Ever seen someone make a facial expression so at odds with the tone of the conversation and yet so quick that you immediately wondered whether you’d just made it up?
You probably forgot all about it a few days later, but here I am, bringing it all back to the surface.
And that’s because that one moment of perceptiveness might point to an amazing quality you may not even know you possess: an uncanny ability to read people, especially when it comes to microexpressions, which are involuntary and quick expressions that show people’s true emotions before they attempt to cover them up.
Keen to learn more?
If you notice these 7 microexpressions, you are incredible at reading people’s emotions – even if they try to conceal them.
1) Flash of anger
Research shows that anger is one of the emotions that can be spotted most effectively, presumably because our basic instinct is to try to predict danger and avoid it if possible.
However, that doesn’t mean that everyone notices an anger-related microexpression. They’re called microexpressions for a reason, after all – since they usually only last for half a second, they’re super easy to miss.
And that’s where you come in!
If you’re excellent at reading others, you’ve probably had moments in the past when you noticed someone getting angry even though they quickly tried to cover it up and act like nothing was going on.
Just to be sure, though, here’s a quick checklist of what anger looks like when we break it all down:
- Lips are pressed together
- The jaw juts out
- Eyes either bulge or stare very intensely
- Eyebrows are lowered
Lowered eyebrows are the most important sign of anger because that’s what firmly distinguishes anger from other microexpressions, such as surprise or fear.
2) Hint of fear
And speaking of fear, let’s take a deep dive into our microexpression number two!
Imagine you’re scared of something, but you immediately realize you should shut down your fear and try to appear brave or nonchalant, either to avoid scaring somebody else or to seem braver than you feel on the inside.
In that case, you might involuntarily pull the fear microexpression, which consists of half a second of:
- Raised flat eyebrows
- Wrinkles between the eyebrows
- Open mouth
- Widened eyes
When your eyes widen in fear, your body is actually trying to expand your field of vision to help you take note of any danger in the vicinity.
An open mouth often results from the initial shock before fear sets in, and if you’ve noticed many people cover their mouths after a short burst of fear, you may have seen a microexpression before the person in question attempted to conceal just how afraid they were.
This is because covering one’s mouth is a way for us to hide our true feelings and make ourselves feel less vulnerable.
3) Burst of surprise
While shock usually carries negative connotations and tends to occur before fear takes center stage, surprise is more ambivalent. After all, being “pleasantly surprised” is a thing.
What’s more, since surprise leads to raised and curved eyebrows, it might actually have a positive effect on the people around you – research has shown that high eyebrows signal trustworthiness.
This makes sense as the final stage of feeling surprised is usually the tendency to share it with somebody else, and humans absolutely love sharing, especially if the surprise is positive.
This is what a surprise microexpression looks like in a nutshell:
- Raised and curved eyebrows
- Long wrinkles across the forehead
- Open mouth (but there’s usually no tension because the jaw drops)
- Widened eyes
While the components that make up this microexpression sound very similar to the ones for fear, the two couldn’t be more different. Find a mirror and try it for yourself – when you look scared or shocked, there’s much more tension in the face.
4) Fleeting cloud of sadness
How can you tell whether someone’s sad or upset although they keep claiming otherwise?
Well, one simple thing you can do is watch out for the sadness microexpression:
- Lips are drawn down at the corners
- Lower lip becomes more noticeable as it pouts out
- Eyebrows are scrunched up above the nose
Sadness can be difficult to identify, so if you’ve ever noticed this microexpression, it means… yes, that’s right! You might have an uncanny ability to read people, even if they try their best to remain a mystery.
5) Glimmer of happiness
Happiness is a tricky one because it’s actually quite easy to fake – all you have to do is put on a smile, right?
Well, unless you’re dealing with an excellent people reader. A person like that notices the slightest of nuances, including the specifics of what makes up a genuinely happy expression and how it differs from a fake one.
So, what’s the secret, I hear you ask?
True happiness is all in the eyes. There are plenty of other expressions that constitute happiness, such as lips that are drawn up at the corners and raised cheeks, but if the eyes aren’t truly engaged, it means the happiness is probably faked.
A glimmer of authentic happiness is all about the wrinkles that spread out at the outer corners of the eyes, or the so-called crow’s feet.
Just think of the masks we used to wear during the pandemic – you could still tell people were smiling, right? Their eyes grew thinner as the crow’s feet spread out from the corners.
You don’t need to see a smile to be able to recognize happiness, but a smile in and of itself also doesn’t necessarily translate into happiness. Eyes are where the magic happens.
6) Sign of disgust
The last thing we’d all want is to make someone pull a disgusted face at something we do. In fact, research says that disgust prevents us from feeling sexual arousal even more than fear, which only goes to show how important it is to avoid disgust at all costs when it comes to the realm of romance.
The general elements of a disgust-based microexpression comprise:
- Lifted upper lip
- Wrinkled nose
- Narrowed eyes
- Raised cheeks
While disgust tends to be quite easy to spot, it takes a proper mind-reader to notice it within a fraction of a second before the person you’re dealing with tries to cover it up.
7) Whisper of contempt
Last but definitely not least, contempt is a microexpression that shows a person’s genuine opinion about you – and it’s usually not…great.
I attended a nonverbal communication seminar once, and I still remember the teacher’s biggest lesson: if you can spot contempt in a romantic relationship, it means it’s the beginning of the end.
Because contempt signals disrespect, a sense of superiority, and even offensiveness. And since romantic relationships are all about respect and trust, contempt is the first symptom of a ruined dynamic that’s turning into something unhealthy.
So, how do you recognize contempt? You should generally watch out for one raised corner of the lip. In that sense, contempt is quite a unique microexpression because it’s asymmetrical.
If you have an uncanny ability to read people, though, you might also be able to tell from the judgmental look in the person’s eyes.
And if you do… perhaps it’s time to have an honest conversation.
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