THE NAKED FACE
jungles of Papua New Guinea, to the
ple’s faces as he searched for an honest                                                     sans for the male elders of t...
he could see it, maybe everyone else               built a system not on what the face can       how the wrinkle patterns ...
“That’s A.U. one—distress, anguish.”
Then he used his frontalis, pars lateralis,
to raise the outer half of his eyebrows.

the room. “I knew someone who was on           what he did on that night in South Cen-        meant—that the face has, to ...
brow was raised in an unmistakable
do A.U. one, raising the inner eyebrows,                 knows FACS without this point coming          ist; now he plans t...
would comment on my conversational                         these men are starving for, some dignity      eral Hospital, de...
time with other face readers,“we debrief
each other. We’re constantly talking
about cases, or some of these videotapes
of ...
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The Naked Face Nl Particle


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The Naked Face Nl Particle

  1. 1. ANNALS OF PSYCHOLOGY THE NAKED FACE Can you read people’s thoughts just by looking at them? BY MALCOLM GLADWELL S ome years ago, John Yarbrough was have been easy, because we all think we shoot—a hunch that at that exact moment working patrol for the Los Angeles can tell whether someone is lying. But he was not an imminent threat to me.” So County Sheriff ’s Department. It was these were not the obvious fibs of a child, Yarbrough stopped, and, sure enough, so about two in the morning. He and his or the prevarications of people whose did the kid.He pointed a gun at an armed partner were in the Willowbrook section habits and tendencies we know well. policeman on a dark street in South of South Central Los Angeles, and they These were strangers who were motivated Central L.A., and then backed down. pulled over a sports car.“Dark, nighttime, to deceive, and the task of spotting the Yarbrough retired last year from the average stop,”Yarbrough recalls.“Patrol for liars turns out to be fantastically difficult. sheriff ’s department after almost thirty me was like going hunting. At that time There is just too much information— years, sixteen of which were in homicide. of night in the area I was working, there words,intonation,gestures,eyes,mouth— He now lives in western Arizona, in a was a lot of criminal activity, and hardly and it is impossible to know how the var- small, immaculate house overlooking the anyone had a driver’s license.Almost every- ious cues should be weighted, or how to Colorado River, with pictures of John one had something intoxicating in the car. put them all together, and in any case it’s Wayne, Charles Bronson, Clint East- We stopped drunk drivers all the time. all happening so quickly that you can’t wood, and Dale Earnhardt on the wall. You’re hunting for guns or lots of dope, or even follow what you think you ought to He has a policeman’s watchfulness: while suspects wanted for major things.You look follow. The tests have been given to po- he listens to you, his eyes alight on your at someone and you get an instinctive re- licemen, customs officers, judges, trial face, and then they follow your hands, if action. And the longer you’ve been work- lawyers,and psychotherapists,as well as to you move them, and the areas to your im- ing the stronger that instinctive reaction is.” officers from the F.B.I., the C.I.A., the mediate left and right—and then back Yarbrough was driving, and in a two- D.E.A., and the Bureau of Alcohol, To- again, in a steady cycle. He grew up in an man patrol car the procedure is for the bacco, and Firearms—people one would affluent household in the San Fernando driver to make the approach and the offi- have thought would be good at spotting Valley, the son of two doctors, and he is cer on the passenger side to provide lies. On average, they score fifty per cent, intensely analytical: he is the sort to take a backup. He opened the door and stepped which is to say that they would have done problem and break it down, working it out onto the street, walking toward the just as well if they hadn’t watched the over slowly and patiently in his mind, and vehicle with his weapon drawn.Suddenly, tapes at all and just guessed. But every the incident in Willowbrook is one of those a man jumped out of the passenger side now and again—roughly one time in a problems. Policemen shoot people who and pointed a gun directly at him. The thousand—someone scores off the charts. point guns directly at them at two in the two of them froze, separated by no more A Texas Ranger named David Maxwell morning. But something he saw held him than a few yards.“There was a tree behind did extremely well, for example, as did an back, something that ninety-nine people him, to his right,” Yarbrough recalls. “He ex-A.T.F. agent named J. J. Newberry, a out of a hundred wouldn’t have seen. was about seventeen. He had the gun in few therapists, an arbitrator, a vice cop— Many years later, Yarbrough met with his right hand. He was on the curb side. I and John Yarbrough, which suggests that a team of psychologists who were conduct- ing training sessions for law enforcement. was on the other side, facing him. It was what happened in Willowbrook may They sat beside him in a darkened room just a matter of who was going to shoot have been more than a fluke or a lucky and showed him a series of videotapes of first. I remember it clear as day. But for guess. Something in our faces signals people who were either lying or telling the some reason I didn’t shoot him.” Yar- whether we’re going to shoot, say, or truth. He had to say who was doing what. brough is an ex-marine with close- whether we’re lying about the film we just One tape showed people talking about cropped graying hair and a small mus- saw. Most of us aren’t very good at spot- their views on the death penalty and on tache, and he speaks in measured tones. ting it. But a handful of people are virtu- smoking in public. Another featured a “Is he a danger? Sure. He’s standing there osos. What do they see that we miss? series of nurses who were all talking about with a gun, and what person in his right A a nature film they were supposedly ll of us, a thousand times a day, read mind does that facing a uniformed armed watching, even though some of them faces. When someone says “I love policeman? If you looked at it logically, I were actually watching grisly documen- you,” we look into that person’s eyes to should have shot him. But logic had tary footage about burn victims and am- judge his or her sincerity. When we meet nothing to do with it. Something just DANIEL CLOWES putees. It may sound as if the tests should someone new, we often pick up on sub- didn’t feel right.It was a gut reaction not to The Facial Action Coding System is vast and exacting, but, once you’ve mastered it, you’ll never look at people the same way. 38 THE NEW YORKER, AUGUST 5, 2002 TNY—08/05/02—PAGE 38—133SC.
