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Ekman translates his research into a practical, mind-opening guide to reading the emotions of those around us. He explains what triggers emotions and whether we can control them; shows how our body signals to others whether we are slightly sad or truly anguished, peeved or enraged; and teaches us how to distinguish between a polite smile and the genuine thing. Packed with unique exercises and photographs-and a new chapter on emotions and lying that discusses how to identify possible deceit "hot spots" in everyday life-Emotions Revealed is an indispensable resource for navigating our emotional world.
About the Author:
Paul Ekman professor emeritus of psychology at the University of California Medical School in San Francisco
1 Emotions Across Cultures
I have included in this book all that I have learned about emotion during the past forty years that I believe can be helpful in improving one's own emotional life. Most of what I have written is supported by my own scientific experiments or the research of other emotion scientists, but not everything. My own research specialty was to develop expertise in reading and measuring facial expressions of emotions. So equipped, I have been able to see — on the faces of strangers, friends, and family members — subtleties that nearly everyone else misses, and by that means I have learned a great deal more than I have yet had the time to prove through experiments. When what I write is based just on my observations, I note that by phrases such as "I have observed," "I believe," "it seems to me . . ." And when I write based on scientific experiments I cite in endnotes the specific research supporting what I say.
Much of what I have written in this book was influenced by my cross-cultural studies of facial expression. The evidence changed forever my view of psychology in general and of emotion in particular. Those findings, in places as varied as Papua New Guinea, the United States, Japan, Brazil, Argentina, Indonesia, and the former Soviet Union, led me to develop my ideas about the nature of emotion.
At the start of my research in the late 1950s, I wasn't even interested in facial expression. It was the movements of the hands that drew my interest. My method of classifying hand movements distinguished neurotic from psychotically depressed patients, and indicated how much the patients improved from treatment. In the early 1960s there wasn't even a tool for directly and precisely measuring the complex, often rapidly changing facial movements shown by the depressed patients. I had no idea where to begin, and so I didn't. Twenty-five years later, after I had developed a tool for measuring facial movement, I returned to those patient films and unearthed important findings, which I describe in chapter 5.
I don't think I would have shifted my research focus to facial expression and emotion in 1965 if it hadn't been for two strokes of luck. Through serendipity the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) of the Department of Defense gave me a grant to do cross-cultural studies of nonverbal behavior. I had not sought the grant, but because of a scandal — a research project being used to camouflage counter-insurgency activity — a major ARPA project was canceled and the money budgeted for it had to be spent during that fiscal year on overseas research, and on something noncontroversial. By accident I happened to walk into the office of the man who had to spend the funds. He was married to a woman from Thailand and was impressed by differences in their nonverbal communication. He wanted me to find out what was universal and what was culturally variable. I was reluctant at first, but I couldn't walk away from the challenge.
I began the project believing that expression and gesture were socially learned and culturally variable, and so did the initial group of people I asked for advice — Margaret Mead, Gregory Bateson, Edward Hall, Ray Birdwhistell, and Charles Osgood. I recalled that Charles Darwin had made the opposite claim, but I was so convinced that he was wrong that I didn't bother to read his book.
The second stroke of luck was meeting Silvan Tomkins. He had just written two books about emotion in which he claimed that facial expressions were innate and universal to our species, but he had no evidence to back up his claims. I don't think I would ever have read his books or met him if we hadn't both submitted articles on nonverbal behavior to the same journal at the same time — Silvan's a study of the face, mine a study of body movement.
I was very impressed with the depth and breadth of Silvan's thinking, but I thought he was probably wrong in his belief, like Darwin's, that expressions were innate and therefore universal. I was delighted that there were two sides to the argument, that it wasn't just Darwin, who had written a hundred years earlier, who opposed Mead, Bateson, Birdwhistelf, and Hall. It wasn't a dead issue. There was a real argument between famous scientists, elder statesmen; and I, at the age of thirty, had the chance, and the funding, to try to settle it once and for all: Are expressions universal, or are they, like language, specific to each culture? Irresistible! I really didn't care who proved to be correct, although I didn't think it would be Silvan.
In my first study I showed photographs to people in five cultures — Chile, Argentina, Brazil, Japan, and the United States — and asked them to judge what emotion was shown in each facial expression. The majority in every culture agreed, suggesting that expressions might really be universal. Carrol Izard, another psychologist who had been advised by Silvan, and was working in other cultures, did nearly the same experiment and got the same results. Tomkins had not told either of us about the other, something that we initially resented when we found out we were not doing this work alone, but it was better for science that two independent researchers found the same thing. It seemed that Darwin was right.
