The other signs are as follows:
- Suddenly shaking or tilting the head
- Increased shallow breathing
- Extreme stiffness
- Repetition (repeating certain words or certain phrases)
- Overcompensating (giving too much information)
- Covering the mouth or other vulnerable area such as the throat, chest, or abdomen
- Drag the feet
- Difficulty speaking
- Abnormal eye contact (either no eye contact, rapid blinking, or prolonged eye contact without breathing
Did you know?
Disabilities like autism and ADHD can affect your body language, habits, and skills. Some of the “lie signals” included here are normal behaviors for people with some disabilities. Take into account their referential behavior.
Step 5. Keep cultural differences in mind
While facial expressions are considered the "universal language of emotions," cultures can interpret facial expressions of happiness, sadness, or anger in unique ways.