  3. 3. jungles of Papua New Guinea, to the most remote villages, and he found that the tribesmen there had no problem in- terpreting the expressions, either. This may not sound like much of a break- through. But in the scientific climate of the time it was a revelation. Ekman had established that expressions were the universal products of evolution. There were fundamental lessons to be learned from the face, if you knew where to look. Paul Ekman is now in his sixties. He is clean-shaven, with closely set eyes and thick, prominent eyebrows, and al- though he is of medium build, he seems much larger than he is: there is some- thing stubborn and substantial in his de- meanor. He grew up in Newark, the son of a pediatrician, and entered the Uni- versity of Chicago at fifteen. He speaks deliberately: before he laughs, he pauses slightly, as if waiting for permission. He • • is the sort to make lists, and number his arguments. His academic writing has tle signals, so that, even though he or the answers to those questions. Ekman an orderly logic to it; by the end of an she may have talked in a normal and went to see Margaret Mead, climbing Ekman essay, each stray objection and friendly manner, afterward we say, “I the stairs to her tower office at the problem has been gathered up and cata- don’t think he liked me,” or “I don’t American Museum of Natural History. logued. In the mid-sixties, Ekman set up think she’s very happy.” We easily parse He had an idea. What if he travelled a lab in a ramshackle Victorian house at complex distinctions in facial expres- around the world to find out whether the University of California at San Fran- sion. If you saw me grinning, for exam- people from different cultures agreed on cisco, where he holds a professorship. If ple, with my eyes twinkling, you’d say I the meaning of different facial expres- the face was part of a physiological sys- was amused. But that’s not the only way sions? Mead, he recalls, “looked at me as tem, he reasoned, the system could be we interpret a smile. If you saw me nod if I were crazy.” Like most social scien- learned. He set out to teach himself. He and smile exaggeratedly, with the cor- tists of her day, she believed that ex- treated the face as an adventurer would ners of my lips tightened, you would pression was culturally determined— a foreign land, exploring its every crev- take it that I had been teased and was that we simply used our faces according ice and contour. He assembled a video- responding sarcastically. If I made eye to a set of learned social conventions. tape library of people’s facial expressions, contact with someone, gave a small Charles Darwin had discussed the face which soon filled three rooms in his lab, smile and then looked down and averted in his later writings; in his 1872 book, and studied them to the point where he my gaze, you would think I was flirting. “The Expression of the Emotions in could look at a face and pick up a flicker If I followed a remark with an abrupt Man and Animals,” he argued that all of emotion that might last no more than smile and then nodded, or tilted my mammals show emotion reliably in their a fraction of a second. Ekman created head sideways, you might conclude that faces. But in the nineteen-sixties aca- the lying tests. He filmed the nurses talk- I had just said something a little harsh, demic psychologists were more inter- ing about the movie they were watching and wanted to take the edge off it. You ested in motivation and cognition than and the movie they weren’t watching. wouldn’t need to hear anything I was in emotion or its expression. Ekman was Working with Maureen O’Sullivan, a saying in order to reach these conclu- undaunted; he began travelling to places psychologist from the University of San sions. The face is such an extraordinar- like Japan, Brazil, and Argentina, carry- Francisco, and other colleagues, he lo- ily efficient instrument of communica- ing photographs of men and women cated people who had a reputation for tion that there must be rules that govern making a variety of distinctive faces. being uncannily perceptive, and put them the way we interpret facial expressions. Everywhere he went, people agreed on to the test, and that’s how Yarbrough But what are those rules? And are they what those expressions meant. But what and the other high-scorers were iden- the same for everyone? if people in the developed world had all tified. O’Sullivan and Ekman call this In the nineteen-sixties, a young San picked up the same cultural rules from study of gifted face readers the Diogenes Francisco psychologist named Paul Ek- watching the same movies and televi- Project, after the Greek philosopher of man began to study facial expression, sion shows? So Ekman set out again, antiquity who used to wander around and he discovered that no one knew this time making his way through the Athens with a lantern, peering into peo- 40 THE NEW YORKER, AUGUST 5, 2002 TNY—08/05/02—PAGE 40—133SC.—LIVE OPI ART A7719—#2 PAGE—LOWER DOTS UNDER CARTOON
  4. 4. ple’s faces as he searched for an honest sans for the male elders of the tribe. important, he thought this about the man. Ekman has taken the most va- Ekman was still working on the problem human face. porous of sensations—the hunch you of whether human facial expressions Tomkins, it was said, could walk into have about someone else—and sought were universal, and the Gajdusek film a post office, go over to the “Wanted” to give them definition. Most of us don’t was invaluable. For six months, Ekman posters, and, just by looking at mug trust our hunches, because we don’t and his collaborator, Wallace Friesen, shots, tell you what crimes the various know where they came from. We think sorted through the footage. They cut ex- fugitives had committed. “He would they can’t be explained. But what if traneous scenes, focussing just on close- watch the show ‘To Tell the Truth,’ and they can? ups of the faces of the tribesmen, and without fault he could always pick the when the editing was finished Ekman person who was lying and who his con- P aul Ekman got his start in the face- called in Tomkins. federates were,” his son, Mark, recalls. reading business because of a man The two men, protégé and mentor, “He actually wrote the producer at one named Silvan Tomkins, and Silvan Tom- sat at the back of the room, as faces flick- point to say it was too easy, and the man kins may have been the best face reader ered across the screen. Ekman had told invited him to come to New York, go there ever was. Tomkins was from Phil- Tomkins nothing about the tribes in- backstage, and show his stuff.” Virginia adelphia, the son of a dentist from Rus- volved; all identifying context had been Demos, who teaches psychology at sia. He was short, and slightly thick edited out. Tomkins looked on intently, Harvard, recalls having long conversa- around the middle, with a wild mane peering through his glasses. At the end, tions with Tomkins. “We would sit and of white hair and huge black plastic- he went up to the screen and pointed to talk on the phone, and he would turn rimmed glasses. He taught psychology the faces of the South Fore.“These are a the sound down as Jesse Jackson was at Princeton and Rutgers, and was the sweet, gentle people, very indulgent, very talking to Michael Dukakis, at the Dem- author of “Affect, Imagery, Conscious- peaceful,” he said. Then he pointed to ocratic National Convention. And he ness,” a four-volume work so dense that the faces of the Kukukuku. “This other would read the faces and give his pre- its readers were evenly divided between group is violent, and there is lots of evi- dictions on what would happen. It was those who understood it and thought it dence to suggest homosexuality.” Even profound.” was brilliant and those who did not un- today, a third of a century later, Ekman Ekman’s most memorable encounter derstand it and thought it was brilliant. cannot get over what Tomkins did. “My with Tomkins took place in the late six- He was a legendary talker. At the end God! I vividly remember saying, ‘Sil- ties. Ekman had just tracked down a of a cocktail party, fifteen people would van, how on earth are you doing that?’ ” hundred thousand feet of film that had sit, rapt, at Tomkins’s feet, and someone Ekman recalls. “And he went up to the been shot by the virologist Carleton would say, “One more question!” and screen and, while we played the film Gajdusek in the remote jungles of Papua they would all sit there for another hour backward, in slow motion, he pointed New Guinea. Some of the footage was and a half, as Tomkins held forth on, say, out the particular bulges and wrinkles in of a tribe called the South Fore, who comic books, a television sitcom, the bi- the face that he was using to make his were a peaceful and friendly people. The rest was of the Kukukuku, who were ology of emotion, his problem with judgment. That’s when I realized, ‘I’ve hostile and murderous and who had a Kant, and his enthusiasm for the latest got to unpack the face.’ It was a gold homosexual ritual where pre-adolescent fad diets, all enfolded into one extended mine of information that everyone had boys were required to serve as courte- riff. During the Depression, in the midst ignored. This guy could see it, and if of his doctoral studies at Harvard, he worked as a handicapper for a horse- racing syndicate, and was so successful that he lived lavishly on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. At the track, where he sat in the stands for hours, staring at the horses through binoculars, he was known as the Professor. “He had a sys- tem for predicting how a horse would do based on what horse was on either side of him, based on their emotional rela- tionship,” Ekman said. If a male horse, for instance, had lost to a mare in his first or second year, he would be ruined if he went to the gate with a mare next to him in the lineup. (Or something like that— no one really knew for certain.) Tomkins felt that emotion was the code to life, and that with enough attention to par- ticulars the code could be cracked. He “Have you tried finessing her?” thought this about the horses, and, more TNY—08/05/02—PAGE 41—133SC.—LIVE OPI ART A7310
  5. 5. he could see it, maybe everyone else built a system not on what the face can how the wrinkle patterns on their faces could, too.” do but on what I had seen. I was devas- would change with each muscle move- Ekman and Friesen decided that they tated. So I came back and said, ‘I’ve got ment, and videotaping the movement needed to create a taxonomy of facial to learn the anatomy.’ ” Friesen and Ek- for their records. On the few occasions expressions, so day after day they sat man then combed through medical text- when they couldn’t make a particular across from each other and began to books that outlined each of the facial movement, they went next door to the make every conceivable face they could. muscles, and identified every distinct U.C.S.F. anatomy department, where a Soon, though, they realized that their muscular movement that the face could surgeon they knew would stick them efforts weren’t enough.“I met an anthro- make.There were forty-three such move- with a needle and electrically stimulate pologist, Wade Seaford, told him what I ments. Ekman and Friesen called them the recalcitrant muscle. “That wasn’t was doing, and he said, ‘Do you have “action units.” Then they sat across from pleasant at all,” Ekman recalls. When this movement?’ ”—and here Ekman each other again, and began manipulat- each of those action units had been mas- contracted what’s called the triangularis, ing each action unit in turn, first locating tered, Ekman and Friesen began work- which is the muscle that depresses the the muscle in their mind and then con- ing action units in combination, layer- corners of the lips, forming an arc of centrating on isolating it, watching each ing one movement on top of another. distaste—“and it wasn’t in my system, other closely as they did, checking their The entire process took seven years. because I had never seen it before. I had movements in a mirror, making notes of “There are three hundred combinations of two muscles,” Ekman says. “If you add in a third, you get over four thou- sand.We took it up to five muscles, which is over ten thousand visible facial config- urations.” Most of those ten thousand facial expressions don’t mean anything, of course. They are the kind of non- sense faces that children make. But, by working through each action-unit com- bination, Ekman and Friesen identified about three thousand that did seem to mean something, until they had cata- logued the essential repertoire of human emotion. O n a recent afternoon, Ekman sat in his office at U.C.S.F., in what is known as the Human Interaction Lab- oratory, a standard academic’s lair of books and files, with photographs of his two heroes, Tomkins and Darwin, on the wall. He leaned forward slightly, placing his hands on his knees, and began running through the action-unit configurations he had learned so long ago.