Paul Ekman

Human psychology is the undiscovered field that hides a lot of secrets and mysteries. Many psychologists have been trying to analyze it discovering something new and some their attempts were truly significant. The acknowledged American psychologist, Paul Ekman, is famous for his researchers in the field of human emotions. He managed to create a great system that helps to recognize and characterize the genuine human emotions. His fundamental works serve as the interesting manuals for not only the scientists but also for average people who want to achieve success in business and family. The following paper aims to discuss and analyze the Paul`s Ekman contribution to the analysis of human emotions, discuss his brilliant ability to recognize the lie, as well as make an attempt to characterize his most significant work Telling Lies. 


Paul Ekman is the Emeritus Professor of the University of California in San Francisco, an expert in the psychology of emotions, interpersonal communication, as well as the psychology and the recognition of lies. The society also knows him as the consultant of the popular TV show Lie to Me. It is worth noting that Professor Ekman is the prototype of the protagonist, Dr. Lightman. Moreover, Paul Ekman gained the worldwide fame for his studies of nonverbal behavior, paying the special attention to the recognition of the human emotional states. The representation of his major findings can be found in any textbook on modern American social psychology. Ekman has devoted over thirty years to the study of the theory of lies, and he is considered to be the one of the best specialists in this field. The well-known politicians, entrepreneurs, executives, as well as the ministries and agencies of the US federal government, use his services. Nowadays, Paul Ekman is the head of Paul Ekman Group - a small company that is famous for developing the efficient methods and training devices in determining the human emotions and expressions. The deep understanding of Ekman`s works may help to build the successful relationship in business and personal sphere since the proper understanding of the reasons and motifs of the deeds of other people is vitally important. 

Paul Ekman was born in a Jewish family in 1934 in Washington (DC). His father was a pediatrician and mother was a lawyer. Ekman`s story “begins with an abusive father, prone to unpredictable fits of rage and violence”. Perhaps, it was the main reason the young scientist decided to learn and analyze the human emotions as the indicators of the inner human feelings. He believed that this understanding would help him to avoid the unpredictable splashes of anger of his father. This desperate need for safety has led the psychologist to the worldwide popularity and various accomplishments in the field of communication. Professor Ekman has a sister who works as a practicing psychoanalyst in New York City. Ekman spent his childhood in Newark (New Jersey), Washington (DC), Southern California and Oregon. The talented psychologist was educated at the University of Chicago and New York University. In 1958, Paul Ekman received Ph.D. at Adelphi University.  Being a student, Ekman was fond of the works and achievements of Sigmund Freud. Later, he served as the Clinical Psychology Officer in the U.S. Army where he began to create his early publications. 

The clear understanding of how the people communicate is the fundamental principle of the social psychology. Indeed, the ability to acknowledge and analyze the principles of human communication is desperately important for bettering the human existence in many aspects. In a business world, the human communication plays a crucial role; it helps to turn the little companies into the powerful giants. According to Morgan, “Miscommunications are sometimes merely irritating, but sometimes fatal.” Following the childish dream to recognize the human emotions, Ekman managed to create the Facial Action Coding System that became the first exhaustive attempt to analyze the face expressions through analysis of the muscle moves. “The system defines the contraction of individual facial muscles as so-called action units and assigns an emotional correlate to each one”.  Unfortunately, being an adult Ekman admitted that he failed to implement his childish dream to be able to read the human intentions since some emotions do not clearly explain the human thoughts and beliefs. As for another major accomplishment of the acknowledged psychologist, one should mention his studies in the field of human micro-expressions. According to Ramsland, “everyone can make the universal expressions voluntarily, but the face also has an involuntary system. Sometimes they work together, but when a person feels something that contradicts the emotion she wishes to present, the unconscious system can still leak through. For example, if the interlocutor is smiling feely, one can see his real attitude by the sneer of contempt. Once again, in a business world, it is particularly important to be able to read the hidden human emotions. Notably, Ekman`s studies became interesting for both FBI and CIA since they enabled the agents to unmask the criminal liars.

In the late 1960s, Ekman has traveled around the world, conducting his researches. He traveled to Africa, Southeast Asia, Papua New Guinea and Japan. The Professor showed the same set of images to the local residents. These images depicted the people with the various expressions of emotions. After the recognition that all the human emotions are the innate processes and are equal for all the people, he started systematizing them. In 1976, Paul Ekman and his colleague Wally Friesen decided to develop a catalog of basic expressions of the human face. They studied the scientific medical sources that described the facial muscles, and it helped them to recognize every single muscle movement and begin their experiments.

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Reproducing each action unit, they were carefully watching each other and tried to keep track of their facial movements in the mirror. They explored how the pattern of face lines changed and fixed everything on a videotape. Sometimes, when they could not reproduce the desired expression, they asked their colleague, a surgeon of the anatomical faculty of the University of California in San Francisco, to work with the particular muscle with the help of the needle and electricity. When all the action units were developed, Ekman and Friesen began to put them into various combinations. Later, they began to mix several visual actions noticing that some sets of actions characterized a particular emotion. “For example, contraction of the orbicular eye muscles accompanies every true smile”. Significantly, the whole process of study and practice has taken seven years.

