Emotions are what ‘make life livable,’ writes psychologist Ekman in this unique hands-on volume that flirts shrewdly with psychology and anthropology. His 40-odd years of research have led him to the conclusion (originally presented by Charles Darwin) that emotions, and their 10,000 facial expressions, are largely universal.
While an American smile may look much like a grin expressed by a Fore tribesman of Papua New Guinea, what actually triggers the toothy twinkle is culturally, socially and even individually determined. Emotions theselves can’t be turned off, but they can be controlled, and Ekman draws upon the Buddhist concept of mindfulness to explain how, by tuning in to one’s own emotional triggers, one can develop a heightened ‘attentiveness,’ thereby side-stepping future blowouts. Ekman addresses in detail the ‘cascade of changes’ that occur physiologically in an individual in the throes of one of five salient emotional categories (sadness, anger, fear, disgust and enjoyment).
In his engaging style, he asks his readers to conjure these emotions by studying photographs, meditating upon their own experiences and, if that fails, to contort their faces into specific expressions, for Ekman has found that physical manifestations actually generate corresponding emotional responses in the brain.
It is Ekman’s hope that once these expressions have been identified, his readers will benefit from an increased sensitivity, and will possess the skills necessary for approaching others gripped with apparent emotion.