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Emotions and Smiling

Emotions and Smiling

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Published by: dara_faga3816 on Oct 13, 2012
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05/13/2014

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Emotions and Smiling
Next time your boss or your lover gives you a lopsided smile, startworrying, they're probably lying. Can we learn to tell fake emotionfrom the real thing, asks Rosie Mestel
"
How do I know who you are?" demands psychologist Paul Ekman, brandishing my
New Scientist 
business card as we wait for our food in the hole-in-the-wall Chineserestaurant. "You could easily have printed this card up. For all I know you're anagent for the new agency that's taken over from the KGB." I smile back nervouslyacross the table.On the one hand, I know that he knows I am not a secret agent, though suchpersons would definitely have a vested interest in milking Ekman for information. Anexpert in lie-detection, he's been hounded for advice over the years by everyonefrom the US Secret Service to a sinister-sounding "electrical institute responsible forinterrogations" in the former Soviet Union. On the other hand, I have also learnedthat there's a right way and a wrong way to smile authentically, and that Ekman of all people will know the difference. Have I got it right? Are the muscles round myeyes puckering up in that proper, "real-smile" way? If they aren't, perhaps he thinksI'm hiding something. The need to make my smile genuine blows any chance of making it so.
 
In fact, Ekman isn't even bothering to decipher my smile, which fits nicely with thepoint that he's just been trying to make. People, he says, are remarkably trusting intheir social interactions. They tend to assume they're being told the truth, and thatthe expression on someone's face actually reflects the feelings underneath. Thisdespite the fact that lies and emotional fakery abound in daily conversation. What'smore, even the most practised of lie-detectors -- police, polygraph operators,psychiatrists and customs inspectors -- do barely better than random chance atdiscriminating lie from truth, or a feigned from a true emotion.Ekman thinks it's high time we turned to science. For the past few decades at theUniversity of California, San Francisco, he's been trying to tease out the subtleemotional cues that betray a liar and reveal whether happy, sad and angry facesare felt or false. "I would like to see terrorists caught and assassins stopped," hesays, as he sips away at his hot-and-sour soup. "I would like to see the falselyimprisoned ot imprisoned and the actual guilty caught." He'd also like to helppsychiatrists work out whether patients asking to go home are really feeling betteror just faking it so they can have another go at killing themselves. And besides allthat, he simply finds the subject fascinating.With the information that he's gleaned so far, Ekman reckons he could build a lie-detector with an accuracy of 80 to 90 per cent. Kick out that small group of peoplethat Ekman calls "natural liars" -- people who lie so smoothly and cleanly thatthey're almost impossible to catch -- and the success rate for the rest could climbclose to 100 per cent. It'll never reach the perfect score, though -- people are toomuch of a behavioural hotchpotch for that, and there is no one behavioural tick that
 
always accompanies a lie. "It's not that I think I have a panacea," Ekman says. "I just have some additional tools that could help."Ekman's fascination with deception is a natural offshoot from twenty-five yearsspent studying the face we present to the world, which constantly changes its formas different combinations of the 42 muscles contract and contort our rubbery flesh.Sometimes we are expressing true emotions: our "zygomatic major" muscles, whichstretch from each edge of our mouth to our cheekbones, automatically yank tightwhen we get that wonderful promotion. And up come our lip corners. But often wedon't feel the emotions we display at all. What if a particularly loathsome colleaguebagged the promotion instead? We'd still find a way to get those zygomatic majormuscles working as we made a show of congratulating him, even if we inwardlycursed the injustice of it all.Of course, everyone knows that some smiles come more easily than others. Butscience, too, supports the notion that a "voluntary" facial expression isphysiologically distinct from an involuntary one. This is the kind we make withoutthinking when we experience something scary, funny, pleasing or infuriating. Twotypes of people with damage in different parts of their brains tell us so: one groupcan no longer smile when asked to, but will spontaneously grin (or glower, orgrimace) when the relevant feeling takes hold. The faces of the other group givenothing away whatever they feel. Yet they can summon up the required facialexpressions on demand.Logically this suggests that two distinct brain regions must control voluntary andinvoluntary facial expressions, and that a different one has been damaged in eachgroup of patients. Normally, both systems send out nerve impulses from the brainto the muscles of our face. And that dual capability is very handy in socialdiscourse. Whether it's time to be happy, or simply to look happy, the relevantmuscles do their work.But they aren't always quite the same muscles--a fact that could be invaluable incatching someone out in a lie. Ekman and his long-time colleague, Wallace Friesen,know this is so because they have perfected the art of reading faces. Their "FacialAction Coding System, or FACS, allows them to objectively tally the movement of allour facial muscles, and distinguish between seven thousand different facialexpressions (including 19 different types of smiles). Years of work went intogenerating FACS: Ekman and Friesen had to learn how to contract their own facialmuscles one at a time and then decipher what those movements did to the outwardappearance of their faces. Today, a person trained in FACS simply looks at a videoof a face and decodes its expression into the combination of muscles being pulled,as well as noting how tightly and how long the various muscles contract.But long before FACS came along, the French anatomist Duchenne de Boulogne,back in 1862, had noticed one key difference between the "real" happy smile andthe "fake" happy smile. Only when a smile is really felt will a certain muscle thatwraps around the eyes contract, raising the cheek and crumpling the skin near theeyes into furrows of crows-feet. If the mouth-tugging zygomatic major muscle"obeys the will", Duchenne wrote, this second muscle, the orbicularis oculi, does notdo so.
 
