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Seeing Emotions
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Paul Ekman

. . . emotions research scientist. Professor of psychology in the psychiatry department of the UC Medical School, San Francisco, Dr. Ekman's work was the subject of "The Naked Face" in The New Yorker magazine. He is among the world's leading experts on expression, the physiology of emotion and interpersonal deception. Dr. Ekman's books Emotions Revealed and Telling Lies share his lifetime of research with general audiences. His many honors include the American Psychological Association's Distinguished Scientific Contribution Award. He consults with government agencies, law enforcement professionals and corporations including animation studios Pixar and Industrial Light and Magic.

All humans are the same -- we all express our emotions in fundamentally the same ways. And we all are different -- what we do with the emotions we experience, express, and observe is shaped by individual experience and our unique genetic makeup. Here's the news: We can now get very good at correctly identifying emotions in ourselves and others. And, while evolution makes it very hard for us to change our emotions, we can learn to exercise much greater control over what we do with and about those emotions, once we've recognized them.

Dr. Paul Ekman has led the way in grappling with the deeply human subject of the expression and physiology of emotion, both of which he has studied for more than 40 years. Dr. Ekman now has made much of what he‚s learned available to us all in his general audience book, Emotions Revealed.

Our faces are the primary location for our universal signal system for expressing emotions, Dr. Ekman‚s work has demonstrated -- we are, after all, profoundly visual creatures. Any person, anywhere on the planet, will recognize the elemental emotions in the face of another: fear, surprise, anger, disgust, sadness and anguish (two sides of the same coin, Dr. Ekman says) and enjoyment. This universal recognition is evolution's wisdom of the ages, he says, tipping his hat to Darwin who said the expression of emotion shows the unity of mankind.

Dr. Ekman now distinguishes at least 15 different kinds of enjoyment, as different from each other, he says, as fear is from anger. He believes that it is our parallel signaling system -- the voice -- that helps us know one form of enjoyment from another. After all, when you look at the face expressing enjoyment, a (genuine) smile is a smile is a smile. (He thinks vocal expressions are also universal but less work has been done on them.)

Don't confuse emotions with moods (which last much longer than emotions,) temperament, or our individual emotional profile (the speed and strength of our response to an emotion and how long it takes us to recover from that response.) We share common themes which were orchestrated by evolution, he says. What we learn are variations on those themes. Just consider how the same event triggers very different emotional reactions from different people.

What's the pay-off to improving our ability to recognize emotions in ourselves and in others? We can both expand our emotional range and we can exercise some measure of control over how we chose to respond to the emotions we see and feel. There are many paths that can take us to what Dr. Ekman describes as attentiveness, which he prescribes as the necessary companion to recognition of emotions. All it takes -- both to learn to recognize emotions in ourselves and others and then to become more skillful in responding to what we recognize -- is practice.

[This Program was recorded April 6, 2003, in Atlanta, Georgia, US.]



Conversation 1

Paul Ekman tells Paula Gordon and Bill Russell how all humans are the same and different. Dr. Ekman distinguishes the universal from the culture-specific, outlining evolution's wisdom of the ages and individual variations on those common themes, including our emotional profiles.


Conversation 2

Dr. Ekman names the elemental emotions -- fear, surprise, anger, disgust, sadness, anguish and at least 15 kinds of enjoyment -- and notes the hazards of specializing in only a few of them. He distinguishes emotions from moods, then addresses why it is difficult -- but not impossible -- to modify emotional responses. He explains ãtriggers,ä describes the sequence in which emotions take place, then gives examples of what we can and cannot change. Every emotion can be enacted constructively or destructively, he says, and expands.


Conversation 3

ALL emotions are essential to life, Dr. Ekman assures us, the question is how to optimize what is constructive and minimize what is destructive. He provides practical ideas about how to gain Aristotle‚s goal of balance in our emotional lives. Dr. Ekman describes how to develop the ability to exercise choices in how we respond to emotions. He explains how moods and temperaments differ from emotions and describes the power and importance of the filtering „refractoryš period at the beginning of an emotion.


Conversation 4

Dr. Ekman describes the power of early learning and when emotions are and are not excellent guides. What we want to do, he says, is develop the ãattentivenessä needed to realize when an emotion is beginning so we can take the most skillful step possible to deal with it appropriately. He gives examples of what we can learn by recognizing emotions both in ourselves and in others and when emotions are particularly ãinfectious.ä He describes many reasons to want to be a more skillful observer. Even when we recognize emotions, he notes, we still need words to tell us an emotion's cause and suggests different ways to use what we learn from emotions. He explains how the voice parallels and is different from the face in expressing emotions.


Conversation 5

There are practical reasons to monitor another person‚s feelings, Dr. Ekman assures us, and offers several. It's a lot easier to educate our eyes to see emotions in others than to educate our own internal eye, he says, though both are possible. He describes the CDs he's developed so people can practice what he's describing. We don't have to "lose ours heads," Dr. Ekman says, with more examples of how people can develop the skills that allow emotions to be very good guides. He talks about deception -- lies -- and an increasing need for legislation to limit when privacy can be invaded.


Conversation 6

Dr. Ekman shares his excitement, and hesitations, about making his lifetime of work widely accessible and available. He considers how much more there is to be learned about emotions and describes areas in which we are on the verge of doing so.



Paul Ekman has done the world a great service in demonstrating the oneness of humankind which Charles Darwin first affirmed more than 130 years ago, and by giving us tools with which to translate that knowledge into action. We thank Dr. Ekman for his lifetime of work and we thank him for his friendship.

Related Links:

Dr. Ekman's website includes information about his books and CDs. Further information about him and his scholarly work is available at his personal website.

Emotions Revealed: Recognizing Faces and Feelings to Improve Communication and Emotional Life is published by Times Books/Henry Holt and Company.

Other general audience books by Dr. Ekman include:
Charles Darwin The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals ÷
this definitive edition with introduction, afterward and commentaries by Paul Ekman,
is published by Oxford University Press.

Telling Lies is published by W.W.Norton & Company.

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