Ekman`s studies allowed him to conclude that that there are only seven basic emotions: anger, sadness, contempt, disgust, fear, surprise, and joy. In ordinary life, they can be expressed both in pure form or mixed.

Analyzing the Professor`s Ekman contribution to the psychology, one should also mention his interesting studies in the field of micro-expressions. He proves that micro-expressions are the short involuntary facial expressions appearing on the face that try to hide or suppress the real emotion. Usually, they occur in not more than a quarter of a second. Indeed, the “micro-expressions, lasting about 1/25 of a second, generally require a trained eye to see”. Any person who has time and desire can learn the basic micro-expressions, and it hill help to understand the surrounding people better. According to Ekman, with the deep understanding of micro-expressions, one can recognize what emotion the individual experiences actually. Obviously, it is virtually impossible to forge and control these manifests since they are unconscious. Some private political organizations would love to employ Professor Ekman, but he refuses replying that he does not want to run a school for liars, but only for lie-catchers. The Professor wants to be useful for the present-day society. Some researchers opine that the professor has made a great contribution to the worldwide struggle against terrorism. In his article, The Art of Reading Faces and How It`s Being Used for Fight Terrorism, Frost analyzes the Ekman`s contribution to the worldwide struggle against terrorism. Frost calls Ekman a warrior who fight fiercely for the peace in the world. Also, Ekman has helped the parents to bring up their children as the truth-tellers. Having researched a lot on his topic, Ekman knows pretty well that sometimes, people just do not want to recognize the truth. “Many people simply want to believe what they are being told, even if they really know better. Who wants to find out that your spouse is being unfaithful with your best friend?”.

The dogma according to which the people's faces reflect all the inner feelings helped Paul Ekman to succeed in the sphere of determining the human lies. Perhaps, if the person knows how to recognize the common emotions, he or she finds it easy not only to determine the lies but also predict what action the person can take in the future. Ekman`s most famous work Telling Lies is a particularly interesting and beneficial book in terms of determining the human lies. As the title suggests, the book is totally dedicated to the issues connected with human lie. The renowned expert answers a lot of questions about the deception strategies of the well-known people as well as the private individuals. Providing the cases of the adulterers and criminals as the examples, doctor Ekman proves that the lie can have many forms and expressions. With the help of painstaking and careful studies, Ekman provides the clues to deceit in Politics, Marketplace and even in marriage. From the pages of his book, Dr. Ekman states that the guilt can be recognized facially without the help of polygraph and other means. The author points out that if the person wants to detect the deception, he should not look for the wrong things or listen to the deceitful speech. As for the key theses of the book, the following ones should be mentioned:

  1. Such emotions as fear, anger, disgust, happiness, excitement, distress, contempt and some others are common for all the cultures; this is also an Ekman`s anti-racist slogan that proves that all the people are equal;
  2. Each case should be analyzed taking the context into account. Each individual has the close ties with the social environment that determines his actions;
  3. The deception detection is the quite simple task for those who is familiar with a usual liar`s behavior and can detect the deviations easily;
  4. People should avoid the “Othello errors” and accuse somebody in a deception without the profound reason. Indeed, some people touch themselves or try to fix their closing just because they feel uncomfortable in a hostile environment. 

The core idea of the book is that the people always lie: from breaking the law to breaking the promises. The proper understanding of the key signs will help to avoid the miscommunication and other serious problems. Telling Lies analyzes how the human lie may vary according to the language, facial expressions, and voice. Unlike other similar books, Telling Lies does not provide the reader with the techniques that do not work. This book is the amazing manual that consists of many tips useful in the world of human emotions and feelings. Telling Lies is written in a simple and accessible manner; it is filled with interesting facts and incidents from the life, and also contains many practical recommendations. Besides, the book is filled with various images that help to recognize the most widely used human emotions and facial expressions. As well as many other interesting Ekman`s works, Telling Lies allows the reader to understand himself better answering the questions:  what moves his decisions, what emotions dominate in his life and how they affect it. The book also teaches how to avoid committing the mistakes and move forward to the new victories and achievements both at home and work.

For his contribution to the psychology, Ekman received multiple awards. The Time magazine included him in the list of 100 Most Influential People. Moreover, he has received a prestigious Research Scientist Award from the National Institute of Mental Health in 1971, Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters, Distinguished Scientific Contribution Award, William James Fellow Award, and many others. Such magazines as Psychology Today, The New Yorker, New York Times, Washington Post and many other published his articles and interviews. He is the author of the books Face of Man (1980), Telling Lies (several editions), Emotions Revealed (2003), Dalai Lama-Emotional Awareness (2007), and many others.

In conclusion, one should state that Ekman’s theory can be applied to the various spheres of human life: social, economic, politics, and many others. The researchers believe that Ekman`s contribution to the understanding of the human non-verbal communication is truly enormous. Ekman`s expertise and many years of dedicated work turned him into the successful scientist well-known around the world. Paul Ekman is a true genius, who is deservedly admired by not only his readers but also the psychologists. Paul Ekman`s Facial Action Coding System is a real breakthrough in the field of psychology, and his methods and techniques help millions of people around the world to the search for the truth.

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