Facial Analytics: a management 3.0 secret weapon (part 2)

Part two: The Origins of Facial Analytics (part one is here)

Descriptions of  a pseudo science known as face reading exist in the ancient literature of Greece, China, and Europe. While those ideas have been largely discredited by science, a new practice of facial analytics is emerging as a progressive science for psychological assessment.  Here is a brief introduction into its modern origins and potential applications:

In the 1960’s western psychologists considered the face a meager source of mostly inaccurate, culture-specific, stereotypical information (Bruner & Tagiuri, 1954). But things were about to change and new research on this subject of facial emotions would have a dramatic impact in developing the science of facial analytics.  Silvan Tomkins, a well-known American clinical psychologist and personality theorist was instrumental in convincing two of his mentees, Paul Ekman and Carroll Izard to pursue research independently of each other on non-verbal communication of facial emotions. They discovered that humans, across varied cultures, both literate and preliterate, shared agreement between emotions and the corresponding facial expressions (Ekman & Friesen, 1971 and Izard 1971). In other words,  an innate grammar of emotional expression links all humans.  This research has had many implications in developing the practice of facial analytics and taking it out of the realm of the mystical and into the empirical. For example, this evidence of universality both required and justified nearly a decade of work to develop methods for measuring the movements of the face. Ekman and his partner Wallace Friesen developed the Facial Action Coding System, which was the first and most comprehensive technique for scoring all visually distinctive, observable facial movements.  A few years later, in 1979, Izard published his own technique for selectively measuring those facial movements that he thought were relevant to emotion.

Universality of emotions is the key

According to Ekman a universal emotion requires a distinctive expression so another human from any culture can know instantly from a glance how a person is feeling. By that measure one would only have to look at the evidence on how many emotions have distinctive expressions to determine the number of universal emotions. Originally distinctive universal expressions were identified for anger, fear, disgust, sadness, and enjoyment. Overtime Ekman added:  contempt, surprise, amusement, embarrassment, guilt, pride, contentment, relief, satisfaction, sensory pleasure and shame.  So far, this brings the list of emotions that have a universal facial expression to fifteen.

Fifteen universal emotions may not seem like a very complete system for describing the richness of human emotions. If you remember, however, that there are anywhere from 40 to as many 196 muscles in the face(depending on how you enumerate them) and each muscle can take from two to nine different positions; you end up with an astronomical number of possible muscle movements or nuances of emotional expression. If you add to these to the potential permutations and combinations of emotions such as a happy configuration followed by a sadness configuration, which is very different from a sadness configuration followed by a happy configuration-you can see how the possibilities approach infinity.

Given the complexity of possibilities, the fifteen fundamental emotions serve as templates and organizing principles for interpreting an otherwise overwhelming amount of data.  Fifteen universal emotions give a meaningful and sufficiently discrete set while at the same time allowing a range of expressiveness so vast it gives weight to the idea that the face the most sophisticated information system on planet Earth.

FOX TV jumps on the bandwagon

Famed film and television producer Brian Grazer created a show based largely on Dr. Ekman’s work. The show “Lie to Me” has been running on the Fox network for several seasons. The show however tends to focus on facial analytics as system for deception detection, which is only a small part of face reading’s potential.

Dr. Ekman studied the changes in human emotional expression in the moment. Consequently Dr. Ekman only presented part of facial analytic’s bigger picture.  What were missing were the long-term implications of persistent emotional states and the ability to see the face as an index to the mind.

A breakthrough uncovers a new science

While Ekman focused on the easier to quantify facial data called micro-expressions, it was the work of Dr. Michael Lincoln that led to the psychologically holistic applications of facial analytics.

Michael J. Lincoln was born in Berkley, California in 1933. He earned his Ph.D. in clinical psychology at the University of Oregon, where he spent several years teaching, research assisting and working at mental hospitals. He was one of the first psychologists successful in the integration of behavioral and psychoanalytic approaches. Along with all this clinical work, he served as a professor of psychology at the University for several years, where he trained students in professional clinical psychology, conducted research, and taught at both the graduate and undergraduate levels.

In the late 1960’s and early 70’s in the midst of this extraordinarily intense career work and the accompanying high case loads Dr. Lincoln uncovered the holistic face-reading process based upon modern psychological assessment approaches. The unimaginably massive amounts of data from Dr. Lincoln’s case load may have contributed to the realization after a time that he was able to predictively complete the patient’s case file with nearly 100% accuracy, without having done the interview.  Naturally, he found this fascinating and unusual.  So he began systematically studying the phenomenon. Over time he unearthed literature from the East and the West about the process and integrated that which could be empirically tested and added to his understanding of facial analytics.

What makes it possible (the face as index of the mind)

Let’s take a closer look at the potential for facial analytics. Consider the intersection of face reading and human emotional and psychological development from birth.

