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The Lecture:


A presentation on “Emotions” was made by Dr. Paul Ekman at Tibet House on January 23, 2012. Both Dr. Paul Ekman and his wife were blessed by Geshe Dorji Damdul with a khatag. The presentation revolved around the basic concept that all humans, regardless of language, culture or race, exhibit the same expressions – anger, contempt, disgust, fear, surprise, happiness and sadness. Animals also have emotions but experience them differently. Expressions of emotions are involuntary and involve a universal unlearnt trigger that, once learnt, becomes inherent. Dr. Ekman put forth the question: “How can I change what I get emotional about? How can I change emotion?” He then stated that though emotional mechanisms are not reversible once they are learnt, it is possible to weaken the trigger of emotions. Hence, the first step is to recognise the trigger. After an emotion is triggered, this impulse translates into action. Dr. Ekman pointed out that a gap between impulse and action exists, which is where individuals differ in their emotions primarily by how fast their biological systems move them from impulse to action. Dr. Ekman made some suggestions on how to manage emotions:

1. Keep a diary of what triggers emotions so one can learn and understand oneself better; to help prepare one for meetings, rehearse mentally.

2. While acting emotionally, become aware of sensations, ask the self, ‘is this the way I want to act?’ Hence, become conscious of the ability to exercise “choice”.

3. Meditation practice is helpful to change gap between impulse and action.

Dr. Ekman also made a distinction between emotions and moods. Emotions can come and go, and one can detect a trigger. Moods can last all day but one will not be able to detect a trigger and they are maladaptive (not responsive to environment). Personality traits also exist within individuals where they have the predisposition to be a particular way. He ended his presentation by referring to his website that contains a ‘micro expression training tool’ for anyone interested, and also his book, Emotions Revealed, 2nd edition. He then opened the floor for questions and answers. Dr. Ekman was formally given thanks for his presentation and the attendees were reminded of the next presentation to be given by his wife, Mary Ann Mason, “Mothers on the Fast Track”.


The Speaker:


Ekman was born in 1934 in Washington, D.C., and grew up in Newark, New JerseyWashingtonOregon, and Southern California.

Paul Ekman was an undergraduate at the University of Chicago and New York University. He received his Ph.D. in clinical psychology at Adelphi University (1958), after a one year internship at the Langley Porter Neuropsychiatric Institute.

At the University of Chicago, his classmates included Susan SontagMike Nichols, and Elaine May.

He received a Research Scientist Award from the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) in 1971, which was renewed in 1976, 1981, 1987, 1991 and 1997. For over forty years, NIMH supported his research through fellowships, grants, and awards. He also wrote a famous book called "Telling Lies" in the year 1985. He was encouraged to write this book by his college friend and teacher Silvan S. Tomkins.

In 2001, Ekman collaborated with John Cleese for the BBC documentary series The Human Face. He retired in 2004 as professor of psychology in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF). From 1960 to 2004 he worked at the Langley Porter Psychiatric Institute.

He was named one of the top Time 100 most influential people in the May 11, 2009 edition of Time magazine.


Ekman's work on facial expressions had its starting point in the work of psychologist Silvan Tomkins. Ekman's projects included developing techniques for measuring facial muscular movement while also developing theories about emotion and deception through empirical research. Ekman showed that contrary to the belief of some anthropologists including Margaret Mead, facial expressions of emotion are not culturally determined, but universal across human cultures and thus biological in origin. Expressions he found to be universal included those indicating anger, disgust, fear, shame, joy, sadness, and surprise. Findings on contempt are less clear, though there is at least some preliminary evidence that this emotion and its expression are universally recognized. Ekman's first publication in 1957 discussed all of his findings on developing methods for measuring nonverbal behavior.

In a research project along with Dr. Maureen O'Sullivan, called the Wizards Project (previously named the Diogenes Project), Ekman reported on facial "microexpressions" which could be used to assist in lie detection. After testing a total of 20,000 people from all walks of life, he found only 50 people that had the ability to spot deception without any formal training. These naturals are also known as "Truth Wizards", or wizards of deception detection from demeanor.

He developed the Facial Action Coding System (FACS) to taxonomize every human facial expression. Ekman conducted and published research on a wide variety of topics in the general area of non-verbal behavior. His work on lying, for example, was not limited to the face, but also to observation of the rest of the body.

In his profession, he also uses oral signs of lying. When interviewed about the Monica Lewinsky scandal, he mentioned that he could detect that former President Bill Clinton was lying because he used distancing language.

Ekman has contributed to the study of social aspects of lying, why we lie, and why we are often unconcerned with detecting lies. He is currently on the Editorial Board of Greater Good magazine, published by the Greater Good Science Center of the University of California, Berkeley. His contributions include the interpretation of scientific research into the roots of compassion, altruism, and peaceful human relationships. Ekman is also working with Computer Vision researcher Dimitris Metaxas on designing a visual lie-detector.


An Abstract:

Emotion classification

Ekman devised a list of basic emotions from cross-cultural research on the Fore tribesmen of Papua New Guinea. He observed that members of an isolated culture could reliably identify the expressions of emotion in photographs of people from cultures with which the Fore were not yet familiar. They could also ascribe facial expressions to descriptions of situations. On this evidence, he concluded that the expressions associated with some emotions were basic or biologically universal to all humans. The following is Ekman's (1972) list of basic emotions:

  • Anger
  • Disgust
  • Fear
  • Happiness
  • Sadness
  • Surprise

However in the 1990s Ekman expanded his list of basic emotions, including a range of positive and negative emotions not all of which are encoded in facial muscles. The newly included emotions are:

  1. Amusement
  2. Contempt
  3. Contentment
  4. Embarrassment
  5. Excitement
  6. Guilt
  7. Pride in achievement
  8. Relief
  9. Satisfaction
  10. Sensory pleasure
  11. Shame

Ekman had a policy against commenting on public officials, those seeking public office, litigants, or those with impending litigation.


Educational innovations

Ekman was featured in an issue of Greater Good Magazine devoted to trust. In this issue, Ekman and daughter Eve are interviewed on parent-child trust. The main topic of the interview focuses on the benefits of trusting your children, how to encourage trustworthy behavior, and what it takes to build trust between parents and children. Ekman is a contributor to Greater Good MagazineGreater Good Science CenterUniversity of California, Berkeley.

On February 27, 2009, he was a guest presenter at the Science of a Meaningful Life seminar "Building Compassion, Creating Well-being", along with University of California, Berkeley and Greater Good Science Center Executive Director Dacher Keltner. Together they covered strategies for building resilience, reducing stress, and strengthening relationships with colleagues, clients, family, and friends.


Topic: Emotions

Speaker: Dr. Paul Ekman

Venue: Conference Hall, Tibet House

Date: January 23, 2012

Time: 05:30 pm