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Are Micro-Expressions the Universal Language?

October 27, 2016

While it's true there is not a universally spoken language, there is a language which transcends borders and cultures. Micro-expressions are facial expressions flashed for a fraction of a second which can reveal how a person is feeling, despite what they're saying.

In the hit television series Lie To Me, the main characters specialize in identifying micro-expressions and assist various groups in detecting truthfulness. While yes it is just a television show, the principles are founded on real science. Dr. Paul Ekman is the pre-eminent psychologist and co-discoverer of micro-expressions. He has been named one of the 100 most influential people in the world by Time Magazine and is ranked fifteenth among the most influential psychologists of the 21st century. His work in nonverbal behavior has been ground breaking, starting in the late 1950's. In the late 1960's, Dr. Ekman traveled to Papua New Guinea for an immersive study involving the Fore people. This isolated Stone Age culture provided the perfect setting to help prove that facial expressions in communication are evolutionally based and universal.

Today, micro-expression training is used by many of the Fortune 500 companies as well as law enforcement agencies. It has been shown to improve emotional intelligence and enables people to make better decisions when dealing with others. For example, when brokering a large sale for the company, the employee in charge of the deal may be able to discover the best price the buyer is looking for while overcoming hidden objections. In law enforcement, micro-expression training is paramount in investigations and interviews of witnesses and suspects. Often polygraph machines can give false positive results whereas thorough psychological training can find the correct answer more quickly.

If you have any interest at all in languages, communication, or psychology, we highly recommend reading up on this fascinating line of science. Even if it's just for entertainment value, you'll soon discover yourself studying people's faces more closely and may be surprised at what you find.

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