Microexpressions are involuntary movements of the muscles of the face and occur as a reaction to an emotion. If you learn to detect them, you can identify the attitudes and feelings of the person you are talking to without them noticing.

We have heard them mentioned in series such as ‘Lie To Me’, ‘Dr. House’ and more recently ‘Billions’ being featured in the art of knowing if a person is lying. In my opinion, they are not only useful in detecting lies (although for that you first have to know how to interrogate), but also to get to know the other person better.

Their main characteristic: they are involuntary.

Micro-expressions are so called not because they are very small, but because their duration on the human face is incredibly short (about one-twentieth of a second).

That is why they are so difficult to notice if you are not prepared.

There are two ways to detect them: for a scientific and thorough analysis, it is necessary to film the subject in high definition so that you can watch the recording over and over again and if necessary, frame by frame.

The other way (and actually the one you are interested in) is to train yourself to know exactly which areas of the face you should observe and under which circumstances; with practice, it is possible to detect them during a conversation.

Take this image of the actor Mads Mikkelsen, for example:

Imagine that you are talking to him and you tell him that Robert, an acquaintance of both of you, had a strong argument with his partner.

As soon as you say these words, you notice that Mads’ face forms this expression…

For a moment you think it is nothing; but those tenths of a second movements are involuntary reactions which we try to ‘control’ instantly and they end up manifesting themselves, especially when we are unaware.

Could you identify it? If it had been a complete expression, it would be this one:


If you have told Mads that Robert has had an altercation with his partner and he is smiling, you may sense that there is an emotional connection. This is where you would ask her a direct question about Robert (or her partner), and she would be attentive to her reaction.

Paul Ekman, pioneer of Microexpressions

Paul Ekman, an American scientist, created the Facial Action Coding System (FACS), a method for classifying movements associated with facial muscles.

Ekman decided to group the muscles into “clusters” or Action Units, so that it would be easier to classify them.  Of course, the phrase “easier” is a euphemism, because even with this simplified approach it is possible to count more than 10,000 different combinations.

The “Wizards Project”

Ekman conducted research called “Project Wizards,” later called Project Diogenes. It involved determining what percentage of the population was naturally capable of determining at a glance whether a person is lying or not.  The so-called “Wizards” determined by the study, were those people who could locate lies with an effectiveness greater than 80% (presumably because of their facility to detect microexpressions naturally), while an ordinary person is not much better than a random 50%.

The study revealed that only 0.0025% of the population has this ability, since out of 20,000 people studied, only 50 met the criteria.  Facts like this have helped to feed the “myth” of mentalists who are able to read people’s minds, when in reality they are simply individuals with excellent observation skills.

Practice makes perfect

There are several learning programs such as our Postgraduate Course in Microexpressions and Lie Detection, with which you can develop the ability to identify the microexpressions and the different types of emotions, which muscles are involved in which manifestation and also, exercises to practice.

One of the most important factors when studying microexpressions is to study based on real videos. Although some programmes have high quality and very good resolution recordings, it is always about actors ‘falsifying’ expressions.

It is ideal to learn them by observing real reactions, such as the news.

Practical applications

The study of facial microexpressions has proven its worth in fields as diverse as criminology, psychology and medicine; at the Knesix Institute we apply them specifically to the profiling and detection of hidden intentions in the business environment.

Jesús Enrique Rosas – Director, Knesix Institute

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