 
Duchenne's finding was largely overlooked at the time, but in recent years Ekman'steam has shown that he was right and have named the smile of pure pleasure in hishonour. Duchenne smiles correlate well with peoples' self-reported levels of enjoyment, Ekman has found. Others have shown that such smiles are morefrequent in depressed patients' hospital discharge interviews than in theiradmission interviews, and they tend to happen more frequently as patients getbetter.Not only that, but Ekman and Richard Davidson, an emotions researcher at theUniversity of Wisconsin, at Madison, has shown that a Duchenne smile isaccompanied by activity in the left frontal cortex in the brain, a region involved inexperiencing enjoyment. This activation isn't seen in people using just theirzygomatic major to smile. You'd think such distinctions might be very handy clues to deceit. Yet amazingly,people rarely notice them. Consider this test: Ekman videotaped 47 female studentnurses watching two sets of film clips, one filled with disturbing images of skinburns and amputations, the other with delightful nature scenes. The students weretold that this was an important test to if they could keep their cool on the job. Whenquestioned by the interviewer, both during and after the film, they were to act as if all of the film clips were pleasant. Ten nurses dropped out of the test--they couldn't keep up the deception. Those whoremained, though, were so good at covering their distress that people watching thevideotaped interviews with the nurses did hardly better than chance at sorting outlies from truths. These observers included not only the ubiquitous collegeundergraduate but people drawn from just the professions you'd expect to be goodat spotting lies : customs inspectors, psychiatrists, polygraph operators, police andsecret service agents.In another test, researchers asked travellers at airports to carry suspicious packetsof white powder through customs for them (we suggest you check the credentials of any "psychologist" who asks you to do something similar). Customs inspectorscouldn't sort out the smugglers from the non-smugglers in interviews. Time andagain, researchers have found the same thing: most of us are lousy at picking outliars.And yet the clues are there, says Ekman. His analysis of the nurses, for instance,revealed many more Duchenne-type smiles during interviews after the nature filmthan after the disgusting film. Moreover, the nurses exhibited another kind of fakesmile -- a "masking" smile. Just as the orbicularis oculi is hard to control, so arecertain other muscles around the face -- ones that reveal disgust, sadness, fear orcontempt. And here the problem is not prodding a muscle into action, but keeping itstill. Watching the dark blood spurt from a freshly amputated limb, the studentnurse would instinctively grimace in disgust. She knows that she mustn't, andmasks it with a smile. But however hard she tries, she can't stop certain "disgust"muscles (such as one that puckers her nose) from contracting.Ekman calls these muscles we can't control our "reliable" muscles. They're the onesthat will give the well-trained observer a clue to our real feelings. Gladness, disgust,sadness and anger, they each have their reliable muscles, says Ekman. Not thateveryone is powerless to control these muscles at will: generally, 10 per cent of the

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