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Training of interpreting facial expressions

Seven basic emotional expressions are the same independent from the culture:

smile, sadness, disgust, fear, surprise, anger, scorn

Paul Ekman proved it as he brought photos from everywhere over the world with similar facial expressions for those emotions. This is also true for the natives living in the deep of the rainforest with nearly no contact to the western civilisation. He and a colleague studied each muscle in the face and evaluated its influence on the mimic. So they defined mimic movements executed by one or more muscles, so-called Action Units. On a higher level the action units are then combined to expressions of emotions. Beside facial expression the whole body and the voice contribute to emotional expression as well.

Other emotional expressions and gestures then the ones listed on top are cultural dependent.

With a bit of training everybody can learn to identify subtle facial expressions in your conversation partner. Mostly they flash within parts of a second over the face. The unconscious part of our brain is nevertheless fast interpreting them. Evolutionary it has the background that it is very helpful to interpret e.g. the expression of a wild animal as soon as possible. In some situations it is  a question of live or death. The training helps to transform the indefinite gut feeling into knowledge. As good as one might get be aware that you only find out the facial expression but not its cause. Further signs from body language and voice contribute to an emotional expression as well. Those signs combined can influence on how you proceed with your conversation and therewith contribute to find the cause of the emotion.

I did not try the training personally but if you are interessted you can find information here: http://www.paulekman.com/

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