As each human child develops, many factors will shape and influence their personalities, perceptions and experience of life. How the growing human interacts with her or his environment definitely registers on their face.  Infant studies have all built a case for the impact of maternal facial expression on the child (Stein et al, 2009, Klinnert, 1983). For example adult behaviors such as being withdrawn or people avoidant are sometimes traced back to sensing as a child a contradiction between words and facial expressions. (Lincoln, 1989)  According to Dr. Lincoln, the developmental process is like an inverted pyramid. In this respect, seemingly small and insignificant events can have a cascading effect on the child’s development well beyond the proportion of the original interaction.  For instance if the kid gets the message from the mother’s face, “I wish you weren’t here,” that is tantamount to getting a message from the in loco deity that “I don’t belong here, God says so!”  From here one can see patterns of shame, guilt, frustration and a host of accompanying scripts, especially in the area of self esteem. The child translates the original facial expression-exchange as, “I am not worthy of love.” This in turn initiates thought patterns and behaviors that reinforce the feeling of not being worthy.

To complicate and place even more importance on the developmental years is the intensity and speed at which human interactions occur.  Import research and discovery on this subject was done by William Condon in the 60’s. Using motion picture film Condon noticed blurs in the single frames of film shot at the normal 24 frames per second.  By speeding up the rate of filming (which slows everything down during playback) he was able to prove that human behavior can occur at rate of 64 pulses per second. Each pulse involves a different pattern of subtle moving in muscles and body parts. In addition to this Condon was able to demonstrate that humans interact as fast as 16 times per second. This means an unimaginably rapid and potentially dense amount of information is being shared from person to person. (Edward T. Hall Beyond Culture Anchor Books, 1977)  This subtle and high speed interaction had been given the name, Kinesic Dance, by Ray Birdwhistle.

In addition, research has shown an extraordinarily high amount of shifting influence of the mother over the child In respect of punishments that are particularly effective in socializing guilt (which leverages fear). According to Kemper in his 1987 paper on the number of emotions, “Sears, Maccoby, and Levin (1957) found that the most important was withdrawal of love. Hence, the most potent fear aroused in the punishment situation may be fear of loss of love. Where there is no love to lose, the fear would ordinarily be considerably less; the likelihood is then much reduced of linking the several elements of fear, forbidden act, punishment, and label.

Hoffman noted that the “available evidence suggests that in the 2- 4 year-old range children experience pressures from mothers to change their behavior on the average of every six to eight minutes throughout their waking hours, and in the main they end up complying” (Hoffman, 1977, p. 93). Demos (1982) also observed a change over time in the pattern of mothers’ evaluations, comments, and voice tones. When their infants were 9-15 months old, the mothers’ vocal productions were mainly positive. By the 21-month period, mothers had shifted to a more irritated, perfunctory, and didactic tone, oriented, as in the materials reported by Hoffman, toward obtaining behavior change. Certainly, the high rate of behavior change parents require of their children by the second year is not achieved in most cases without punishment of which the child ordinarily develops some fear. Indeed, before gaining the ability to reason through the grounds for a behavior change, children must necessarily control their conduct largely through fear of the aversive consequences learned through previous punishment.”

Because every emotion experienced ends up being repeatedly expressed on the child’s face a history of the dynamics, and character of the these interactions is trace into each human face.

A graphic anecdote about child rearing

The most graphic example of this phenomenon was the film footage of a mother holding twins (Condon, 196?). In the five-minute film one twin start to fuss and cry while the other remains calm. When they ran the film in slow motion it came out that the mother and her preferred twin were involved in a mutual validation experience sixteen times a second while she and the other twin were involved in a mutual rejection pattern sixteen times a second. By the end of five minutes he had received 4800 rejections. When seen in slow motion, the impact is overwhelming and the implications staggering (Michael Lincoln, 2007).

This type of interaction should give you a sense of how the face is able to record these patterns of behavior, like grooves cut into a record; emotions become behavioral traces which become part of a permanent index of the mind. As muscular reactions to the environment repeat over and over they even begin to mold the bone and cartilaginous structures of the face.  This constructed legacy becomes a part of what a face reader identifies when reading a person’s history as it has been recorded on their face.

Conclusion (and caution)

Learning facial analytics sets you apart from others. Knowing more than the person you are dealing with knows about you is power, and with power comes responsibility.  You become part of an élite sect with a clear advantage over others. It is up to you to use this advantage for good and humanitarian purposes and not selfish ends.

Are facial analytics the newest tool for management 3.0?

Facial analytics can reinvent the way you do business –

I have been a practitioner of facial analytics for 12 years and it has been an invaluable skill to me in many areas of business.  I have used it to find business associates and partners.  I have consulted for corporations giving feedback on important hires. I used my skills on television to help someone who had a 14 year memory loss. I have even helped private detectives on the trail of dangerous criminals.

Who’s got your back? Do you know who is a friend or foe?

