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.