“Everybody can do action unit four,” he began. He lowered his brow, using his depressor glabellae, depressor supercilli, and corrugator. “Almost everyone can do A.U. nine.” He wrinkled his nose, using his levator labii superioris, alaeque nasi. “Everybody can do five.” He con- tracted his levator palpebrae superioris, raising his upper eyelid. I was trying to follow along with him, and he looked up at me. “You’ve got a very good five,” he said generously.“The more deeply set your eyes are, the harder it is to see the five. Then there’s seven.” He squinted. “Twelve.” He flashed a smile, activating the zygomatic major. “I’m leaving public life so I can spend more time with my lawyers.” The inner parts of his eyebrows shot up. TNY—08/05/02—PAGE 42—133SC.—LIVE OPI ART A7593
  6. 6. “That’s A.U. one—distress, anguish.” Then he used his frontalis, pars lateralis, to raise the outer half of his eyebrows. “That’s A.U. two. It’s also very hard, but it’s worthless. It’s not part of anything except Kabuki theatre. Twenty-three is one of my favorites. It’s the narrowing of the red margin of the lips. Very reliable anger sign. It’s very hard to do voluntar- ily.” He narrowed his lips. “Moving one ear at a time is still the hardest thing to do. I have to really concentrate. It takes everything I’ve got.” He laughed. “This is something my daughter always wanted me to do for her friends. Here we go.” He wiggled his left ear, then his right ear. Ekman does not appear to have a partic- ularly expressive face. He has the de- meanor of a psychoanalyst, watchful and impassive, and his ability to transform his face so easily and quickly was aston- ishing. “There is one I can’t do,” he went on. “It’s A.U. thirty-nine. Fortunately, “If he wants it, let him have it.” one of my postdocs can do it. A.U. thirty- eight is dilating the nostrils. Thirty-nine is the opposite. It’s the muscle that pulls • • them down.” He shook his head and looked at me again. “Oooh! You’ve got a the face the way that people like John fantastic thirty-nine. That’s one of the wrinkling of the nose (levator labii supe- Yarbrough did intuitively. Ekman com- best I’ve ever seen. It’s genetic. There rioris, alaeque nasi), but it can some- pares it to the way you start to hear a should be other members of your family times be ten, and in either case may be symphony once you’ve been trained to who have this heretofore unknown talent. combined with A.U. fifteen or sixteen read music: an experience that used to You’ve got it, you’ve got it.” He laughed or seventeen. wash over you becomes particularized again. “You’re in a position to flash it at Ekman and Friesen ultimately as- and nuanced. people. See, you should try that in a sin- sembled all these combinations—and Ekman recalls the first time he saw gles bar!” the rules for reading and interpreting Bill Clinton, during the 1992 Demo- Ekman then began to layer one ac- them—into the Facial Action Coding System, or FACS, and wrote them up in a cratic primaries. “I was watching his fa- tion unit on top of another, in order to five-hundred-page binder. It is a strangely cial expressions, and I said to my wife, compose the more complicated facial ex- riveting document, full of details like the ‘This is Peck’s Bad Boy,’ ” Ekman says. pressions that we generally recognize as possible movements of the lips (elon- “This is a guy who wants to be caught emotions. Happiness, for instance, is es- gate, de-elongate, narrow, widen, flat- with his hand in the cookie jar, and have sentially A.U. six and twelve—contract- ten, protrude, tighten and stretch); the us love him for it anyway. There was ing the muscles that raise the cheek four different changes of the skin be- this expression that’s one of his favo- (orbicularis oculi, pars orbitalis) in com- tween the eyes and the cheeks (bulges, rites. It’s that hand-in-the-cookie-jar, bination with the zygomatic major,which bags, pouches, and lines); or the critical love-me-Mommy-because-I’m-a-rascal pulls up the corners of the lips. Fear is distinctions between infraorbital furrows look. It’s A.U. twelve, fifteen, seven- A.U. one, two and four, or, more fully, and the nasolabial furrow. Researchers teen, and twenty-four, with an eye roll.” one, two, four, five, and twenty, with or have employed the system to study ev- Ekman paused, then reconstructed that without action units twenty-five, twenty- erything from schizophrenia to heart particular sequence of expressions on six, or twenty-seven. That is: the inner disease; it has even been put to use his face. He contracted his zygomatic brow raiser (frontalis, pars medialis) plus by computer animators at Pixar (“Toy major, A.U. twelve, in a classic smile, the outer brow raiser (frontalis, pars lat- Story”), and at DreamWorks (“Shrek”). then tugged the corners of his lips down eralis) plus the brow-lowering depressor FACS takes weeks to master in its en- with his triangularis, A.U. fifteen. He supercilli plus the levator palpebrae su- tirety, and only five hundred people flexed the mentalis, A.U. seventeen, perioris (which raises the upper lid), plus around the world have been certified to which raises the chin, slightly pressed the risorius (which stretches the lips), use it in research. But for those who his lips together in A.U. twenty-four, the parting of the lips (depressor labii), have, the experience of looking at others and finally rolled his eyes—and it was as and the masseter (which drops the jaw). is forever changed. They learn to read if Slick Willie himself were suddenly in Disgust? That’s mostly A.U. nine, the THE NEW YORKER, AUGUST 5, 2002 43 TNY—08/05/02—PAGE 43—133SC.—LIVE OPI—A7512
