Dr. Pauil Ekman

Dr. Pauil Ekman


Humans in the 21st Century constantly interact with images and symbols. Our lives are fine tuned towards following specific patterns and making sense out of them. Conversations and encounters with other individuals in particular are jam packed with signals that are usually not noticed. Dr. Paul Ekman, a pioneer in facial expressions, was able to find seven universal expressions that crossed all cultural boundaries. They were happiness, sadness, anger, fear, surprise, contempt and disgust (Navarro & Karlins, 2008, pgs. 10-14). All emotions are based on movements of certain facial muscles and Ekman sought to create a method in which an individual could learn to read people’s faces like a human lie detector. Dr. Albert Mehrabian, a professor of Psychology, became infamous for his work on the importance of verbal and non-verbal messages. In the 1960’s he concluded in his 7-38-55 rule, to the criticism of a few, that just 7% of human communication is through the actual words, whilst 38% is through the tone of voice and 55% is through body language (Phipps, 2011, pg. 2). Humans therefore absorb more than one language whilst conversing or listening to an individual and incorporate those actions to their final interpretation of the subject at hand.  It is not what you say that matters; it is how you say it.

Key Words


Hot Spots





Micro Expressions

Micro Expressions

Cultures around the world use hand gestures that are vernacular to their area and language. This incorporates an entire different set of meaning to methods of communication and shows the close relationship humans have to non-verbal expression. Specific hand gestures can reveal a lot about a conversation to any bystander, therefore body language, to a certain extent, becomes more significant than words. Experiments conducted in Princeton and George Town University clearly portrayed how facial gestures relate to our decision process, supporting Dr. Ekman’s vast studies on facial expression. An automated facial recognition technology known as the ‘Face Reader’ built in Holland is based on Ekman’s research and is currently being used for different fields of research (Phipps, 2011, pgs. 41-43). Politicians and celebrities have become perfect examples of the effectiveness of body language since they are constantly under the spotlight. Hidden lies and truths can be revealed, especially after reviewing and analyzing video footage for micro-expressions and instances known as “hot-spots” (Ribbens & Thompson, 2001, pg.21). Even though the 7-38-55 rule implements that the tone of voice is a large factor in communication, body language remains the most significant at 55%.

Police officers in the United States are taught to pay attention to body language because it can be the difference between life and death (Navarro & Karlins, 2008, p. 15). A major part of their job is to stay aware of suspicious behaviors in order to be one step ahead of their encounters with civilians. Former F.B.I. agent Joe Navarro spoke on CNN on the benefits of body language. He stated that it can give a person an edge even in business by reading clients’ body language, “When you recruit a spy or you get someone to confess, it’s no different to making a sales pitch” (Navarro, 2010).  Navarro states that he knows when his clients are uncomfortable by noticing signs of discomfort such as eye squinting and rubbing, lip biting and interlacing fingers. These observations allow him to act on the issue and identify the existing problem. Navarro even mentions that non-verbal language “Isn’t just about body gestures- how others perceive you” (Navarro, 2010).

Dr. Eckman categorized around three thousand facial expressions that portray significant meaning that we would react to both consciously and unconsciously. Politicians today continuously attempt to better themselves on the public stage so they hire coaches to aid them in becoming better speakers, but because of the new research available on body language, they might want to change their tactics. All the candidates for parliament usually have to win our faith, respect and needs to prove that they are able to lead us before we place any vote. Students in Princeton University in 2005 and George Town University in 2008 partook in an experiment where they were asked to decide which person on the computer screen looked more competent (Navarro & Karlins, 2008, pgs. 35-36). Two portraits were shown at a time and students were given as little as half a second to make their decision. The students had no idea that the images were pictures of candidates running for senate in 2002 and 2004. A pattern emerged in both Universities where 70% of individuals chosen as more competent were in reality the people who won the most votes and got elected. Students claimed that smiles and eye contact influenced them in their decision process illustrating the power of facial expression.

A process called ‘Norming’ is used by psychologists to create a certain profile on an individual that reflects their normal everyday life behavior (Ribbens & Thompson, 2001, pg.7). When an individual’s actions step out of their ‘norm’ then experts can begin to reveal “hot spots” where facial expressions seem to be at odds with what someone is saying or inconsistent with the information given in a certain situation (Ribbens & Thompson, 2001, pg.9). These two techniques allow psychologists to decipher when something is wrong with their patient and allow a deeper insight on irregular non-verbal behaviors in individuals.

Even though we are able to recognize the seven universal emotions body language can be complex and easily misunderstood. An example of this is when President Clinton was walking with Israeli and Palestinian leaders Ehud Barak and Yasser Arafat in front of the press before peace negotiations in the 2000 Camp David summit. They were all smiles for the cameras but a power struggle was clearly visible by looking at their body language. Arafat and Barak had an almost physical fight while trying to enter through the door. It is a custom and a significant cultural impact in the Middle East to make way for someone in order for them to step through the door first. It signifies who is in control and who is really leading the way (Ribbens & Thompson, 2001, pg.53). Those watching the tussle between Arafat and Barak might have seen it as light hearted joke between the leaders, but in reality it was a power struggle and clearly depicts the in-stability between both nations. Another interesting gesture that politicians tend to take seriously is the handshake. The ‘upper-hand’ greeting focuses on the one hand that is on top of the other during a hand shake. Politicians attempt to stand on the right side of a handshake during a photograph in order to get the upper-hand and portray their dominance visually to the public (Goman, 2011, p. 41). Actions like these exhibit the extents well recognized figures take to appear more powerful, meaning non-verbal representation must be significant in the world of visual perception.

