Thanks to the popular television show Lie to Me many people have heard of "micro-expressions". These are the rapid and small muscular movements of the face that can tip you off to how a person is feeling. The researcher who is most well known for looking at micro-expressions is Paul Eckman. The TV show was loosely based on him as the main character. Since learning to read people's emotional states is very important as a therapist, years ago I purchased a micro-expressions training tool from the Paul Eckman website. I went looking for it the other day and could not find it on my hard-drive.
Thanks to the internet I was able to quickly find an alternative, however. Someone in Belgium has posted a micro-expressions on-line quiz. I tried it and was at first really bewildered to find that I got only 46% correct! I am used to scoring above 85% on these kinds of tests since I do this for a living. However I had a few friends take the same test and they got 2%. So now I don't feel as badly. While these things are fun they are by no means a fully scientific and validated measure of your ability to "read" people. But if you have a few minutes to kill and are curious how well you do at reading facial expressions they can be fun to try. I have listed some of them here in addition to the one from Belgium. One was featured in the New York Times a few years ago and only allows you to see the eyes, which I found especially challenging. While the eyes hold most of the emotional information the rest of the face does add data so only having the eyes was a bit tricky. Thankfully I pulled off a 34/36 on the test even though it stressed me to not have the whole face to see. I did find one that uses examples (as far as I can tell) from the actual Eckman micro-expressions training videos. FYI the micro-expressions training programs have a lot more information than any of the tests that I am posting. You can learn more about them on Eckman's website.
Interestingly new research has shown that people on the Autism spectrum "rely more on information from the mouth for emotional judgments". This puts them at a disadvantage as information obtained from scanning the area around the mouth is not as accurate at predicting emotions as the area around the eyes. So this has lead to some new interventions with folks on the Autism spectrum where they can be cued to look more to the eyes of people in order to help them understand other's emotions better.
When I work with couples I am often surprised by how often we fail to look into our partner's eyes, or even at their face, while talking. If you are talking about what to order for lunch that may work OK but if you are having an intense conversation I really encourage you to look directly at your partner's face and even better at the area around their eyes to help you stay as attuned as possible.
I hope you enjoy trying out the micro-expression tests but please don't get worried if you don't score well. They are not, in and of themselves, diagnostic of Autism spectrum disorders. However if you consistently have trouble "reading" people you may want to consider working with a therapist to determine if there are things that can be done to improve your accuracy.
Wishing you happiness and health,
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Krista Jordan, Ph.D.
Dr. Jordan has been in private practice for 20 years in Texas. She is passionate about helping people to overcome hurts and obstacles from their past to find more happiness and health in their current lives.