February 16, 2023 10:55 am

Psychology Element

The human face has 43 muscles. Those muscles move in a wide variety of ways to signal a person’s emotional states and provide us with clues about their inner lives. Being able to recognize people’s emotions by assessing their facial expressions is an important part of our everyday social lives.

Human faces are like complex roadmaps. They can convey an array of emotions, which all of us are sometimes required to decipher without people explicitly telling what or how they feel.

This insight into other people’s emotional lives is one of the crucial elements of interpersonal communication, which would be impossible without the ability to “read” people’s emotional states through three kinds of facial expressions: macroexpressions, microexpressions, and subtle expressions.

Macroexpressions occur when there is a single underlying emotion and there is no need to hide or modify it. These facial expressions involve the entire face, last about 0.5 to 4 seconds, and are typically displayed when we are comfortable alone or with close family and friends.

They tend to match the content and tone of what is being said and are easily observable if a person is aware of what they are looking for. People often use macroexpressions when they are attempting to get you to acknowledge and react to their emotional state.

Microexpressions are involuntary facial expressions that can represent either concealed emotions or rapidly processed, but unconcealed emotional states. They last a fraction of a second and can go on and off a face, often completely unnoticed by other people.

You know that “gut feeling” you sometimes get by looking at a person? That can sometimes be a product of subconsciously picking up on fleeting microexpressions, which can reveal something about a person’s true feelings about what they are saying or experiencing. They are often considered the key to understanding people’s emotional lives.

Subtle expressions happen when we are just starting to feel an emotion or when our emotional response to our environment is of low intensity. They are not connected to the time emotion moves on and off the face, but rather with the intensity of the emotion itself. They may only contain pieces of a full emotion, but they may also be the key to discovering deception.

Now, let’s take a look at the universal facial expressions of emotional states people can experience. Psychological studies that were conducted cross-culturally indicate there are seven of these emotions: fear, contempt, anger, disgust, joy, sadness, and surprise. These emotions produce different kinds of microexpressions that we are going to be exploring in detail here. This knowledge can help you become better equipped to assess other people’s emotions, which can have tremendous advantages in your own social life.

1. Fear is an emotion we experience when we perceive or believe to perceive a potential physical, psychological or emotional threat. Fear can be decreased or intensified depending on our assessment of whether the threat can be neutralized or at least minimized. This emotion can range from trepidation, through nervousness, anxiety, dread, desperation, panic, horror, to terror. So, how can you recognize fear through facial microexpression? Here are the signs a person is experiencing fear:

·        Eyebrows are raised and drawn together, usually in a flat line

·        Wrinkles in the forehead are positioned between the eyebrows, not in the center of the forehead

·        Upper eyelid is raised, but the lower lid is drawn up and tense

·        Upper white is showing in the eyes, but not the lower white

·        Mouth is open and lips are slightly tensed or stretched and drawn back

There is a purpose for these particular signs that fear microexpression is comprised of. Eyes are wide open to increase our field of view, which makes us more aware of potential threats lurking around. Our mouth open to prepare us for two things:

a) the potential need to scream if we assess that we are in real danger,.

b) to allow us to inhale a large amount of oxygen that we need if we are going to run away or fight the threat.

2. Contempt is a feeling of dislike for and superiority (usually moral) over a person, group of people and/or their actions. It usually serves the purpose of demonstrating status or power, which is typically experienced by people who are uncertain about their rank position. It can be boiled down to this sentiment: “I am above you and you are below me.” This emotion is followed by microexpression that includes one sign: one side of the mouth is raised.

According to many psychologists, contempt is a really bad sign and a very good predictor of a divorce when it happens in a relationship in either of the partners. But there is an upside – this emotion can be turned around if a couple is able to make up successfully.

You can watch this article if you prefer watching instead.

3. Anger, as we all know, is not a very particularly bright feeling. It occurs when we are blocked from pursuing our goal or when we are being treated unfairly. This emotion can be potentially dangerous and can lead to violence, which makes the process of recognizing it that much more important. Anger microexpression consists of:

·        The eyebrows are lowered and drawn together

·        Vertical lines appear between the eyebrows

·        Lower lip is tensed

·        Eyes are in hard stare or bulging

·        Lips can be either pressed firmly together with corners down or in a square shape

·        Nostrils may be dilated

·        The lower jaw is protruded

Studies have shown that anger microexpression can be perceived as dominance, but is the least socially desirable negative emotion. Also, anger is one the easiest emotions to detect on a person’s face because that quickness in detection can help us escape potential harm.

4. Disgust is an emotion that is characterized by an intense feeling of repulsion and is usually a reaction to something we can feel with our senses, by the actions and appearance of people or even to ideas. Its microexpression includes:

·        Eyes are narrowed

·        Upper lip is raised

·        Upper teeth may be exposed

·        Nose is wrinkled

·        Cheeks are raised

And here’s another interesting fact for you. Disgust has the largest negative impact on sexual arousal. So, if you want to be attractive, avoid disgust at all costs.

5. Joy is something we all think we want to feel. It is an emotion of deep happiness, contentment and harmony. Its microexpression is comprised of the following signs:

·        Corners of the lips are drawn and backed up

·        Mouth may or may not be parted and teeth exposed

·        A wrinkle runs from outer nose to outer lip

·        Cheeks are raised

·        Lower eyelid may show wrinkles or be tense

·        Crow’s feet near the outside of the eyes

You can usually tell fake happiness from real happiness by the joy microexpression. When side eye muscles are not engaged, people are faking happiness. True happiness is characterized by something called the Duchenne smile which comes from a place of true joy. It can be distinguished from the fake smile by the engagement of the muscle that creates crow’s feet wrinkles around the eyes.

6. Sadness is emotional pain we experience when we are overwhelmed by feelings of disappointment, grief, hopelessness, disinterest or dampened mood. This emotion is microexpressed by:

·        Inner corners of the eyebrows are drawn in an then up

·        Skin below the eyebrows is triangulated, with inner corner up

·        Corner of the lips are drawn down

·        Jaw comes up

·        Lower lip pouts out

Sadness is one of the hardest microexpressions to fake because there are no noticeable signs like there is a smile with happiness. That is also why it is the hardest emotion to detect.

7. Surprise is usually a brief emotional state a person experiences when something sudden or unexpected happens. Surprise microexpression is comprised of:

·        The eyebrows are raised and curved

·        Skin below the brow is stretched

·        Horizontal wrinkles show across the forehead

·        Eyelids are opened, white of the eye showing above and below

·        Jaw drops open and teeth are parted, but there is no tension or stretching of the mouth

And here’s another interesting fact for you. When someone is attracted to you, you may notice the so-called “eyebrow flash” – the look someone gives you with a brief eyebrow raise.

Those were the seven basic emotional states and their accompanying microexpressions – you can use this knowledge to increase your social competence and better read people and their emotions, which is extremely useful, even necessary. 

About the Author

Psychology Element helps you to understand your own psychology, your relationships, and various mental disorders.

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