How to Detect Lies: Micro Expressions

The human face is a medium that sends us a message. One part of the medium is its muscle tone. Changes on the human face provide us with the information about person’s mood or immediate intentions. Theses expressions represented person’s intended message, the one he or she is trying to convey.

There are two types of expressions — macro and micro expressions. Macro expressions are normal expressions usually last between ½ second and 4 seconds. They often repeat, and fit with what is said and the sound of the person’s voice. Micro expressions are very brief, usually lasting between 1/15 and 1/25 of a second. They often display a concealed emotion and are the result of suppression or repression.

When you communicate, you try to collect as much verbal and non-verbal information as possible. Knowing how to read and interpret micro expressions is an essential part of understanding nonverbal behavior and improve your emotional intelligence. One of the keys to improvement is developing skills which help you understand the human face.

Facial micro expressions

The face is the best indicator of a person’s emotions. Facial micro expressions are a universal system — everybody has them. Dr. Paul Ekman has done groundbreaking research on decoding the human face. His research has shown that all humans share at least seven primary expressions with identical meaning:

  1. Surprise. Surprise is shown by the raising of the upper eyelids. The brows are raised and curved. Jaw drops open. Relaxed lips and mouth.

Surprise is a short emotion. If the eyelids are raised longer, then it’s probably Fear.

2. Fear. Fear can be seen in the eyes when the upper eyelids are raised high. Brows are raised and drawn together, usually in a flat line. Mouth is open and lips are slightly tensed or stretched and drawn back.

3. Disgust. Disgust is quite easy to identify because when somebody has a Micro Expression of disgust on their face, you will see the wrinkles around the nose. This comes along with downcast eyebrows and narrowed eyes, raised upper lid, cheek and lower lip. In this variation of disgust, the teeth become visible.

4. Anger. A possible sign of anger is the tightening of the lower and upper eyelids. The brows are usually lowered, drawn together and both of the eyelids are tightened. Vertical lines appear between the brows. Eyes hard stare or bulging. During the feeling of anger, some people can move their jaw forward (usually this happens just before a fight).

5. Happiness. You can see happiness on somebody’s face when both sides of their lips go up in a symmetrical way. Both lip corners curl up at the same time, and both to the same height.

Fake happiness could be detected by the side eye muscles — they are not engaged for fake ones.

You use more face muscles when you have a genuine smile and you see that in the lines round the eyes of the subject which crinkle up more.

6. Sadness. Sadness is evident on someone’s face when the inner corners of the eyebrows are raised. Another sign of Sadness is the pulling down of both of the lip corners. Jaw comes up. Lower lip pouts out.

This is the hardest micro expression to fake. Not many people can fake it without feeling a slight amount of sadness.

7. Contempt. An emotion of superiority could be detected by rising of one side of the mouth into a sneer or smirk.

Good examples of this emotion:


Unlike regular facial expressions, no one can fake micro expressions. Because when you try to hide your emotions, they just leak out at fifth of the second.

The research has also shown that we often miss facial expressions when they contradict words being spoken. It’s essential to track a fake expressions — false and masked expressions. The underlying importance of reading faces is that it has to be done in person. This helps in connecting with others and gleaning their true meaning.

Feature readings: