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The Face

Learning how to decode the face is like having a super power.

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The face is the window into the soul–if you know how to read it. The good news is we can already tell a lot about someone by their face.

The Face of a Leader:

Look at these faces of CEOs, can you tell which ones are the most profitable?


In this study by Nicholas Rule and Nalini Ambady, researchers asked participants to rate these CEO’s based on their picture. Their ratings accurately correlated to the amount of profits the CEOs made. Answers: J. David J. O’reilly (Chevron), G. James Mulva (Conoco Phillips), C. H. Lee Scott Jr. (Walmart).

How to Read A Face:

Knowing how to read and interpret microexpressions is an essential part of understanding nonverbal behavior and reading people. Here is my brief guide to understanding the microexpression.

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microexpression is a brief, involuntary facial expression that is shown on the face of humans according to the emotions that are being experienced. Unlike regular pro-longed facial expressions, it is difficult to fake a microexpression.

There are seven universal microexpressions: disgust, anger, fear, sadness, happiness, surprise, and contempt. They often occur as fast as 1/15 to 1/25 of a second.

The face is the best indicator of a person’s emotions. Yet, it is often overlooked. Dr. Paul Ekman, whose research is the premise of the show Lie to Me, has done groundbreaking research on decoding the human face. He has shown that facial expressions are universal. In other words, people in the US make the same face for sadness as indigenous people in Papua New Guinea who have never seen TV or movies to model. He also found that congenitally blind individuals—those blind since birth, also make the same expressions even though they have never seen other people’s faces.

Ekman has designated seven facial expressions that are the most widely used and easy to interpret. Learning to read them is incredibly helpful for understanding the people in our lives. If you want to practice reading people’s faces, it is important to know the following basic expressions. I would recommend trying the following faces in the mirror so you can see what they look like on yourself. You will also find that if you make the facial expression, you also begin to feel the emotion yourself! Emotions not only cause facial expressions, facial expressions also cause emotions.

Identifying the microexpression is only a piece of the puzzle. We want to help you understand each of the expressions, specifically the science behind each emotion.

If you want to learn more about the emotions that influence our everyday lives, you can get our FREE guide: 

How to Read the Face

Have you ever wanted to read minds? People’s faces reveal far more about what they’re thinking than you probably realize. When you understand facial expressions, it’s like being able to hear the thoughts behind people’s words.

I will teach you everything you need to know to be able to read faces and understand people’s emotions so you’re able to communicate on a deeper, more informed level.

Learn how to:

  • Understand the 7 emotions that influence our everyday lives
  • Discover people’s hidden feelings
  • React to emotional warning signs

Get the FREE guide right now:

About Vanessa Van Edwards

Vanessa Van Edwards is a national best selling author & lead investigator at her human behavior research lab, Science of People. Her groundbreaking book, Captivate: Use Science to Succeed with People was chosen by Apple as one of the most anticipated books of 2017. She writes a monthly Science of Success column for Entrepreneur Magazine and the Huffington Post. As a professional people watcher her unique work has been featured in CNN, USA Today, the Wall Street Journal, Inc, Business Insider and more. Vanessa leads innovative soft skills trainings for Fortune 500 companies including Google, Dove, Facebook, Intel, MillerCoors and American Express.


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  4. Crystal Collins

    This is great Vanessa! Thank you for sharing! I heard you on Lewis Howes’ podcast, and have shared it without about 5 of my colleagues. Fabulous stuff, and I love the information you share. I’m definitely becoming a subscriber!

    1. Danielle McRae

      Thanks, Crystal! We are so glad to have you as part of the Science of People community. -Danielle & The Science of People Team

  5. Carlos H. Castillo

    Vanessa! I checked this post after Lewis put the link on the show notes. Congrats for curating this greatly helpful information to master our interpersonal skills. I’m your fan and student!

    1. Danielle McRae

      Thank you so much, Carlos! We hope the information will continue to help you master your people skills 🙂 -Danielle & The Science of People Team

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  9. Chaz

    Great breakdown on facial expressions. I just found your material from YouTube video and see your level of expertise with human expressions and charisma. Learning and won’t forget my banana scent next time I go to networking event 😉

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  11. Robby Smith

    This is such a great read!! After reading this article I notice micro-expressions more now than in the past. You can definitely use this in an interrogation.

  12. Andrew

    1/25 of a second! No wonder it can be difficult to read people sometimes Thanks for the helpful information Vanessa!

  13. anissa dianti

    Vanessa, what if someone with contempt baseline on their face, is that means they always feels contempt to other?

    1. Danielle McRae

      Hi anissa, great question. If someone shows a certain expression as their baseline (contempt, surprise, fear, etc), this is called their facial “punctuator”. It does not necessarily mean that they are feeling this expression all of the time, but it’s important to note someone’s punctuator so you can accurately read their expressions and feelings.

      Read our article on mirroring to learn more about identifying facial and bodily punctuators:

      Danielle | Science of People Team

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  15. Liam Hayes

    What a fun article! It’s awesome to become equipped with knowledge that can improve how you interact with others!

  16. Lauren Freeman

    What really interested me about this is the fact that just making the facial expression can make you start to feel the emotion!! It definitely helped to have all the microexpressions broken down to the point that we would be able to analyze whether the emotion was real or faked if we saw them on someone else’s face. I enjoy the fact that these expressions are universal and automatic, we can’t help but make these when we experience the true emotion of fear, surprise, etc 🙂

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