Paul Ekman is a pre-eminent psychologist and a co-discoverer of micro expressions with Friesen, Haggard and Isaacs. In 2009, Ekman was named one of the 100 most influential people in the world by TIME Magazine.
Paul Ekman, Professor Emeritus in Psychology at UCSF, is the researcher and author best known for furthering our understanding of nonverbal behavior, encompassing facial expressions and gestures. In addition to his own distinguished academic career, Ekman has authored more than 100 published articles and holds several honorary doctoral degrees. A pre-eminent psychologist and co-discoverer of micro expressions with Friesen, Haggard and Isaacs, Ekman was named by the American Psychological Association as one of the most influential psychologists of the 20th century, and TIME Magazine (2009) hailed him as one of the 100 most influential people in the world.
Paul Ekman received his Ph.D. in clinical psychology at Adelphi University (1958), after a one-year internship at the Langley Porter Neuropsychiatric Institute, University of California San Francisco (UCSF). He served two years as First Lieutenant and chief psychologist at Fort Dix, New Jersey then returned to Langley Porter (UCSF) where he became professor of psychology in the UCSF medical school in 1972, retiring in 2004. Ekman’s research started in the late 1950’s, focusing on hand movements and gesture. It wasn’t until 1965 that he became interested in facial expression and emotion after receiving a grant from the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) of the Department of Defense to examine cross-cultural studies of nonverbal behavior. In 1967 and 1968, Ekman traveled to Papua New Guinea (photograph at right) to further study nonverbal behavior of the Fore people, an isolated, Stone Age culture located in the South East Highlands. His research provided the strongest evidence to date that Darwin, not Margaret Mead, was correct in claiming facial expressions are universal. Ekman then developed, with W. Friesen, the first and only comprehensive tool for objectively measuring facial movement – the Facial Action Coding System (FACS), published in 1978, and revised in 2003 with J. Hagar as third author. FACS remains the gold standard for identifying any movement the face can make, free of interpretive inferences. Ekman then teamed with Terry Sejnowski to show that neural networks could be used to have computer based facial measurements. That work still continues under the company Emotient.
Beginning in 1967 Ekman began to study deception, starting with clinical cases in which the patient falsely claimed not to be depressed in order to commit suicide when not under supervision. In the very first case, when films were examined in slowed motion, Ekman and Friesen saw micro facial expressions which revealed strong negative feelings the patient was trying to hide.
When he retired from the University of California in 2004, after more than thirty years as a full professor, Ekman decided to translate his research findings into resources that could be of help to the general public. He formed the Paul Ekman Group, PEG LLC, and authored his book Emotions Revealed: Understanding Faces and Feelings to Improve Emotional Life. An earlier publication, Telling Lies (1st edition 1985; 4th edition 2009), had prompted national and regional law enforcement groups to ask for help. Now it came, in the form of workshops and interactive training tools.
Online Training Tools and Workshops
The Micro Expression Training Tool (METT) enables the user, in under an hour, to spot concealed emotions not visible to most people. The Subtle Expression Training Tool (SETT), in a similar time frame, enables the user to spot the first signs of an emergent emotion. METT and SETT have proven useful not only to law enforcement and national security firms, but also to therapists, health professionals, salespeople, HR professionals and negotiators.
The FOX TV program ‘Lie to Me’, based on Ekman’s research and expertise, brought international publicity to micro expressions and Ekman’s work. He conducted workshops with major security agencies worldwide. When demand grew, he recruited John Pearse, (with more than twenty years’ experience in Scotland Yard and a Ph.D. in psychology) to be PEG’s Vice President for Workshop Training. Pearse provides training and oversight for Paul Ekman International (PEI), a sister company which brings Ekman’s workshops on emotional skills and evaluating truthfulness to government, corporate, and other organizations around the world.
For the last decade Ekman has worked to translate his research into practical applications; shifting focus slightly from earlier products which focused on learning to spot how others feel (and what they may be concealing), PEG is now poised to launch tools that focus on how to respond to others’ emotions, especially when they are receiving unwelcome news or are in a difficult circumstance. Be it in the workplace, during a negotiation, or at home with one’s family, learning how to respond empathically and constructively in trying situations plays a key role in building beneficial relationships. Look for these training tools in mid-2014, contact us for more information on becoming a beta tester, or send an email to ‘firstname.lastname@example.org’.
Part of Ekman’s current work comes out of his close relationship with the Dalai Lama. Reflecting more than fifty hours spent in one-on-one conversation with the Dalai Lama, an ebook, Moving Towards Global Compassion, will be available in 2014. PEG’s next online, interactive training tool enables users to examine their emotional profile, the unique way in which they experience emotion, and how well their view of themselves is the same as an intimate partners’ view of them. This undertaking marks Ekman’s trajectory from establishing universals in the expressions of emotion to elucidating individual differences in how emotions are experienced.
Awards and Honors
1983 Faculty Research Lecturer, University of California, San Francisco – Highest honor awarded by the academic senate for research achievement
1991 Distinguished Scientific Contribution Award – American Psychological Association’s highest award for basic research
1994 Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters, University of Chicago
1998 William James Fellow Award – given by the American Psychological Society
2001 Named one of the most influential psychologists of the 20th century by American Psychological Association, based on publications, citations and awards
2007 Honorary Degree, University of Fernando Pessoa, Portugal
2008 Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters, Adelphi University
2008 Honorary Degree, University of Geneva, Switzerland
2009 Named of the 100 Most Influential People in the World by Time Magazine
2011 Honorary Degree, Lund University, Sweden
Ekman’s work has appeared in US and foreign versions of Time Magazine, Smithsonian Magazine, Psychology Today, The New Yorker and many other notable publications. He has appeared on 48 Hours, Dateline, Good Morning America, 20/20, Larry King Live, The Oprah Winfrey Show, The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, NewsHour with Jim Lehrer, and many other programs. He continues to make appearances and attend conferences; please see our “Contact Us” page to request an interview.