On Emotions Revealed

I recently finished read Emotions Revealed – Recognizing Faces and Feelings to Improve Communication and Emotional Life – by Paul Ekman. This book was recommended by best-selling author Daniel Pink as one of the top 6 books on the Art and Science of Sales. This book’s aim, as best summarized by the author: “My goal in writing Emotions Revealed was to help people improve four essential skills, and thus I have included suggestions and exercises in the book that I hope you will find both helpful and provocative. Those four skills are: First, becoming more i consciously aware of when you are becoming emotional, even before you speak or act…Second, choosing how you behave when you are emotional, so you achieve your goals without damaging other people…Third, becoming more sensitive to how others are feeling…Fourth, carefully using the information you acquire about how others are feeling.”

Below are key excerpts from this book:

Emotions determine the quality of our lives. They occur in every relationship we care about—in the workplace, in our friendships, in dealings with family members, and in our most intimate relationships. They can save our lives, but they can also cause real damage. They may lead us to act in ways that we think are realistic and appropriate, but our emotions can also lead us to act in ways we regret terribly afterward.

I reconciled our findings that expressions are universal with Birdwhistell’s observation of how they differ from one culture to another by coming up with the idea of display rules. These, I proposed, are socially learned, often culturally different, rules about the management of expression, about who can show which emotion to whom and when they can do so. It is why in most public sporting contests the loser doesn’t show the sadness and disappointment he or she reels. Display rules are embodied in the parent’s admonition—”Get that smirk off your face.” These rules may dictate that we diminish. exaggerate, hide completely, or mask the expression of emotion we are feeling.

Nearly everyone who does research on emotion today agrees with what I have described so far: first, that emotions are reactions to matters that seem to be very important to our welfare, and second, that emotions often begin so quickly that we are not aware of the processes in our mind that set them off Research on the brain is consistent with what I have so far suggested. We can make very complex evaluations very quickly, in milliseconds, without being aware of the evaluative process.

I am convinced that one of the most distinctive features of emotion is that the events that trigger emotions are influenced not just by our individual experience, but also by our ancestral past. Emotions, in the felicitous phrase of Richard Lazarus, reflect the “wisdom of the ages,” both in the emotion themes and the emotion responses. The autoappraisers are scanning for what has been important to survival not just in our own individual lives, but also in the lives of our hunter-gatherer ancestors.

In another study focusing just on smiles, Richard Davidson, a psychologist who studies the brain and emotion, and I found that making a smile produced many of the changes in the brain that occur with enjoyment. It wasn’t just any kind of smile; only the smile that I had earlier found truly signified enjoyment (see chapter 9).

I have described nine paths for accessing or turning on our emotions. The most common one is through the operation of the autoappraisers, the automatic-appraising mechanisms. A second path begins in reflective appraisal that then clicks on the autoappraisers. Memory of a past emotional experience is a third path, and imagination is a fourth path. Talking about a past emotional event is a fifth path. Empathy is the sixth path. Others instructing us about what to be emotional about is the seventh path. Violation of social norms is an eighth path. Last is voluntarily assuming the appearance of emotion.

Controlling emotional behavior will not always work. When the emotion aroused is very strong, when we are in a mood that predisposes us toward the emotion, when the event resonates very closely with one of the evolved emotional themes or with an early learned emotion trigger, my suggestions will be more difficult to use. And, depending on the emotion, some people’s affective style—those who characteristically become emotional very quickly and very intensely—will make it harder to control some emotions. The fact that we will not always succeed does not mean that we cannot improve. The key is to understand ourselves better. By analyzing our emotional episodes afterward, we can begin to develop the habit of attentiveness. By learning to focus more on what it is we are feeling, by learning some of the internal clues that signal to us what emotions we are feeling, we are more likely to be able to monitor our feelings. Increasing our ability to spot the signs of how others are responding to us emotionally can alert us to be attentive to what it is we are doing and feeling—and help us respond to others’ emotions in an appropriate way. And, learning about the common triggers for each emotion, those we share with others and those that are especially important or unique for us, can help us prepare for emotional encounters.

These examples are meant to show that having information about how someone feels doesn’t itself tell vou what to do about it. It doesn’t confer the right or obligation to tell that person you know how he or she feels. There are alternatives, depending on who that person is and what your relationship to that person is, the circumstances at the moment, and what you yourself are comfortable with. But spotting sadness when it is subtle does tell you that something important is happening or has happened, that it involves loss, and that this person needs comforting. The expression itself doesn’t tell you whether you are the right person to give that comforting, or if this is the right time to offer it.

We often think we know why someone has become angry with us, but our version of the grievance may not match the other person’s version. While avoiding what makes someone angry leads to resentments, building a backlog of trouble, rarely should the matter be dealt with when one or both people are in the heat of their anger. If it is so urgent that the matter must be dealt with at once, and it cannot be postponed until a cooler moment, then it is important that both people try to be certain that they are past the refractory period. Otherwise, the discussion is bound only to fuel the anger. not focus on what the problem is and how it can be solved.

Neither empathy nor compassion is an emotion; they refer to our reactions to another person’s emotions. In cognitive empathy we recognize what another person is feeling. In emotional empathy we actually feel what that person is feeling, and in compassionate empathy we want to help the other person deal with his situation and his emotions. We must have cognitive empathy, in order to achieve either of the other forms of empathy, but we need not have emotional empathy in order to have compassionate empathy.

While all four of these contextual issues must be considered when evaluating a normal facial expression, or macro expression, of an emotion, they can be especially revelatory when studying a micro expression. They must also be considered when evaluating signs of emotion in the voice, in posture, and in other cognitively based clues to deceit. Most people do not notice micro expressions when they occur during a conversation, when a micro is competing for attention with words, the tone of the voice, and gestures. They are ; also missed because we are often distracted by thinking about what to say next rather than closely watching for a person’s micro expressions.

As I mention in chapter 9, the great French neurologist Duchenne du Boulogne was the first to suggest that the absence of emotion-based muscle movements that most people cannot perform voluntarily “unmasks the false friend.”‘ The absence of such involuntary movements suggests that the expression may be fabricated rather than genuine.

More generally, we have not found any behavioral change that always occurs in every person who is lying; that is why lie catchers must learn to be alert to every aspect of demeanor, tor it is never possible to know ahead of time how important information will appear. This news always disheartens television interviewers and print media writers, who are disappointed I can’t tell them the one surefire behavioral clue to deceit. It doesn’t exist. Anyone who says there is an absolutely reliable signal that someone is lying is either misguided or a charlatan.

A very perceptive and recommended read.

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