  8. 8. the room. “I knew someone who was on what he did on that night in South Cen- meant—that the face has, to a large ex- his communications staff. So I contacted tral without also understanding the par- tent, a mind of its own. This doesn’t him. I said,‘Look, Clinton’s got this way ticular role and significance of microex- mean we have no control over our faces. of rolling his eyes along with a certain pressions. Many facial expressions can be We can use our voluntary muscular sys- expression, and what it conveys is “I’m a made voluntarily. If I’m trying to look tem to try to suppress those involuntary bad boy.” I don’t think it’s a good thing. I stern as I give you a tongue-lashing, I’ll responses. But, often, some little part of could teach him how not to do that in have no difficulty doing so, and you’ll that suppressed emotion—the sense that two to three hours.’ And he said, ‘Well, have no difficulty interpreting my glare. I’m really unhappy, even though I deny we can’t take the risk that he’s known to But our faces are also governed by a sep- it—leaks out. Our voluntary expressive be seeing an expert on lying.’ I think it’s arate, involuntary system. We know this system is the way we intentionally signal a great tragedy, because . . .” Ekman’s because stroke victims who suffer dam- our emotions. But our involuntary ex- voice trailed off. It was clear that he age to what is known as the pyramidal pressive system is in many ways even rather liked Clinton, and that he wanted neural system will laugh at a joke, but more important: it is the way we have Clinton’s trademark expression to have they cannot smile if you ask them to. At been equipped by evolution to signal our been no more than a meaningless facial the same time, patients with damage to authentic feelings. tic. Ekman shrugged. “Unfortunately, I another part of the brain have the oppo- “You must have had the experience guess, he needed to get caught—and he site problem.They can smile on demand, where somebody comments on your ex- got caught.” but if you tell them a joke they can’t pression and you didn’t know you were laugh. Similarly, few of us can voluntar- making it,” Ekman says. “Somebody E arly in his career, Paul Ekman filmed ily do A.U. one, the sadness sign. (A no- tells you, ‘What are you getting upset forty psychiatric patients, including table exception, Ekman points out, is about?’‘Why are you smirking?’ You can a woman named Mary, a forty-two- Woody Allen, who uses his frontalis, hear your voice, but you can’t see your year-old housewife. She had attempted pars medialis, to create his trademark face. If we knew what was on our face, suicide three times, and survived the last look of comic distress.) Yet we raise our we would be better at concealing it. attempt—an overdose of pills—only be- inner eyebrows all the time, without But that wouldn’t necessarily be a good cause someone found her in time and thinking, when we are unhappy. Watch a thing. Imagine if there were a switch rushed her to the hospital. Her children baby just as he or she starts to cry, and that all of us had, to turn off the expres- had left home and her husband was inat- you’ll often see the frontalis, pars medi- sions on our face at will. If babies had tentive, and she was depressed. When alis, shoot up, as if it were on a string. that switch, we wouldn’t know what she first went to the hospital, she sim- Perhaps the most famous involuntary they were feeling. They’d be in trouble. ply sat and cried, but she seemed to re- expression is what Ekman has dubbed You could make an argument, if you spond well to therapy. After three weeks, the Duchenne smile, in honor of the wanted to, that the system evolved so she told her doctor that she was feel- nineteenth-century French neurologist that parents would be able to take care ing much better and wanted a weekend Guillaume Duchenne, who first at- of kids. Or imagine if you were married pass to see her family.The doctor agreed, tempted to document the workings of to someone with a switch? It would be but just before Mary was to leave the the muscles of the face with the camera. impossible. I don’t think mating and in- hospital she confessed that the real rea- If I ask you to smile, you’ll flex your zy- fatuation and friendships and close- son she wanted to go on weekend leave gomatic major. By contrast, if you smile ness would occur if our faces didn’t work was so that she could make another sui- spontaneously, in the presence of genu- that way.” cide attempt. Several years later, a group ine emotion, you’ll not only flex your zy- Ekman slipped a tape taken from of young psychiatrists asked Ekman how gomatic but also tighten the orbicularis the O. J. Simpson trial into the VCR. It they could tell when suicidal patients oculi, pars orbitalis, which is the muscle was of Kato Kaelin, Simpson’s shaggy- were lying. He didn’t know, but, remem- that encircles the eye. It is almost impos- haired house guest, being examined by bering Mary, he decided to try to find sible to tighten the orbicularis oculi, pars Marcia Clark, one of the prosecutors in out. If the face really was a reliable guide lateralis, on demand, and it is equally the case. Kaelin sits in the witness box, to emotion, shouldn’t he be able to look difficult to stop it from tightening when with his trademark vacant look. Clark back on the film and tell that she was we smile at something genuinely plea- asks a hostile question. Kaelin leans for- lying? Ekman and Friesen began to surable. This kind of smile “does not ward and answers softly. “Did you see analyze the film for clues. They played obey the will,” Duchenne wrote.“Its ab- that?” Ekman asked me. I saw nothing, it over and over for dozens of hours, sence unmasks the false friend.” When just Kato being Kato—harmless and examining in slow motion every gesture we experience a basic emotion, a corre- passive. Ekman stopped the tape, re- and expression. Finally, they saw it. As sponding message is automatically sent wound it, and played it back in slow mo- Mary’s doctor asked her about her plans to the muscles of the face. That message tion. On the screen, Kaelin moved for- for the future, a look of utter despair may linger on the face for just a fraction ward to answer the question, and in that flashed across her face so quickly that it of a second, or be detectable only if you fraction of a second his face was utterly was almost imperceptible. attached electrical sensors to the face, transformed. His nose wrinkled, as he Ekman calls that kind of fleeting but it’s always there. Silvan Tomkins flexed his levator labii superioris, alaeque look a “microexpression,” and one can- once began a lecture by bellowing, “The nasi. His teeth were bared, his brows not understand why John Yarbrough did face is like the penis!” and this is what he lowered. “It was almost totally A.U. THE NEW YORKER, AUGUST 5, 2002 45 TNY—08/05/02—PAGE 45—133SC.
