Reading Faces

I just got Unmasking the Face[1] today. One of the authors, Dr. Paul Ekman was a consultant for the TV show, ‘Lie to Me’, about a deception expert. I am excited for a several reasons: 1) maybe this book will help me better understand what people are feeling by learning the secrets of expressions, hidden expressions and micro expressions; 2) maybe I’ll be able to understand my brother Michael’s emotions better; 3) perhaps I can bring some awareness to facial expressions of siblings and their attendant emotions, so they can get the emotional support that they need.


brother jack looking confused

It may take me several reads, and a lot of practice to read faces. I’m a little overwhelmed by the complexity of facial expressions as they relate to emotions. In chapter 2, Ekman lists three signals provided by a face: 1) static, i.e., shape of face, wrinkles; 2) rapid, i.e., nostril flare, raising of eyebrows; 3) slow, i.e., changing appearance with time, such as muscle tone, skin texture. The good news is that emotions are not conveyed by the static or slow signals. The bad news is that the rapid signals are not only to conveyors of emotional content, they can be emblems as well. Ekman describes these as the “nonverbal equivalent of a common word or phrase.”[2] The whole thing seems very complex.

Proposed project

When I started getting involved with Mike’s care, I suggested that I make a record of his facial expressions in different circumstances. For instance, I could make a video of him when he was in a situation that brought out a laugh, a frown, etc. and catalog them. I thought it would be a very good document to give to care givers who didn’t know him. Unfortunately, my proposal was not approved.

Since I live far away from Michael now, I am just left with the still photos.[3] Therefore, I can only look at the static signals from Mike’s face. I will be compiling a catalog of Mike’s expressions. Hopefully it will uncover something I have not seen before.

What about siblings?

Dear Reader, do you think there is any value in bringing attention to the meanings facial expressions of NT siblings in families with severely children? Is this something obvious? If Moms and Dads had this information could they help the siblings more?


As I read more, I will fill you in on the interesting bits.


[1] Ekman, P., Friesen, W.V. Unmasking the Face Malor Books, Cambridge, MA (2003)

[2] Ibid pg12

[3] I do have videos, but the difficulty in finding them, formatting them appropriately and editing them, is an order of magnitude higher than finding my journals. I will do it eventually.

2 thoughts on “Reading Faces

  1. Will you let me know if Ekman says anything about facial expressions that change in a split second, over and over?

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