Friday, May 22, 2009

Reading Faces: Emotions Revealed, by Paul Ekman

All of us, whether on the autism spectrum or not, could do a better job of reading each other’s emotions. One obvious way is to look at facial expressions. And the expert on facial expression is Dr. Paul Ekman, a psychologist and author who has devoted his career to understanding how humans in many cultures express emotions . Ekman spent 8 years developing a facial expression coding system and studying how we express common emotions like anger, fear, sadness, happiness, surprise and disgust. He’s worked with everyone from police departments to the Dalai Lama, and is one of Time magazine’s 100 most influential people of 2009. The Fox TV show Lie to Me is based on Ekman’s work.
One of the most interesting things about Ekman’s work is that these skills can be learned. In “Emotions Revealed” Ekman uses detailed pictures of his daughter making tiny changes to her face, and explains how this results in vast differences in expression. This is backed up with news photos of people expressing the same emotions. Ekman explains how we can even generate emotions in ourselves just by moving our facial muscles. The back of the book gives a quiz on reading facial expressions, which Ekman suggests taking both before and after reading the book.
You can find more info on Paul Ekman, including extensive interviews with him, on his website.