  9. 9. brow was raised in an unmistakable A.U. one. “It’s very brief,” Ekman said. “He’s not doing it voluntarily. And it totally contradicts all his confidence and assertiveness. It comes when he’s talking about Burgess and Maclean, whom he had tipped off. It’s a hot spot that suggests, ‘You shouldn’t trust what you hear.’ ” A decade ago, Ekman joined forces with J. J. Newberry—the ex-A.T.F. agent who is one of the high-scorers in the Diogenes Project—to put together a program for educating law-enforcement officials around the world in the tech- niques of interviewing and lie detection. In recent months, they have flown to Washington, D.C., to assist the C.I.A. and the F.B.I. in counter-terrorism training. At the same time, the Defense “Do you want to watch someone cook or someone decorate?” Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has asked Ekman and his for- mer student Mark Frank, now at Rut- • • gers, to develop experimental scenarios for studying deception that would be rel- nine,” Ekman said. “It’s disgust, with evant to counter-terrorism.The objective fied with that clearance that he gave anger there as well, and the clue to that is is to teach people to look for discrepan- you?” that when your eyebrows go down, typ- cies between what is said and what is Philby answers confidently, in the ically your eyes are not as open as they signalled—to pick up on the difference plummy tones of the English upper are here. The raised upper eyelid is a between Philby’s crisp denials and his class. “Yes, I am.” component of anger, not disgust. It’s fleeting anguish. It’s a completely differ- “Well, if there was a third man, were very quick.” Ekman stopped the tape ent approach from the shouting cop we you in fact the third man?” and played it again, peering at the screen. see on TV and in the movies, who threat- “No,” Philby says, just as forcefully. “I “You know, he looks like a snarling dog.” ens the suspect and sweeps all of the was not.” Ekman said that there was nothing papers and coffee cups off the battered Ekman rewound the tape, and re- magical about his ability to pick up an desk. The Hollywood interrogation is an played it in slow motion. “Look at this,” emotion that fleeting. It was simply a exercise in intimidation, and its point is he said, pointing to the screen. “Twice, matter of practice. “I could show you to force the suspect to tell you what you after being asked serious questions about forty examples, and you could pick it up. need to know. It does not take much to whether he’s committed treason, he’s I have a training tape, and people love it. see the limitations of this strategy. It de- going to smirk. He looks like the cat They start it, and they can’t see any of pends for its success on the coöperation who ate the canary.” The expression was these expressions. Thirty-five minutes of the suspect—when, of course, the sus- too brief to see normally. But at quarter later, they can see them all. What that pect’s involuntary communication may speed it was painted on his face—the says is that this is an accessible skill.” be just as critical. And it privileges the lips pressed together in a look of pure Ekman showed another clip, this one voice over the face, when the voice and smugness. “He’s enjoying himself, isn’t from a press conference given by Kim the face are equally significant channels he?” Ekman went on. “I call this ‘duping Philby in 1955. Philby had not yet been in the same system. delight’—the thrill you get from fooling revealed as a Soviet spy, but two of his Ekman received his most memorable other people.” Ekman started the VCR colleagues, Donald Maclean and Guy lesson in this truth when he and Friesen up again. “There’s another thing he Burgess, had just defected to the Soviet first began working on expressions of does.” On the screen, Philby was an- Union. Philby is wearing a dark suit and anger and distress. “It was weeks before swering another question.“In the second a white shirt. His hair is straight and one of us finally admitted feeling terri- place, the Burgess-Maclean affair has parted to the left. His face has the hau- ble after a session where we’d been mak- raised issues of great”—he pauses— teur of privilege. ing one of those faces all day,” Friesen “delicacy.”Ekman went back to the pause, “Mr. Philby,” he is asked. “Mr. Mac- says. “Then the other realized that he’d and froze the tape. “Here it is,” he said. millan, the foreign secretary, said there been feeling poorly, too, so we began to “A very subtle microexpression of dis- was no evidence that you were the so- keep track.” They then went back and tress or unhappiness. It’s only in the eye- called third man who allegedly tipped began monitoring their body during brows—in fact, just in one eyebrow.” off Burgess and Maclean. Are you satis- particular facial movements. “Say you Sure enough, Philby’s right inner eye- 46 THE NEW YORKER, AUGUST 5, 2002 TNY—08/05/02—PAGE 46—133SC.—LIVE OPI ART A7561.B
  10. 10. do A.U. one, raising the inner eyebrows, knows FACS without this point coming ist; now he plans to open a bed-and- and six, raising the cheeks, and fifteen, up again and again. Face-reading de- breakfast in Vermont with his wife when the lowering of the corner of the lips,” pends not just on seeing facial expres- he retires. On the day we met, Harms Ekman said, and then did all three. sions but also on taking them seriously. was wearing a pair of jean shorts and a “What we discovered is that that ex- One reason most of us—like the TV short-sleeved patterned shirt. His badge pression alone is sufficient to create cop—do not closely attend to the face is was hidden inside his shirt. He takes marked changes in the autonomic ner- that we view its evidence as secondary, as notes not on a yellow legal pad, which he vous system. When this first occurred, an adjunct to what we believe to be real considers unnecessarily intimidating to we were stunned. We weren’t expecting emotion. But there’s nothing secondary witnesses, but on a powder-blue one. “I this at all. And it happened to both of us. about the face, and surely this realization always get teased because I’m the touchy- We felt terrible. What we were generat- is what set John Yarbrough apart on the feely one,” Harms said.