Your face, the mirror of your emotion

[Reading time: 2 minutes]

Your face is the mirror of your soul.

All the emotions you feel will appear on your face.

One of the greatest psychologists in the world, Paul Ekman, has been studying emotions and linked reactions, giving his contribution to our society in discovering the nonverbal language.

In order to conduct his research, he lived for two years in Papua New Guinea (1967-68) studying nonverbal language of Fore people (an isolated tribe whose habits never evolved from the stone age).

He discovered that people, both from the civilized world and people from a tribe that live as if they were in the stone age, explain emotions in the same way. This lead him to believe in the existance of few universal emotions, expressed by everyone in the same way.Ekman discovered six basic emotions: joy/happiness, surprise, sadness, anger, disgust, fear.

Throughout his trip he was able to collect pictures of these basic emotions on the tribe people’s faces. This lead him to make a comparison with pictures of people from different countries and social backgrounds. He discovered that every people on earth expresses these six emotions in the same way:

  • Joy is expressed through an obvious smile and more pronounced eyes lines;
  • Surprise, when it is true, manifests eyebrows arching, eyes opening wide and exposing more white, with the jaw dropping slightly
  • Sadness – symbolized by lowering of the mouth corners, the eyebrows descending to the inner corners and the eyelids drooping
  • Anger – symbolized by eyebrows lowering, lips pressing firmly and eyes bulging
  • Disgust – symbolized by the upper lip raising, nose bridge wrinkling and cheeks raising
  • Fear – symbolized by the upper eyelids raising, eyes opening and the lips stretching horizontally


Darwin influenced Paul Ekman’s framework, but, at the same time, the theory of six universal emotions doesn’t have to exist within an evolutionary perspective.

Nowadays, because of Eklan’s work, you are able to study how people’s faces react and how people explain their emotion. You do, however have to contextualize each expression. This means that people can react in a specific way, and his evaluation might be true, but exogenous factors may affect the way in which people express their emotions.

It is important to understand not only facial expressions, but also situations. This field is very complex, but understanding emotions can lead us to distinguish these from other affective phenomena.

With his first research project Paul Ekman changed the field of psychology. One man lead us to discover ourselves and our emotions.


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