Micro-momentary Expression

Understanding Micro-momentary Expressions

Micro-momentary expressions (also called micro-expressions) are defined as very brief facial expressionsOpens in new window that occur rapidly after the onset of emotion-including stimuli.

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).

In principle, micro-expressions can appear anywhere on the body, but because of the fine-grained nature of the facial muscles, they are most likely to appear on the face. When a micro-tell does appear on our face, it shows that we are in a state of conflict—usually between a positive emotional state that we want other people to see and a negative emotional state we are trying to conceal.

When the negative emotional state momentarily gains the upper hand, our facial control breaks down and the micro-expression appears. Most of the time we are completely unaware of the conflict that is taking place in us and the fact that we are revealing our inner thoughts to the outside world. But even when we are conscious of our conflicting emotions, we still do not realize that our facial micro-expressions are giving us away — (Collett, 2003).