“John Yarbrough ing was sadness, anguish. And when I night that the boy in the sports car came is very analytical. He thinks before he lower my brows, which is four, and raise at him with a gun. It’s not just that he speaks. There is a lot going on inside his the upper eyelid, which is five, and nar- saw a microexpression that the rest of us head. He’s constantly thinking four or row the eyelids, which is seven, and press would have missed. It’s that he took five steps ahead, then formulating what- the lips together, which is twenty-four, what he saw so seriously that he was able ever his answers are going to be. That’s I’m generating anger. My heartbeat will to overcome every self-protective in- not how I do my interviews. I have a go up ten to twelve beats. My hands will stinct in his body, and hold his fire. conversation. It’s not ‘Where were you get hot. As I do it, I can’t disconnect on Friday night?’ Because that’s the way Y from the system. It’s very unpleasant, arbrough has a friend in the L.A. we normally communicate. I never say, very unpleasant.” County Sheriff ’s Department, Ser- ‘I’m Sergeant Harms.’ I always start by Ekman, Friesen, and another col- geant Bob Harms, who works in narcot- saying, ‘I’m Bob Harms, and I’m here to league, Robert Levenson, who teaches at ics in Palmdale. Harms is a member of talk to you about your case,’ and the first Berkeley, published a study of this effect the Diogenes Project as well, but the two thing I do is smile.” in Science. They monitored the bodily men come across very differently. Harms The sensation of talking to the two indices of anger, sadness, and fear— is bigger than Yarbrough, taller and men, however, is surprisingly similar. heart rate and body temperature—in broader in the chest, with soft brown Normal conversation is like a game of two groups. The first group was in- eyes and dark, thick hair. Yarbrough is tennis: you talk and I listen, you listen structed to remember and relive a partic- restoring a Corvette and wears Rush and I talk, and we feel scrutinized by our ularly stressful experience. The other was Limbaugh ties, and he says that if he conversational partner only when the told to simply produce a series of facial hadn’t been a cop he would have liked to ball is in our court. But Yarbrough and movements, as instructed by Ekman— stay in the Marines. Harms came out of Harms never stop watching, even when to “assume the position,” as they say in college wanting to be a commercial art- they’re doing the talking. Yarbrough acting class. The second group, the peo- ple who were pretending, showed the same physiological responses as the first. A few years later, a German team of psy- chologists published a similar study. They had a group of subjects look at cartoons, either while holding a pen be- tween their lips—an action that made it impossible to contract either of the two major smiling muscles, the risorius and the zygomatic major—or while holding a pen clenched between their teeth, which had the opposite effect and forced them to smile. The people with the pen between their teeth found the cartoons much funnier. Emotion doesn’t just go from the inside out. It goes from the outside in. What’s more, neither the subjects “assuming the position” nor the people with pens in their teeth knew they were making expressions of emo- tion. In the facial-feedback system, an expression you do not even know that you have can create an emotion you did not choose to feel. “I was afraid it was bursitis, but it’s only repetitive stress injury.” It is hard to talk to anyone who TNY—08/05/02—PAGE 47—133SC.—LIVE OPI ART A7497—#2 PAGE
  11. 11. would comment on my conversational these men are starving for, some dignity eral Hospital, described how a group style, noting where I held my hands as I and respect.” of aphasics trounced a group of under- talked, or how long I would wait out a Some of what sets Yarbrough and graduates at M.I.T. on the nurses tape. lull in the conversation. At one point, Harms and the other face readers apart is Robbed of the power to understand he stood up and soundlessly moved to no doubt innate. But the fact that people speech, the stroke victims had appar- the door—which he could have seen can be taught so easily to recognize mi- ently been forced to become far more only in his peripheral vision—opening it croexpressions, and can learn FACS, sug- sensitive to the information written on just before a visitor rang the doorbell. gests that we all have at least the poten- people’s faces. “They are compensating Harms gave the impression that he was tial capacity for this kind of perception. for the loss in one channel through these deeply interested in me. It wasn’t empa- Among those who do very well at face- other channels,” Etcoff says. “We could thy. It was a kind of powerful curios- reading, tellingly, are some aphasics, such hypothesize that there is some kind of ity. “I remember once, when I was in as stroke victims who have lost the ability rewiring in the brain, but I don’t think prison custody, I used to shake prison- to understand language. Collaborating we need that explanation. They simply ers’ hands,” Harms said. “The deputies with Ekman on a paper that was recently exercise these skills much more than we thought I was crazy. But I wanted to see published in Nature, the psychologist do.” Ekman has also done work showing what happened, because that’s what Nancy Etcoff, of Massachusetts Gen- that some abused children are particu- larly good at reading faces as well: like the aphasics in the study, they developed “interpretive strategies”—in their case, so they could predict the behavior of their volatile parents. What appears to be a kind of magi- cal, effortless intuition about faces, then, may not really be effortless and magical at all. This kind of intuition is a product of desire and effort. Silvan Tomkins took a sabbatical from Princeton when his son Mark was born, and stayed in his house on the Jersey Shore, staring into his son’s face, long and hard, picking up the patterns of emotion—the cycles of interest, joy, sadness, and anger—that flash across an infant’s