Emotions Revealed : Recognizing Faces and Feelings to Improve Communication and Emotional Life , by Paul Ekman
Book Review

Book Classification : Nonfiction - Psychology - Mental Health - Emotions - Facial Expressions - Self-Help

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Emotions Revealed : Recognizing Faces and Feelings
to Improve Communication and Emotional Life
by Paul Ekman
Hardcover - 288 pages
First Edition, April 7, 2003
Published by Times Books
A Division of Henry Holt and Company
ISBN 0-8050-7275-6 / ISBN 0805072756

In his new book Emotions Revealed , psychology professor and researcher Paul Ekman emphasizes that human emotion has more dimensions that we might have realized.

For each emotion, say, worry or anger, it may be said that we experience the "right emotion, wrong intensity" [page 17] or the right emotion but wrong response. Some emotions felt by some are not felt by others at all, such as a fear of heights. [pages 17-18] Furthermore, Ekman borrows from his mentor, the late Sylvan Tomkins , the principle that people have "affect-about-affect" -- "emotional reactions to the emotions that we initially feel." [69] For example, we may feel fear about being angry, or we may feel angry about fear. There is therefore a "linking of a second emotion with a first emotion," and "emotions rarely occur simply, or in pure form." [70]

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During many moments, a person feels no emotion at all -- the emotional state is neutral. "Why do we become emotional when we do?" [19] Imaging of the brain depicts emotions being triggered, but has provided no answers to how and why. [18] The easiest generalization to make is that we are known to respond to something that seems to be harmful, which requires "appraisal," but science has not yet discovered how these emotions can arise so quickly, sometimes within milliseconds. This indicates that we have "automatic appraising mechanisms," for which Ekman has coined the term "autoappraisers." [19-20]

Citing such examples as anger, fear and sadness, Ekman describes how different people feel emotions at different intensities, arising at different rates, lasting for different durations, fading at different rates, and reoccuring with different frequencies. All these parameters make up the individual's "emotional profile." All possible combinations are found, that is, some of us get emotional with fast response and long duration, while others exhibit fast response and short duration, etc. No one has found a pattern to justify any generalizing, for instance, that if the rate of response tends to be this then the frequency or duration or intensity tends to be that. [213-215] One generalization that we can make is that "surprise is the briefest of all emotions, lasting only a few seconds at most." [148]

The author occasional speaks as though people are computer hardware and software. Our biology makes it difficult to "change what makes us emotional" -- "what we become emotional about." As the author sees it, our nervous system includes an "emotion alert database" which, unfortunately, "is not a system that allows data to be easily removed once entered."[44] However, "affect programs are open, not closed," he says. "New emotional behaviors are continuously acquired throughout life, and added to the present emotional behaviors." [70]

Paul Ekman is ...

"...a pioneer in emotions research
and nonverbal communication ....
Accurate, intelligent, informative,
and thoughtful."


What makes the book unique is that Paul Ekman is one of the world's leading experts on facial expressions and other body language. The book illuminates not only the matter of emotions but also the way in which we inevitably communicate them. The necessary cautions are given, e.g., even when anger is evident in another person, there's no way for the observer to know at whom or what the anger is directed. [142] Expressions of related emotions have subtle differences -- among "enjoyable emotions" [190] our faces express "sensory pleasures" [191] differently from the emotion of "wonder" [194]. Several sections of the book which point out elements of facial communication are immediately followed by related subsections entitled "using the information from expressions." [142, 212, etc.]

The book contains suggested exercises in which the reader can attempt to produce a sad [95-96] or angry [134-135] face and then inspect it in a mirror. Recognizing the facial signals in yourself can help you to recognize them in others, recognize undetected emotions in yourself, and even obtain better control over your own emotions. [94-97] You can refer to such tables as the sequence of photos of sad faces [103-106] and see how many of the subtle components are evident to you.

In the 1960s, Paul Ekman became known as the founder of the "display rules" hythothesis. His theory was intended to explain earlier observations by anthropologists Ray Birdwhistell and Margaret Mead that facial expressions are not universal across cultures. Display rules are socially learned (and therefore culture-specific) conventions of behavior which apply to facial expressions and other body language, for example, when public circumstances dictate that it's polite to put on a smile or to refrain from showing disappointment. That's why we see such "miserable smiles" as that worn by President Nixon after he announced his resignation. [210-211] Ekman proposed that the multicultural people studied by anthropologists earlier followed the display rules because they knew they were being observed. Therefore, facial expressions can be said to be more universal primarily for people who are alone. [2-4]

Even in public, "micro expressions" which last a small fraction of a second, sometimes visible only in one movie frame, will reveal feelings that the individual doesn't want to express. Law enforcement agencies have begun to find this discovery useful when interviewing suspects. [15]

Emotions Revealed is a thoroughly fascinating book because it is not limited to issues which interest people who work in certain sciences. The real subject of the book is interpersonal communication, which is of interest to everyone. As long as you live in a society of human beings who have feelings, the book is about you.

