A fascinating exploration of how we interpret and experience emotions-and how we can improve our emotional skills-by a pioneering psychologist
A renowned expert in nonverbal communication, Paul Ekman has led a revolution in our scientific understanding of emotions. Now he assembles his pathbreaking research and theories in a comprehensive look at human emotional life.
Emotions Revealed explores the evolutionary essence of anger, sadness, fear, surprise, disgust, contempt, and happiness. Drawing on his fieldwork investigating universal facial expressions in Papua New Guinea and his analysis of the prognosis of hospital patients based on their emotional profile, Ekman shows that emotions are deeply imbedded in the human species. In the process, he answers such questions as: What triggers emotions and can we stop them? How does our body signal to others whether we are slightly sad or anguished, peeved or enraged? Can we learn to distinguish between a polite smile and the genuine thing?
Unique exercises and photographs help readers identify emotions in themselves and others. Emotions Revealed is a practical, mind-opening, and potentially life-changing exploration of science and self.
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A world-renowned expert on facial expression, emotion, and deception, Paul Ekman, Ph.D., is a professor of psychology at the University of California Medical School in San Francisco and a frequent adviser to police, antiterrorism groups, and the animation studio Pixar. He is the author of fourteen books, including Telling Lies. He lives in San Francisco.
Chelsea Thomas was born with Möbius syndrome, in which a nerve that transmits commands from the brain to the facial muscles is missing. As a result, for her first seven years Chelsea looked perpetually grumpy. Then surgeons transplanted nerves from Chelsea's leg to both sides of her mouth, and today Chelsea can do what most people in the world take for granted. She can smile. Meanwhile, thousands of adults are botoxing the nerves that allow them to frown. Actors who do so cannot convey anger or fear, and some botoxed mothers complain that their children no longer take their admonitions seriously, accompanied as they are by the mothers' bland expressions. Paul Ekman would not be surprised. He has been studying facial expression of emotions for some 30 years, in the noble tradition of Aristotle, who first observed the characteristic facial expressions of anger, fear "and all the other passions," and Charles Darwin, who added an evolutionary explanation. Darwin's theory of the universality of emotional expression was unpopular in the 1960s, when Ekman began his research. It was the era of the tabula rasa in social science; Ekman was to emotion what Harry Harlow was to love, swimming against the academic tides. As a graduate student at the time, I was in that tide up to my neck, and I remember how vehemently psychologists protested the idea that any aspect of human behavior might have a hardwired element. Facial expressions? Clearly cultural. Don't the Japanese coolly suppress any sign of emotion, and don't the Italians exuberantly reveal theirs? Over the next decades, Ekman and his colleagues gathered evidence of the universality of seven facial expressions of emotion: anger, happiness, fear, surprise, disgust, sadness and contempt. In every culture they studied--in Japan, throughout Europe and the U.S., and among the nonliterate Fore of New Guinea--a large majority could recognize the basic emotional expressions portrayed by people in other cultures, and others could recognize theirs. Yet, as Ekman also showed, cultures do differ widely in the "display rules" of emotional expression. Certain emotions are universal, hardwired into facial expressions and the brain; however, emotional expressions are culture-specific. People smile or display anger for many reasons, and they don't reveal these emotions when such displays would be considered rude or inappropriate. Ekman and his collaborator Wallace Friesen created a coding system that identifies each of the nearly 80 muscles of the face, as well as the thousands of combinations of muscles associated with various emotions. (Ekman can do all of them himself.) When people try to hide their feelings or "put on" an emotion, Ekman found, they use different groups of muscles than they do for authentic feelings. For example, authentic smiles of joy involve the muscles surrounding the eyes; false or social smiles bypass the eyes completely. In Emotions Revealed, Ekman, who is a professor of psychology at the University of California at San Francisco, beautifully interweaves his research with anecdotes, recommendations, and the behind-the-scenes flubs, accidental discoveries and debates that never make their way into published articles but that are the essence of scientific inquiry. He reviews what is known about the triggers, automatic and learned, that set off an emotion and how we might learn to manage or even get rid of them. He then examines five emotions in detail: sadness, anger, fear, disgust and contempt, and the "enjoyable emotions." I was charmed to find naches on the list (the Yiddish word--it rhymes with "Loch Ness"--for the pleasure and pride that "parents feel when their child accomplishes something important"), along with "wonder," defined in terms of "its rarity and the feeling of being overwhelmed by something incomprehensible." Because of Ekman's emphasis on the universality of emotions, especially those written on the face, readers will not learn much about the raging debate about emotions that do not necessarily have particular facial expressions, such as pride, envy, jealousy, compassion, and romantic or parental love (Ekman does not consider these to be "emotions," although other researchers do). Nor will readers learn much about the origins of emotion blends (such as naches, wonder, longing, the feeling of "bittersweet," and schadenfreude), which are more varied across cultures and individuals and which appear to be uniquely human, involving as they do higher cognitive processes. Readers will enjoy seeing the many facial expressions of Ekman's favorite photographic subject, his daughter, Eve, who must have received ample compensation in fatherly naches for her ability to isolate and vary her facial muscles to reveal each basic emotion. These photographs serve brilliantly for scientific research, but whether they will help readers become better at accurately detecting another's emotion is doubtful. As research by others in this field has shown, when we read another's emotion, we do so through the filters and blinders of culture, the immediate situation, status, our own history, and degree of familiarity with the target. The face reveals, and the face lies. And as Ekman himself once observed, we wouldn't want it otherwise.
Carol Tavris, a social psychologist, is author of Anger: The Misunderstood Emotion (Touchstone Books, 1989).
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