The automated facial recognition technology called “Face Reader” is based in Holland and uses the seven basic emotions that were established by Dr. Ekman. The seven basic emotions are classified by Face Reader through analyzing fifty-five points on the human face. The muscles on our face are quickly mapped out and displayed through coloured graphs. Every expression is given a value based on the level of distress, sadness, joy etc… Technology like the face reader is becoming extremely popular in other areas of study such consumer research where companies can know what foods people react best to, and marketing research to see how well people react to advertisements (Phipps, 2011, pgs. 41-43). Even airports are installing automated facial recognition technology to further increase security. It is clearly visible that non-verbal cues hide certain truths that reveal important information.


In order to portray the importance of non-verbal communication several aspects had to be tackled. Firstly, information on the history of the study had to be retrieved to understand the concepts, theories and applications. Secondly, a quantitative method was taken as statistics from experiments were used. These show the effects of non-verbal communication through a more scientific manner which enables a person to realize the real effects of facial gestures. Thirdly, a quantitative method was taken by discussing real life situations that illustrate body language. These were analyzed to see the credibility behind the study, and to empirically learn how gestures can be deciphered and applied to real life instances by politicians who are the ideal representation of big talkers.

Non-verbal expression is obviously a major contributing factor in human communication. Studies conducted have given us valuable information in understanding how to read these actions, especially the process of Norming and hot-spots which are very logical approaches. It is clear to any individual that someone who is waving their hands around and yelling is either in distress or angry, but to be able to recognize and pickup signals behind what is really happening requires practice and knowledge. Noticing micro-expressions require detailed study and is difficult to apply everyday if not an expert, but knowing that such evidence exists can give an individual the upper hand in certain situations (Phipps, 2011, pg. 34). Dr. Mehrabian’s 7-38-55 rule illustrates the significance of non-verbal expressions, but is quite farfetched in theory because it would mean no matter where someone travels in the world they won’t need to worry about language barriers which is false. Even Mehrabian stated on his website that the ratio was derived from experiments dealing with communications of feelings and attitudes (i.e., like–dislike) and that the equations are not applicable if a person is not talking about their feelings and attitudes (Mehrabian, 2003). Every person understands body language to a certain extent, but the importance of the issue is sometimes overlooked or un-known by most. The experiments conducted by Princeton and George Town Universities did not only reveal that a politicians smile can affect our decision process, but to how sensitive we are to facial expression that we can conjure snap judgments.

Communication between humans is more complex than uttering a few words as non-verbal research has shown. A large portion of what we absorb from conversations tends to be come from body and facial gestures and knowing that can help a person to become a better rounded communicator. The knowledge of non-verbal communication can help professionals from all fields of study, especially those that deal with clients on a daily basis. If an architect or Graphic Designer could pick up non-verbal cues than they would be able to create a stronger relationship in terms of customer care and needs (Phipps, 2011, pg. 34). Police officers can know when they are in danger by reading certain gestures that lead to violence in specific situations. Body language can enable an individual to be one step ahead of the rest since more information is revealed. A person would also know exactly how to behave and present themselves when around others to create a desirable and likable impression. Actions do speak louder than words.




Figure References

Best Pictures Of The Decade: The Noughties >> TotallyCoolPix. (n.d.). TotallyCoolPix. Retrieved January 27, 2013, from http://totallycoolpix.com/2010/12/best-pictures-of-the-decade-the-noughties/

CABINET // Shamefaced: An Interview with Paul Ekman. (n.d.). CABINET // Homepage. Retrieved January 27, 2013, from http://www.cabinetmagazine.org/issues/31/turner.php

Lie to Me: But I Won’t Tell You That I Caught Your Lie.   | Youth Empowerment Solutions | Corporate Training | Out Bound Training | Institutional Training Goa | Mumbai Pune Goa | Soft Skills | Students | Professional Selling Skills | Customer Relation Ski. (n.d.). Youth Empowerment Solutions | Certified Corporate Trainer India | Team Building in India | Team Building in Goa | Corporate Training in Goa | Team Building Activities Goa | Professional Selling Skills Goa | Customer Relation Skills Goa | Hospitality Sales. Retrieved January 27, 2013, from http://youthempowermentsolutions.org/node/128

The Truth Behind the Lies «  Podcasting spring 11. (n.d.).  Podcasting spring 11. Retrieved January 27, 2013, from http://ru493.wordpress.com/2011/03/23/the-truth-behind-the-lies/


CNN. (n.d.). FBI agent: How body language can boost your career – CNN.com. CNN.com International – Breaking, World, Business, Sports, Entertainment and Video News. Retrieved January 25, 2013, from http://edition.cnn.com/2009/BUSINESS/12/30/fbi.body.language/index.html

Goman, C. K. (2011). negotiations and the importance of engagement. The silent language of leaders: how body language can help-or hurt-how you lead (p. 25). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Interviews on Nonverbal Communication (Body Language) With Albert Mehrabian. (n.d.). Personality & Communication: Psychological Books & Articles of Popular Interest. Retrieved January 24, 2013, from http://www.kaaj.com/psych/NonverbalAudioCD.html

Navarro, J., & Karlins, M. (2008). What every body is saying : an ex-FBI agent’s guide to speed-reading people. New York: Harper.

Phipps, R. (2011). Body language: why what you don’t say matters at work. Chichester: Capstone.

Ribbens, G., & Thompson, R. (2001). Understanding body language. Hauppauge, NY: Barron’s.

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