Micro-Momentary Expressions

  • Article's photo | Credit MDPI
  • In a world where communication often relies heavily on words, micro-momentary expressions offer a window into the subconscious. These subtle facial movements, lasting only fractions of a second, can convey a wealth of emotions and intentions, often without the speaker even realizing it. From a raised eyebrow to a fleeting smile, each micro-expression paints a vivid picture of our innermost thoughts and feelings. But what exactly are micro-momentary expressions, and why do they matter? Let's dive in.

Defining Micro-Momentary Expressions

Micro-momentary expressions, as the name suggests, are brief facial expressions that occur involuntarily in response to internal thoughts or external stimuli. Coined by psychologist Paul Ekman, these fleeting cues can reveal emotions such as happiness, surprise, fear, sadness, anger, and disgust, among others.

Unlike macro-expressions, which are more overt and easier to detect, micro-momentary expressions often go unnoticed by the untrained eye. They occur spontaneously and are typically fleeting, making them a fascinating area of study for psychologists, anthropologists, and even law enforcement professionals.

Think of micro-momentary expressions as the whispers of the soul – subtle yet profound signals that can speak volumes about a person's true feelings and intentions. Whether it's a subtle twitch of the lips or a slight narrowing of the eyes, each micro-expression provides valuable insight into the complex tapestry of human emotions.

Micro-momentary expressions are confined to the face. They are very brief and usually appear for no more than 500 milliseconds and as short as 33 milliseconds when a person consciously or unconsciously attempts to disguise or conceal an emotion and reveals an actual emotional state.

When people are describing a painful experience while putting on a brave face, it is not uncommon for them to reveal their discomfort by briefly altering their facial expression. One moment they are smiling, giving the impression that the experience did not bother them at all; the next moment their face is transformed into the briefest of grimaces. Then, before anyone notices anything, the smile is back, and all evidence of discomfort is erased from their face.

Ekman and Friesen (1969)Opens in new window argue that micro-expressions reflect stimulus-evoked emotions that “leak” to the face before the person is able to fully inhibit the expressions and /or (if the inhibition is at least partly successful) the person’s attempt to control the expression .

In addition, some micro-expressions might reflect uninhibited emotions that are simply very brief. Regardless of their cause, micro-expressions could provide yet another explanation for low observed coherence between emotions and facial expressions: It could be argued that many uninhibited emotions were overlooked in the coherence studies because they were too brief or too weak to be detected by the observation methods used (which in most studies were observer based) —(José Miguel Fernández Dols, James A. Russell. The Science of Facial Expression).

Why Micro-Momentary Expressions Matter

In a world where nonverbal communication plays a crucial role in our daily interactions, understanding micro-momentary expressions can be incredibly beneficial. Whether you're navigating social situations, negotiating business deals, or simply trying to connect with others on a deeper level, being able to read these subtle cues can give you a significant advantage.

Moreover, micro-momentary expressions can also help us better understand ourselves. By becoming more attuned to our own facial movements and gestures, we can gain insight into our subconscious thoughts and emotions. This self-awareness can be a powerful tool for personal growth and development.

Additionally, micro-momentary expressions have practical applications in various fields, including psychology, sociology, and even artificial intelligence. Researchers are continually exploring ways to use facial recognition technology to detect and analyze these subtle cues, with potential implications for everything from mental health diagnosis to human-computer interaction.

Unlocking the Secrets of the Subconscious

So, how can we train ourselves to recognize and interpret micro-momentary expressions more effectively? Like any skill, it takes practice and patience. Start by paying closer attention to the faces of those around you, observing the subtle shifts in expression that occur during conversation.

You can also hone your skills by studying resources on body language and nonverbal communication, familiarizing yourself with the different types of micro-momentary expressions and what they signify. And don't forget to practice empathy – putting yourself in someone else's shoes can help you better understand the emotions behind their micro-expressions.

In conclusion, micro-momentary expressions are a fascinating and often overlooked aspect of human communication. By learning to recognize and interpret these subtle cues, we can gain deeper insights into the thoughts, feelings, and intentions of those around us. So, the next time you find yourself in conversation, remember to look beyond the words – for it's often the smallest gestures that speak the loudest.

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  • References
    • Ekman, P., & Friesen, W. V. (1969). Nonverbal leakage and clues to deception. Psychiary, 32, 88-105.
      Ekman, P., Friesen, W.V. (1978). Facial action coding system: A technique for the measurement of facial movement, Palo Alto, CA: Consulting Psychologists Press.
    • Ekman, P., Friesen, W. V., & Ancoli, S. (1980). Facial signs of emotional experience. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 39, 1125 – 1134.
    • Ekman, P., Friesen, W. V., & Hager, J. V. (2002). Facial action coding system (2nd ed.). Salt Lake City, UT: Research Nexus eBook.
    • Fernández-Dols, J-M. (1999). Facial expression and emotion: A situationist view. In P. Philippot, R. S. Fieldman, & E. J. Coats (Eds.), The social context of nonverbal behaviour (pp. 242-261). Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
    • Fernández-Dols, J-M., & Crivelli, C. (2013). Emotion and expression: Naturalistic studies. Emotion Review, 5, 24-29.

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