What Are Micro Expressions?

Micro expressions are involuntary facial expressions that occur within a fraction of a second. These reflexive movements reflect a person’s true emotions regardless of what their controlled facial expressions portray. People are not able to control their micro expressions, which makes identifying this emotional leakage a valuable skill to uncover a person’s true feelings. But micro expressions happen in a flash, lasting for a half second or less. Most people misinterpret them or miss them altogether.

Do Micro Expressions Accurately Convey a Person’s Emotions?

Results from hundreds of studies conducted all over the world and going as far back as Darwin support that key facial expressions of emotion are universal. With such consistent results, there is strong evidence for the universal facial expressions of seven emotions. These seven facial expressions are innate, reflexive, emotional reactions to stimuli.

Identifying the emotion behind facial expressions comes naturally to people- that’s what makes them universal. But people can control and fake facial expressions to mimic emotional responses. However, there is a slight delay. This slight delay between true reaction and control is when micro expressions are observed. With practice, you can capture a person’s micro expressions before their brain catches up with their face.

What are the Seven Universal Facial Expressions?

The universal facial expressions of seven emotions are:
  • Joy
  • Surprise
  • Sadness
  • Anger
  • Fear
  • Contempt
  • Disgust

(J, here is an example where we can later expand on this article by adding descriptions of each
facial expression and add your video samples)
Each facial expression engages the same facial muscles to convey the emotion. Joy is typically the easiest to identify, and sadness is the hardest to fake. Others, like surprise and fear, can be harder to differentiate, especially as micro expressions.

Can People Be Trained to Read Micro Expressions?

David Matsumoto, a leader in the scientific study of micro expressions, provided strong evidence for training the ability to read microexpressions of emotion [1]. This study demonstrated that the ability to read micro expressions can be trained. They also provided evidence that trainees retain the learned skill over time. 

(will be expanded to describe the several training tools mentioned in our video)

Benefits of Reading Micro Expressions

Law enforcement and other security officers are often trained to read micro expressions to see through potentially dangerous facades. Microexpressions differentiate truths from lies about future malicious intent [2]. These skills can help them identify security threats, like a potential terrorist who flashes fear before entering airport security, or liars, who may flash surprise when an interrogator hits it on the mark. Reading micro expressions can mean the difference between life and death for an officer, like when a person expresses anger right before drawing a weapon.
But reading micro expressions isn’t just for singling out bad guys. The learned skill is beneficial for anyone who wishes to increase emotional awareness and to improve their ability to detect deception. Business owners, hiring managers, deal brokers, psychologists, salespeople, and more can benefit from micro expression training.


Micro Expressions in Business

Zeroing in on micro expressions can help direct business negotiations. For instance, when you mention the price, does the client express disgust or surprise? Disgust can show you that you may need to throw in another incentive. Surprise could reveal you are leaving money on the table. Your ability to catch these micro expressions can help fine-tune offers and close deals.

Micro Expressions and Body Language

Learning to identify micro expressions in conjunction with body language will greatly increase your people-reading skills. Just like the face, the body transmits information on thoughts, emotions, and intentions. When you observe a person’s behavior and reactions as a whole, you will gain a more complete picture of their feelings and intentions.

How Do I Learn to Read Micro Expressions?

Anybody can learn to read micro expressions with the right instruction and practice. Training usually begins with descriptions and still images to familiarize yourself with the physical properties of different expressions. Those images are then put into motion as videos to train you how to identify micro expressions in real time. As mentioned, the best training incorporates reading body language as well.

If you want to learn how to uncover a person’s true thoughts and feelings, John English offers a Reading Others Workshop. There is limited space for this powerful two-day workshop on reading others and learning to make sense of truth and lies.
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  1. Matsumoto, D. & Hwang, H.S. Motiv Emot (2011) 35: 181. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11031-011-9212-2
  2. Matsumoto, D. & Hwang, H.S. Front Psychol (2018) 9: 2545 doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2018.02545
  3. @pauleckman


Key Takeaways

Micro expressions are fleeting facial expressions that reveal genuine emotions, lasting less than half a second.

Unlike controlled expressions, people can’t manipulate these reactions, making them invaluable for understanding true feelings.

Despite their brevity, these expressions convey universal emotions like joy, surprise, sadness, anger, fear, contempt, and disgust.

Training can enhance the skill of reading micro expressions, a talent vital for professionals such as law enforcement officers.

Detecting these subtle cues aids in identifying deception and enhancing emotional intelligence. In business, recognizing micro expressions refines negotiations, allowing one to tailor offers effectively and secure successful deals.

Mastering this skill can empower various professionals, from psychologists to salespeople, facilitating better communication and decision-making.

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