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Today's Big Idea: Micro Expression

The Big Idea for Saturday, September 29, 2012

There is a national epidemic of lying, James Stewart, author of Tangled Webs: How American Society is Drowning in Lies told Big Think. Stewart was referring to public figures such as Martha Stewart, Bernie Madoff, Scooter Libby and Barry Bonds whose lies, Stewart argued, had cost society. 

And yet, psychological research tells us that we all lie constantly -- on average twice a day. Worse yet, we lie to loved ones the most. Indeed, lying is very much a condition of life. What matters is that we catch the lies that are the most harmful ones, or that society cares the most about.

Psychologist Paul Ekman has devised a tool to spot lying, based on his groundbreaking research into facial expressions, or what he calls micro expressions. It turns out that we are hard-wired to express universal emotions on our faces because there is an evolutionary advantage: when we need to make rapid decisions our body has a way of generating emotions before we have time to think them. 

So how might Ekman's tool be used effectively in the 21st century context. To catch criminals and terrorists in a lie is one area. And yet, on the other hand, what will it mean when computers become really good at recognizing the emotions expressed on our faces? That will require us to sharpen the distinction between what is a white lie and what is a bad lie. 


  1. 1 Lie to Me: The Biological Basis of Emotion
    Daniel Honan Think Tank
  2. 2 Emotional Cognition and Philosophy of the Mind
    Tim Maudlin
  3. 3 New Software Reads Human Emotion Better than Humans
    Orion Jones IdeaFeed
  4. 4 How Our Brains Feel Emotion
    Antonio Damasio

Today's Big Idea: Micro Exp...

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