There was a problem: How could we have found that people from many different cultures agreed about what emotion was shown in an expression when so many smart people thought just the opposite? It wasn't just the travelers who claimed that the expressions of the Japanese or the Chinese or some other cultural group had very different meanings. Birdwhistell, a respected anthropologist who specialized in the study of expression and gesture (a protégé of Margaret Mead), had written that he abandoned Darwin's ideas when he found that in many cultures people smiled when they were unhappy. Birdwhistell's claim fit the — view that dominated cultural anthropology and most of psychology — anything socially important, such as emotional expressions, must be the product of learning, and therefore different in each culture.
I reconciled our findings that expressions are universal with Birdwhistell's observation of how they differ from one culture to another by coming up with the idea of display rules. These, I proposed, are socially learned, often culturally different, rules about the management of expression, about who can show which emotion to whom and when they can do so. It is why in most public sporting contests the loser doesn't show the sadness and disappointment he or she feels. Display rules are embodied in the parent's admonition — "Get that smirk off your face." These rules may dictate that we diminish, exaggerate, hide completely, or mask the expression of emotion we are feeling.
I tested this formulation in a series of studies that showed that when alone Japanese and Americans displayed the same facial expressions in response to seeing films of surgery and accidents, but when a scientist sat with them as they watched the films, the Japanese more than the Americans masked negative expressions with a smile. In private, innate expressions; in public, managed expressions. Since it is the public behavior that anthropologists and most travelers observe, I had my explanation and evidence of its operation. In contrast, symbolic gestures — such as the head nod yes, the head shake no, and the A-OK gesture — are indeed culture-specific. Here Birdwhistell, Mead, and most other behavioral scientists were right, though they were wrong about the facial expressions of emotion.
There was a loophole, and if I could see it, so might Birdwhistell and Mead, who I knew would search for any way to dismiss my findings. All the people I (and Izard) had studied might have learned the meaning of Western facial expressions by watching Charlie Chaplin and John Wayne on the movie screen and television tube. Learning from the media or having contact with people from other cultures could explain why people from different cultures had agreed about the emotions shown in my photographs of Caucasians. I needed a visually isolated culture where the people had seen no movies, no television, no magazines, and few, if any, outsiders. If they thought the same emotions were shown in my set of facial expression photographs as the people in Chile, Argentina, Brazil, Japan, and the United States, I would have it nailed.
My entry to a Stone Age culture was Carleton Gajdusek, a neurologist who had been working for more than a decade in such isolated places in the highlands of Papua New Guinea. He was trying to find the cause of a strange disease, kuru, which was killing about half the people in one of these cultures. The people believed it was due to sorcery. When I arrived on the scene, Gajdusek already knew that it was due to a slow virus, a virus that incubates for many years before any symptoms become apparent (AIDS is such a virus). He didn't yet know how it was transmitted. (It turned out to be cannibalism. These people didn't eat their enemies, who would be more likely to be in good health if they died in combat. They ate only their friends who died of some kind of disease, many of them from kuru. They didn't cook them before eating, so diseases were readily passed on. Gajdusek some years later won the Nobel Prize for the discovery of slow viruses.)
Fortunately, Gajdusek had realized that Stone Age cultures would soon disappear, so he took more than one hundred thousand feet of motion picture films of the daily lives of the people in each of two cultures. He had never looked at the films; it would have taken nearly six weeks to took just once at his films of these people. That's when I came along.
Delighted that someone had a scientific reason for wanting to examine his films, he sent me copies, and my colleague Wally Friesen and I spent six months carefully examining them. The films contained two very convincing proofs of the universality of facial expressions of emotion. First, we never saw an unfamiliar expression. If facial expressions are completely learned, then these isolated people should have shown novel expressions, ones we had never seen before. There were none.
It was still possible that these familiar expressions might be signals of very different emotions. But while the films didn't always reveal what happened before or after an expression, when they did, they confirmed our interpretations. If expressions signal different emotions in each culture, then total outsiders, with no familiarity with the culture, should not have been able to interpret the expressions correctly.
*Endnotes were omitted
Copyright © 2003 Paul Ekman