Faces hold valuable clues to our inner emotions and motivation. Wouldn’t you love to be a mind reader? The clues are all there for everyone to see, but most people don’t notice. Most people don’t pay attention to those small facial movements, those fleeting looks, those involuntary expressions which give away our true thoughts and feelings.
When I am coaching someone, I quite often see quick looks on people’s faces, small twitches, eye movements etc. Using NLP, you learn that eye movement can convey thought processes and often you can watch as someone has internal dialogue with themselves, thinks back on the past and imagines the future. My mind was blown away with Malcolm Gladwell’s book “Blink“. He introduced me to a Psychologist called Paul Ekman and then shortly afterwards, Sky had a programme called “Lie to me” which is all based on Eckman’s work. Now before I can start talking about Ekman, I really need to begin with Charles Darwin.
Charles Darwin said “I have no great quickness of apprehension or wit…my power to follow a long and purely abstract train of thought is very limited… (But) I am superior to the common run of men in noticing things which easily escape attention, and in observing them carefully.”
In 1872 Charles Darwin published a book called “The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals”. It was an instant bestseller, probably based on the success of his “Origins of Species”, but it met with quite a lot of resistance. He included animals. Did animals have emotions and were their expressions like those of humans? He also claimed a very radical thought for the time, that facial expressions are universal, he believed very strongly in the “unity of mankind”. This was the book that initiated the study of human behaviour, possibly the first book of psychology. He was the first person to show people photographs and ask them what emotion they saw. He noticed small changes that showed the difference between anger and love, disgust and shame, grief and horror. And yet for almost 90 years, his book was largely forgotten about.
Let’s fast forward to the 1960’s to a man called Paul Ekman. Paul Ekman was interested in studying faces. He wanted to know where there was a common set of rules that govern the facial expressions that human being made. The conventional thought in psychology at that time was that expressions were culturally determined. In other words, he wanted to know if expressions were learnt or innate. So he set off around the world with a set of photographs of men and women showing different expressions. He travelled to Japan, Brazil, and Argentina and into the jungles of the Far East and guess what?!! Everyone agreed what the expressions meant.
He realised that he needed to unpack the face and together with Wallace Friesen, they looked at all the facial muscles and logged all the possible expressions made with 5 muscles group, over 10 000 combinations. This exercise took 7 years and caused a fair amount of pain, if they could move the muscle voluntarily, they went to someone who injected the muscle with an electrically stimulate the muscle. A lot of the combinations were meaningless, but they ended up with 3000 recognisable emotions. They called the rules for reading and interpreting them the FACIAL ACTION CODING SYSTEM or FACS
One interesting thing that emerged during the seven years that it is impossible to make an expression without feeling the emotion, the expression generates the same physiological changes that the emotion does, e.g. anger, anguish Some expression had both Ekman and Friesen feeling dreadful.
So not only can you read what is going on in someone’s mind, but by recreating the face you get the emotions
Another study in Germany has backed up this finding; they showed two groups of people the same cartoons. The first group had to watch them with a pencil between their teeth (and enforced smile) and the second group had to hold the pencil between their lips (so they couldn’t smile). Guess which group found the cartoons significantly more funny?
Now you may be asking what has all of this to do with Shrek?
Well, FACS has become very useful for a large number groups including psychiatrist and law enforcement officers as well as computer animators at Pixar (Toy Story) and DreamWorks, yes you guessed it, Shrek. Did you every wonder how animation had got to be so good? We can relate to the cartoon figures such as Shrek, because we recognise the human emotion signals that they are displaying.
So next time you find yourself empathising with a cartoon think of Darwin and Paul Ekman.