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Summary of “The Naked Face, Annals of Psychology” – Article from The New Yorker

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Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department’s own, John Yarbrough pulled over a sports car at 2 in the morning in an area of Los Angeles known for drunk drivers, guns, and dope. A man jumped out of the Passenger side pointing the gun at Yarbrough, yet something told him not to annihilate the suspect.

Years later, Yarbrough worked with psychologists to help train Police officers. They had a series of videotape tests of people lying and telling the truth, talking about general subjects. They gave the tests to the FBI, CIA, DEA, etc. Most of them scored about fifty percent. They would have done the same had they just guessed. Among others though, John Yarbrough did exceptionally well, which suggests that his hunch was something more, and that something in the man’s face told him not to shoot.

We all read faces to determine whether or not someone is telling the truth. There are different facial expressions that indicate a person’s true feelings. Paul Ekman began to research these facial expressions in the nineteen-sixties, and realised that no one knew the answers to his questions. He decided to travel around the world studying the facial expressions of different cultures. His research showed him that facial expressions were universal products of evolution, and they weren’t learned through culture. Ekman then assembled a videotape library of people’s faces and studied them until he could pick up the slightest flicker of emotion.

Ekman and Friesen went through medical textbooks that outline the muscles in the face, and figured out all of the different movements that the face could make. They documented 10,000 configurations of 5 muscles. It took seven years, and most of the configurations mean nothing, but 3,000 of them do. Ekman and Friesen eventually assembled all of the different facial combinations humanly possible into a 500-page binder. They called it the Facial Action Coding System, or FACS. This system takes weeks to master, but those who have mastered it will never look at a face the same again.

Quick flashes of emotion that are barely visible to the untrained eye are called micro-expressions, and these are made involuntarily. What Ekman and Friesen also discovered is that just by mimicking the facial patterns of an emotion, they actually make themselves sad, or angry in the process.

People can be taught easily to read micro-expressions, and learn FACS. This tells us that we can all, with the proper training be face-readers. Those who have mastered face reading become obsessed with their ability to glean information from facial expressions, and are never satisfied with their level of expertise. The rest of the population doesn’t do well at reading faces because they don’t feel the need to.

I think this article was very informational and easy to read. This article makes me want to look further into face reading and human emotions. It was long, but kept me interested through to the end.

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