True Story: I had a friend who took a job as CEO of a hundred person corporation.  Let’s call him William.  Everything was going great until the parent company sent in an executive as part of William’s team. This guy (call him Dick) was trouble. If William had been able to face read Dick he would have been able to analyze the newcomer and recognize that Dick had several challenging and potentially trouble-making traits.  As it turned out Dick was highly problematic because he had close ties to several board members. A fact William would have discovered because the red flags from his facial analytics would have prompted William to dig deeper into Dick’s background.

Armed with this knowledge William could have taken steps to protect himself from Dick’s eventual treachery. But William missed the warnings and being a decent person gave Dick the benefit of the doubt and failed to follow a defensive course.  Consequently, Dick began a pattern of undermining William’s position and when things came to a head a year later, William, who had grown the company measurably as CEO got the boot and lost about $600,000 in bonuses. William’s frustrating and bitter outcome could have been avoided if he’d had more information from the beginning about Dick’s nature. Through facial analytics it was available.

Facial analytics improves relations in the workplace:

Facial Analytics can give you 4 decisive business advantages in the workplace:

1) Knowing who to hire – According to Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh, one bad hire can lead to a domino effect of more bad hires and decisions costing a company millions. He estimates his own bad hires have cost Zappos “well over $100 million.”

Imagine the increased effectiveness of hiring practices that help screen potential hires with problematic personalities that could lead to avoidable interpersonal conflict or caused major workplace disruptions. Standard hiring techniques like a résumé and interview can hide important weakness and in some cases relevant strengths.

2) Managing expectations makes one a better manager– facial analytics helps a manager avoid the stress that comes from either over or under estimating the psychological needs of the people they work with. These misplaced expectations create stress for both the manager and the employee and affects everybody involved’s ability to perform optimally and with satisfaction. In fact, whether a coworker is above or below them in the chain of command, understanding a person’s psychological boundaries and emotional capacity would help a manager develop better interpersonal skills.

3) Becoming expert in delegating workload and putting together teams –  facial analytics gives insight in to an individual’s propensities, strengths and weaknesses. Having this information would help you to make better decision about how to utilize and engage others, whether you are putting together a team or have to manage any group of people.

4) Executive training windfall – an executive trained by an expert in facial analytics is better equipped to manage challenging personalities, competitors, antagonistic board members, investors, etc…

3 more ways to gain Insight into all relationships

Knowing strengths and weaknesses:  facial analytics  can positively impact relationships both inside and outside of work. Relationship issues like new friendships, romance, guiding children, meeting potential partners can be improved by the increased insight to the person’s psychological profile. When looking at a person the face reader can quickly surmise character, personality traits, strengths and weaknesses.  This goes a long way toward answering the first issue, “Should I be involved with this person?”

Relationship compatibility: Going further into the potential of a relationship you may want to know, “What is my compatibility with this person, or how can I best interact with them?”  At this stage you can become the subject of  facial analytics. You can use face readings to develop a clearer picture of who you are and what your principle roles in life might be. This process teaches you to be both constructively self-aware and mission oriented.

Better communication:  Facial analytics can also help in a crucial aspect of developing and maintaining relationships: dialogue. The key to dialogue is your ability to ask questions, and good questioning requires being able to gauge the responses you get and use that feedback to dig deeper into the psyche and emotional needs of the person you are communicating with. Better communication skills mean more effective relationships.  Face reading gives you the opportunity to become even more than an empathic listener. It allows you to become an insightful listener. In terms of communication skill sets, this is like the difference between being an average interested person and being Sherlock Holmes.

Never again say, “If only I’d known that…”

Learning how to read faces takes time but I feel that it is an innate capacity for all humans. Among other things  facial analytics takes the natural capacity for intuition or gestalt perception and refines it. It seems reasonable to assume that humans uncovering or regaining  their ability to read faces coincides with the advances we are making both technologically and politically as a civilization. Those that take the time to develop this skill could avoid costly errors of judgment like my friend William. There are many implications for face reading from the aforementioned hiring to the ability to better select and manage corporate and non-profit boards. I would love to hear from you how it could improve your business environment

Where do I find an expert in facial analytics?

Right now there is a shortage of people with this skill.  Certainly Dr. Lincoln (you will learn about him in part two of this article) and myself are capable. But a great many more are needed. I am currently developing research projects that will also serve to train people in this practice. As grant money becomes available these training projects will become a valuable resource. In the meantime you may ask me questions and I will do my best to answer them. (Many people ask my rate for consulting and it is $175/hour.) And I am always interested in hearing ideas about integrating this process into technology based ideas.

Stay tuned for part two: The Origins of  facial analytics. If you like this article please tweet and post, and if you want to get more like this in your email box please subscribe using the function in the right side column

Update: Some people have asked for an example of what you see in a  facial analytics. I did a quick study of pols and CEOs last election here.