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Was that a Micro Expression I just saw?


Have you ever got a strange feeling about somebody but you couldn’t put your finger on why? Perhaps you got the impression that you upset somebody with a throw away comment but when confronted they say they are fine. They act normally, however your gut feeling remains that they are genuinely upset. I’m sure there are thousands of such examples, and perhaps they are in part due to Micro Expressions.

Micro Expressions are defined as ‘extremely quick facial expressions of emotion that appear on the face for less than ½ a second’1. These were first written about by Paul Ekman (2003) but originally hinted at by Darwin’s ‘inhibition hypothesis’ (1872) which suggested that facial actions cannot be controlled and instead are involuntarily even if attempting to control one’s expressions. Paul Ekman has identified seven universal facial expressions of emotion which are in the below figure.

A question therefore emerges concerning those individuals who may find interpersonal relationships and social scenarios challenging. Research suggests these would include individuals with Asperger’s Syndrome2; Autism3; Mental health4 in particular schizophrenia5. Since these individuals struggle recognising emotions and reacting to them, perhaps those working with them would benefit from developing their understanding of Micro Expressions. This could allow clinicians to better interpret their feelings as well as be more aware of their own reactions. It is not possible to stop Micro Expressions from occurring, however it is possible to train yourself to better recognise them and react accordingly.

It is suggested that being more aware of these Micro Expressions would allow clinicians to provide better and more personalised care. It is probable that this topic in relation to healthcare and mental health will need further study in order to indicate how best it might be used in a professional setting. However it is definitely interesting food for thought. Have a go at trying to identify some Micro Expressions during your next conversation! If you would like to see a demonstration of them, and test your skill in identifying them visit and click ‘start demo’ or visit for a basic test.

Matsumoto et al, 2011
Barnhill et al, 2002
Bolte et al, 2006
Carton et al, 1999
Frommann et al 2003

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