Book review by Mike Lepore for crimsonbird.com

288 pages; 10-page 2-column index; 15-page appendix of notes; B&W illustrations.

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Emotions Revealed : Recognizing Faces and Feelings to Improve Communication and Emotional Life
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Book description reprinted with the permission of the publisher

Inside Front Flap

A fascinating exploration of how we interpret and experience emotions -- and how we can improve our emotional skills -- by a pioneering psychologist.

What triggers emotions? How does our body signal to others whether we are a bit down or deeply anguished, peeved or enraged? Can we learn to distinguish between a polite smile and the genuine thing? Can we really ever control our emotions? Renowned expert in nonverbal communication Paul Ekman has led a renaissance in our scientific understanding of emotions, addressing just these questions. Now he assembles his research and theories in Emotions Revealed , a comprehensive look at human emotional life.

Drawing on Ekman's fieldwork investigating universal facial expressions in the United States, Japan, Brazil, and Papua New Guinea; his analysis of the prognosis of hospital patients based on their emotional attitude; and dozens of other studies, Emotions Revealed explores the evolutionary and behavioral essences of anger, sadness, fear, surprise, disgust, contempt, and happiness. For each emotion, Ekman describes the universal themes that undergird our feelings, the automatic reactions that unfold within microseconds, and the actions that are actually under our control.

Ekman then takes us on a visual tour of each emotion's unique signals, exploring some of the most subtle and easy-to-miss expressions that can signal when a person is just beginning to feel an emotion or may be trying to suppress it. Learning to identify emotions in their early stages or when they are masked can improve our communication with people in a variety of situations -- both at home and at work -- and help us to manage our own emotional responses.

Inside Back Flap

Filled with groundbreaking research, illuminating anecdotes, and exercises, Emotions Revealed is a practical, mind-opening, and potentially life-changing exploration of science and self.

About the Author

Paul Ekman is a professor of psychology in the department of psychiatry at the University of California Medical School, San Francisco. An expert on expression, the physiology of emotion, and interpersonal deception, he has received many honors, most notably the Distinguished Scientific Contribution Award of the American Psychological Association, and is the author or editor of thirteen previous books, including Telling Lies . He is a frequent consultant on emotional expression to government agencies such as the FBI, the CIA, and the ATF, to lawyers, judges, and police, and to corporations, including the animation studios Pixar and Industrial Light and Magic. He lives in northern California.

Book Reviews

"No one in the world has studied facial expressions as deeply as Paul Ekman. In Emotions Revealed he presents -- clearly, vividly, and in the most accessible way -- his fascinating observations about the overt or covert expressions of emotion we all encounter hundreds of times daily, but so oftem misunderstand or fail to see. There has not been a book on this subject of such range and insight since Darwin's famous Expression of the Emotions more than a century ago."

Oliver Sacks, author of Uncle Tungsten

"Paul Ekman is one of those rare thinkers who can connect what scientists have learned with what the rest of us wonder about in our everyday lives. If you read this book, you will never look at other people in quite the same way again."

-- Malcolm Gladwell, author of The Tipping Point

" Ever since Darwin, no one has contributed more to our understanding of how humans go about communicating emotions than Paul Ekman. In this masterful overview, he reveals how emotions are communicated, and the implications for topics ranging from mental health and interpersonal relationships to law enforcement and violence. A fascinating and important book."

-- Robert M. Sapolsky, professor of biology, Stanford University,
and author of Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers

"Paul Ekman is the master of emotional expression, and this is a masterful account of his field."

-- Joseph LeDoux, professor of neural science, New York University,
and author of Synaptic Self and The Emotional Brain

"What a pleasure to have Paul Ekman, a pioneer of detailed facial analysis, help us to see what others feet."

-- Frans de Waal, professor of psychology, Emory University,
and author of The Ape and the Sushi Master

" Emotions Revealed showcases forty years of academic research, providing a fascinating and enormously helpful picture of our emotional lives."

-- John Cleese

" Emotions Revealed will leave everyone who reads it more intelligent about their emotional life."

-- Daniel Goleman, author of Emotional Intelligence

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This is an Amazon.com link for
Emotions Revealed : Recognizing Faces and Feelings to Improve Communication and Emotional Life
by Paul Ekman
ISBN 0-8050-7275-6 / ISBN 0805072756