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Expressions can reveal a lot

By: Rick Sheridan
December 4, 2017 Updated: December 4, 2017 at 4:05 am
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The recent firing of Charlie Rose from CBS and PBS was a shock to many people, including myself. I have watched Charlie on PBS since the 1980s. One of the reasons that he was able to schedule interviews with so many high-profile people was that he always came across as a friendly, fair, and objective reporter.

Since his recent firing, there have been many images of Rose flashed on the major media networks that show a different person.

These include a frowning, surprised and angry version of the gentleman reporter. These spontaneous facial expressions mixed in with the expressions someone attempts to project are called "microexpressions."

According to the "Encyclopedia of Human Behavior," from former Stanford professor Vilayanur S. Ramachandran, a microexpression is a brief, involuntary facial expression shown on the face of humans according to the emotions they are experiencing. They usually occur in high-stakes situations, where people have something to lose or gain.

Microexpressions occur when a person is consciously trying to conceal how they are feeling, or when a person does not consciously know that they are being watched.

Unlike regular facial expressions, it is difficult or impossible to hide a microexpression. Microexpressions cannot be controlled as they happen in a fraction of a second, but it is possible to capture someone's expressions with a high speed camera and replay them at much slower speeds for analysis.

Microexpressions can express the common emotions, such as disgust, anger, fear, sadness, happiness, contempt, and surprise.

One of the problems is that microexpressions do not usually show what intentions or thoughts the deceiver is trying to conceal. They only provide a clue that there was an emotional arousal with that situation. This concealed emotion does not provide much information on why that emotion was felt, but at least there is some warning that the person may not be telling the whole truth. Even though microexpressions can be an accurate way to detect the person's emotional arousal at the time of the expression, the interpretation of the microexpression can be much more difficult.

For example, if a political candidate says they will not raise taxes and then has a microexpression of joy, does that mean that they are happy that they will be able to stop a tax increase? Does it mean that they are lying and that they will raise taxes, but do not expect to get punished by voters, or, does it mean that they are happy that they are expressing what voters want to hear, but they know that they probably can't actually do anything to stop a tax increase? It can take weeks or months for experts to watch the recorded footage to make sense of this.

Just being aware of microexpressions can make it more likely that celebrities, politicians or others will not be able to say anything and get away with it.

Even though Rose is still innocent until proven guilty, his recent microexpressions has provided a new perspective on this well-known television journalist.

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Rick Sheridan is a retired professor of communications who lives in Colorado Springs. He taught at Wilberforce (Ohio), and has also lectured at Stanford, California State University, Chico, and at the Chautauqua Institution.

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