Paul Ekman

Paul Ekman

Paul Ekman (born 1934) is a psychologist who has been a pioneer in the study of emotions and their relation to facial expressions. He is considered one of the 100 most eminent psychologists of the twentieth century. [Haggbloom, S. J. et al. (2002). The 100 Most Eminent Psychologists of the 20th Century. "Review of General Psychology". Vol. 6, No. 2, 139–15. Haggbloom and his team combined 3 quantitative variables: citations in professional journals, citations in textbooks, and nominations in a survey given to members of the Association for Psychological Science, with 3 qualitative variables (converted to quantitative scores): National Academy of Science (NAS) membership, American Psychological Association (APA) President and/or recipient of the APA Distinguished Scientific Contributions Award, and surname used as an eponym. Then the list was rank ordered. Ekman was #59. (A list of the first 25 names, in order, can be found under "Historically important writers" at .)] Ekman takes an evolutionary perspective, in that the development of human traits and states over time is the background to his research (Keltner, 2007).


Ekman was born in 1934 in Washington, DC, and grew up in Newark, New Jersey, Washington, Oregon, and Southern California. He is the son of a pediatrician.

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.

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).


Contrary to the belief of some anthropologists including Margaret Mead, Ekman found that facial expressions of emotion are "not" culturally determined, but universal to human culture and thus biological in origin, as Charles Darwin had once hypothesized. Ekman's finding is now widely accepted by scientists. Expressions he found to be universal included those indicating anger, disgust, fear, 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. [ [ SpringerLink - Journal Article ] ]

Ekman reported facial "microexpressions" that he showed could be used to reliably detect lying, in an effort called the Diogenes Project. He also developed the Facial Action Coding System (FACS) to taxonomize every conceivable human facial expression. Ekman conducted and published research on a broad 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 verbal signs of lying. When interviewed about the Monica Lewinsky scandal, he mentioned that he could tell Clinton was lying because he used distancing language. [ [ The lie detective / S.F psychologist has made a science of reading facial expressions ] ]

Ekman is currently on the Editorial Board of "Greater Good" magazine, published by the Greater Good Science Center of the University of California, Berkeley. Ekman's contributions include the interpretation of scientific research into the roots of compassion, altruism, and peaceful human relationships.

Ekman is working with Computer Vision researcher Dimitris Metaxas on designing a visual lie-detector. [ CorpWatch report.]

Ekman has also contributed much to the study of social aspects of lying, why we lie, [Book: "Why Kids Lie: How Parents Can Encourage Truthfulness"] and why we are often unconcerned with detecting lies. [Ekman, P., 1996: [ Why don't we catch liars] ]

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, stone age 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 some emotions were basic or biologically universal to all humans. [Ekman, P. & Friesen, W. V (1969). The repertoire of nonverbal behavior: Categories, origins, usage, and encoding. "Semiotica", "1", 49–98.] The following is Ekman's (1972) list of basic emotions:

* sadness
* happiness
* anger
* fear
* disgust
* surprise

However in the 90s Ekman expanded his list of basic emotions to 15, notably including a greater range of positive emotions (e.g. Ekman 1999).


[Ekman, P. (1999). Basic emotions. In T. Dalgleish and M. Power (Eds.), Handbook of Cognition and Emotion. Sussex, U.K.: JohnWiley & Sons, Ltd.]


* "Unmasking the Face" ISBN 1883536367
* "Emotions Revealed: Recognizing Faces and Feelings to Improve Communication and Emotional Life" (Times Books, 2003) ISBN 080507516X
* "Telling Lies: Clues to Deceit in the Marketplace, Politics, and Marriage" ISBN 0393321886
* "What the Face Reveals" (with Rosenberg, E. L., Oxford University Press, 1998) ISBN 0195104463
* "The Nature of Emotion: Fundamental Questions" (with R. Davidson, Oxford University Press, 1994) ISBN 0195089448
* "Darwin and Facial Expression: A Century of Research in Review" ISBN 0122367502
* "Facial Action Coding System/Investigator's" ISBN 9993626619
* "Why Kids Lie: How Parents Can Encourage Truthfulness" ISBN 014014322X
* "Handbook of Methods in Nonverbal Behavior Research" ISBN 0521280729
* "Face of Man" ISBN 0824071301
* "Emotion in the Human Face" ISBN 0080166431
* "Handbook of Cognition and Emotion" (Sussex, U.K. John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., 1999)


Keltner, D. (2007). "Evolutionary approaches to emotion". California: UC Berkeley.

ee also

*Body language
*Emotions and Culture
*Emotion classification
*Nonverbal communication

External links

* [ Official site]
* [ Complete bibliography]
* [ A biography from Lifeboat Fundation site]
* [ Article: The Naked Face]
* [ Interview]
* Ekman's editorial work at [ Greater Good Magazine]
* Recording of a conversation with Daniel Goleman []

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