face in the first few months of life. He taught himself the logic of the furrows and the wrinkles and the creases, the subtle differences between the pre-smile and the pre-cry face. Later, he put together a library of thousands of photographs of human faces, in every conceivable expression. He developed something called the Pic- ture Arrangement Test, which was his version of the Rorschach blot: a patient would look at a series of pictures and be asked to arrange them in a sequence and then tell a story based on what he saw. The psychologist was supposed to in- terpret the meaning of the story, but Tomkins would watch a videotape of the patient with the sound off, and by studying the expressions on the patient’s face teach himself to predict what the story was. Face-reading, for those who have mastered it, becomes a kind of compulsion; it becomes hard to be satis- fied with the level and quality of infor- mation that most of us glean from nor- mal social encounters. “Whenever we “He’s exactly the kind of man I’ve always wanted to change.” get together,” Harms says of spending TNY—08/05/02—PAGE 48—133SC.—LIVE OPI ART A7540—#2 PAGE
  12. 12. time with other face readers,“we debrief each other. We’re constantly talking about cases, or some of these videotapes of Ekman’s, and we say, ‘I missed that, did you get that?’ Maybe there’s an emo- tion attached there. We’re always trying to place things, and replaying interviews in our head.” This is surely why the majority of us don’t do well at reading faces: we feel no need to make that extra effort. People fail at the nurses tape, Ekman says, because they end up just listening to the words. That’s why, when Tomkins was starting out in his quest to understand the face, he always watched television with the sound turned off.“We are such creatures of language that what we hear takes precedence over what is supposed to be our primary channel of communication, “So, are you here alone?” the visual channel,” he once said. “Even though the visual channel provides such enormous information, the fact is that • • the voice preëmpts the individual’s at- tention, so that he cannot really see the face while he listens.” We prefer that way feel something that might otherwise be Hollywood had backed up, and one of of dealing with the world because it does avoided entirely. To see what is intended the manhole covers had been cordoned not challenge the ordinary boundaries of to be hidden, or, at least, what is usually off because it was pumping out water. human relationships. Ekman, in one of missed, opens up a world of uncomfort- The guy comes over to the squad car, his essays, writes of what he learned able possibilities. This is the hard part of and he’s walking right through that. He’s from the legendary sociologist Erving being a face reader. People like that have fixated on Scott. So we asked him what Goffman. Goffman said that part of more faith in their hunches than the rest he was doing. He says, ‘I was out for a of us do. But faith is not certainty. Some- what it means to be civilized is not to walk.’ And then he says, ‘I have some- times, on a routine traffic stop late at “steal” information that is not freely thing to show you.’ ” night, you end up finding out that your given to us. When someone picks his Later, after the incident was over, hunch was right. But at other times you’ll nose or cleans his ears, out of unthinking Harms and his partner learned that the never know. And you can’t even explain habit, we look away. Ekman writes that man had been going around Hollywood it properly, because what can you say? for Goffman the spoken word is “the ac- making serious threats, that he was un- You did something the rest of us would knowledged information, the informa- stable and had just attempted suicide, never have done, based on something tion for which the person who states it is that he was in all likelihood about to the rest of us would never have seen. willing to take responsibility,” and he erupt. A departmental inquiry into the “I was working in West Hollywood goes on: incident would affirm that Harms and once, in the nineteen-eighties,” Harms his partner had been in danger: the man said. “I was with a partner, Scott. I was was armed with a makeshift flame- When the secretary who is miserable about a fight with her husband the previous driving. I had just recently come off the thrower, and what he had in mind, evi- night answers, “Just fine,” when her boss prostitution team, and we spotted a man dently, was to turn the inside of the squad asks, “How are you this morning?”—that in drag. He was on Sunset, and I didn’t car into an inferno. But at the time all false message may be the one relevant to the boss’s interactions with her. It tells him that recognize him. At that time, Sunset was Harms had was a hunch, a sense from she is going to do her job. The true mes- normally for females. So it was kind of the situation and the man’s behavior and sage—that she is miserable—he may not care odd. It was a cold night in January.There what he glimpsed inside the man’s coat to know about at all as long as she does not intend to let it impair her job performance. was an all-night restaurant on Sunset and on the man’s face—something that called Ben Franks, so I asked my partner was the opposite of whatever John Yar- What would the boss gain by reading to roll down the window and ask the brough saw in the face of the boy in the subtle and contradictory microex- guy if he was going to Ben Franks—just Willowbrook. Harms pulled out his gun pressions on his secretary’s face? It would to get a reaction. And the guy immedi- and shot the man through the open be an invasion of her privacy and an act ately keys on Scott, and he’s got an over- window. “Scott looked at me and was, of disrespect. More than that, it would coat on, and he’s all bundled up, and he like, ‘What did you do?’ because he entail an obligation. He would be obliged starts walking over to the car. It had been didn’t perceive any danger,” Harms said. to do something, or say something, or raining so much that the sewers in West “But I did.” o THE NEW YORKER, AUGUST 5, 2002 49 TNY—08/05/02—PAGE 49—133SC.—LIVE OPI ART A7706