Paul Ekman
Psychologist
04:01

Paul Ekman: Outsmart Evolution and Master Your Emotions

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Renowned psychologist and emotion-guru Paul Ekman describes how introducing conscious awareness to facial expressions can help one override and control their emotions.

Paul Ekman

Paul Ekman is the Manager of the Paul Ekman Group, LLC (PEG), a small company that produces training devices relevant to emotional skills, and is initiating new research relevant to national security and law enforcement.

His research on facial expression and body movement began in 1954, as the subject of his Master’s thesis in 1955 and his first publication in 1957. In his early work, his approach to nonverbal behavior showed his training in personality. Over the next decade, a social psychological and cross-cultural emphasis characterized his work, with a growing interest in an evolutionary and semiotic frame of reference. In addition to his basic research on emotion and its expression, he has, for the last thirty years, also been studying deceit.

In 1971, he received a Research Scientist Award from the National Institute of Mental Health; that Award has been renewed in 1976, 1981, 1987, 1991, and 1997. His research was supported by fellowships, grants and awards from the National Institute of Mental Health for over forty years.

Articles reporting on Dr. Ekman’s work have appeared in Time Magazine, Smithsonian Magazine, Psychology Today, The New Yorker and others, both American and foreign. Numerous articles about his work have also appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post and other national newspapers.

He has appeared on 48 Hours, Dateline, Good Morning America, 20/20, Larry King, Oprah, Johnny Carson and many other TV programs. He has also been featured on various public television programs such as News Hour with Jim Lehrer, and Bill Moyers’ The Truth About Lying.

Ekman is co-author of Emotion in the Human Face (1971), Unmasking the Face (1975), Facial Action Coding System (1978), editor of Darwin and Facial Expression (1973), co-editor of Handbook of Methods in Nonverbal Behavior Research (1982), Approaches to Emotion (1984), The Nature of Emotion (1994), What the Face Reveals (1997), and author of Face of Man (1980), Telling Lies (1985, paperback, 1986, second edition, 1992, third edition, 2001, 4th edition 2008), Why Kids Lie (1989, paperback 1991), Emotions Revealed, (2003), New Edition (2009) Telling Lies, Dalai Lama-Emotional Awareness (2008) and New Edition Emotions Revealed (2007)  .  He is the editor of the third edition (1998) and the fourth edition (2009) of Charles Darwin’s The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals (1998). He has published more than 100 articles.

Transcript

Paul Ekman:  One of the most amazing discoveries, it completely surprised me, and that's what I like most in research is when you learn something you didn't you were going to learn. That's very different from research where you prove something you think you already know. You have to do that too 'cause maybe you were wrong, but when you discover something you didn't expect, that's really exciting.

And what we discovered, published this more than 20 years ago, made the front page of the New York Times. We didn't kill anybody. What it did was show that if you put on your face one of the universal expressions you will turn on the physiology of emotion. You will begin to experience that emotion. So the face is not simply a display system that tells you what's happening inside me. I can self generate any emotion by making the movements on my face. 

Now some of them are harder to make than others, and wouldn't you know it the one that's the hardest to make is the one that turns on enjoyment 'cause a smile alone won't do it. You have to be able to activate one of the muscles around the eyes and only about ten percent of the people we've tested can do it.

We are just beginning to use this discovery of how you can self generate emotion to teach people how to become more aware of what they're feeling at the moment they feel it. Because it is my belief -- and I want to underline the word belief 'cause I can't prove this -- it's my belief that the way in which emotions evolved it was to deal with things like saber-toothed tigers. The current incarnation of which is the car that's suddenly lurching at your car at a high speed.

You don't have time to think. You have to do and make very complex decisions, think of what you do to avoid that car you make split seconds estimates of speed and angle and what you need to do with your feet and your hands. And if you had to think about what you were doing, you'd be dead. So it's a system that evolved to deal with really important things without your thinking about it.

So that means that sometimes you're going to be very inconsiderate, very thoughtless, sometimes your emotions aren't going to fit the situation and you're not even going to know it until someone says to you, "What are you getting so upset about?" And you think, "Oh, my God. That's right. I'm really afraid. I don't know why. Maybe I shouldn't. Maybe I misunderstood the situation."

Well these exercises that we're giving people -- moving their facial muscles, concentrating on the sensations that they then experience to make them more aware of an emotion when it arises, so that they will feel it at the moment and then can say, "Did you really mean to ignore me when she put the toast on the table? No. That was just an accident. Or maybe I shouldn't jump to the conclusion that she doesn't care about me at all. And why doesn't she care about me?" That whole business, it takes the way in which we can improve our emotional life is to introduce conscious awareness into the process and that will take practice and nature did not want you to do that so you have to do it yourself.

Directed / Produced by Jonathan Fowler and Elizabeth Rodd

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