How to interpret facial expressions: 15 steps (with pictures)

How to interpret facial expressions: 15 steps (with pictures)
How to interpret facial expressions: 15 steps (with pictures)

The interpretation of facial expressions is essential in interpersonal relationships, because this technique helps us to understand the emotions of our interlocutors. If you can pay more attention to the moods and thoughts of others, you will be able to create more intimacy with your loved ones and in the professional environment, it will help you to manage relationships with colleagues and clients more effectively. However, you have to be very careful, because the slightest change in facial expression can indicate totally different emotions.


Part 1 of 3: Know how to read a face

Read Faces Step 1

Step 1. Gaze into each other's eyes

The eyes are the most communicative and expressive part of the face. By looking straight into a person's eyes, you will be able to guess their mood.

  • Pupils dilate in times of excitement or in poor lighting conditions. If you are in a well-lit area, observe the changes in the size of the other person's pupil. A dilated pupil suggests some sort of excitement or interest.
  • Our pupils constrict when we perceive something offensive or negative. This concentration blocks any unwanted image.
  • A person might blink if they don't like you or what you're saying. She might also doubt your words and actions. If you see this attitude in someone, address the issue and make your ideas as clear as possible.
  • A furtive or sidelong glance might indicate some uneasiness or insecurity. You can also detect these emotions through a sideways gaze. Any disturbance in eye contact shows that your partner is distracted.
Read Faces Step 2

Step 2. Observe the lips

The muscles of the lips are extremely sensitive and their movements reflect different kinds of moods and reactions. When a person begins to speak, their lips open slightly. Pay attention to this whenever you are trying to prove to the other person that you are open and available.

  • Having pursed lips suggests tension, frustration, or disapproval. A person who pursues his lips tries to hide his emotions, avoiding speaking.
  • A puckering of the lips while having the mouth in the form of a kiss is a sign of desire. A puckering of the lips can also suggest uncertainty, just like when you try to swallow your lips. We often talk about "biting your lips".
  • Watch closely for any sudden contractions of the lips. Although hardly noticeable, these contractions indicate a cynical attitude and a lack of confidence. A person who is lying might also have slightly contracted lips.
Read Faces Step 3

Step 3. Observe the movement of the nose

Although the movements of the nose are less expressive than those of the eyes or lips, the location of the nose on the face makes it easier to interpret facial expressions.

  • The dilation of the nostrils is a common movement. A person who dilates their nostrils is probably angry or upset by something and preparing to attack.
  • Wrinkling of the nose may be due to a bad smell. If we go beyond the literal interpretation, a “bad smell” can metaphorically represent an unpleasant image or thought, which can also cause someone to wrinkle their nose. If a person has something on their mind, they might squint their nose when they think of something they don't approve of.
  • Sometimes the blood vessels in the nasal cavity dilate, which can make your nose redden and swollen. This happens when someone is hiding something from you, and in such cases, they might scratch their nose and irritate them further.
Read Faces Step 4

Step 4. Observe the eyebrows

Eyebrows are indicators of multiple expressions of body language. Despite the limited number of muscles that activate the movements of the eyebrows, they are clearly visible and suggest different emotional states.

  • The wrinkling of the forehead occurs simultaneously with the movement of the eyebrows. If the other person has a furrowed forehead and raised eyebrows, they are probably questioning your behavior or are surprised by something.
  • When the eyebrows are lowered, the eyes are slightly hidden. If the other person performs this action while lowering their head, simply know that they are intentionally trying to hide the movement of their eyes.
  • Having your eyebrows tilted too much down shows anger or frustration. It can also make it sound like the other person is paying full attention to you.
  • Also look for a horseshoe-shaped crease between the eyebrows. Also known as "the muscle of sadness" (corrugator muscle of the eyebrow), this particular symbol indicates suffering and sadness.

Part 2 of 3: Understanding All Kinds of Emotions

Read Faces Step 5

Step 1. Acknowledge happiness

Smiling broadly is the most obvious way to express happiness. Unlike a simple smile, a big smile is all about showing your upper teeth. The lower eyelids should have a crescent shape.

Happiness can manifest itself in many ways, ranging from simple satisfaction to ecstasy, and this great diversity of emotions can be detected by similar facial expressions

Read Faces Step 6

Step 2. Recognize sadness

Pay special attention to the eyebrows. The eyebrows should normally be angled upwards. A sad person usually frowns.

  • Having sunken eyes with droopy lower eyelid is also a sign of sadness.
  • Sadness is a much more dangerous and powerful emotion than happiness. Besides facial expressions, you might notice a lack of energy in a sad person.
  • A sad person might also become more reserved and introverted.
Read Faces Step 7

Step 3. Learn to recognize the surprise

This usually arousing emotion can be characterized by a widening of the eyes and an opening of the mouth. In the case of a less moving surprise, you might notice a slight smile of satisfaction on the lips.

  • The eyebrows should really tilt upwards.
  • Faced with an unexpected event, a person might frown, but they might end up being upset. Shock, which could be described as a slightly extreme emotion, can be associated with fear or disgust.
  • Any sudden outburst of wonder or astonishment could spark surprise.
Read Faces Step 8

Step 4. Acknowledge the fear

First observe the eyebrows and eyes. The eyebrows should be angled upward, with the eyes wide open. The lips can also be stretched and opened wide.

  • Fear is our natural response to danger. If you see someone who is afraid, try to find out the cause. Fear is often due to escape and avoidance reactions.
  • Remember, fear is different from anxiety. Fear is triggered by external factors, while the causes of anxiety are intimate and difficult to detect.
Read Faces Step 9

Step 5. Check out the disgust

The frowning of the nose is one of the main characteristics of the expression of disgust. Also, the eyebrows are lowered and the mouth remains open.

  • Imagine that the other person whispered the word "yuck", as if they had just seen something disgusting. Her lips should be relaxed and her upper lip should stretch upward.
  • Even though disgust is a natural response to a foul odor or unpleasant taste, an emotion or thought could cause that same facial expression as well.
Read Faces Step 10

Step 6. Recognize anger

If you want to know when a person is angry, look at their eyebrows. They should slope downward and form folds. Her eyelids should be straight and her eyebrows should be facing down.

  • Her lips can be tight or open, as if about to scream.
  • Its head can be lowered slightly, with the jaw pushed forward.
Read Faces Step 11

Step 7. Know how to recognize contempt

Mainly used to express disapproval, contempt is recognizable by the raised chin and is used to show disdain for anyone who has offended you.

  • The facial expression that describes the contempt is: the corner of the lip tighten and slightly raised, only on one side of the face. This expression is often seen as a mockery.
  • Contempt can be accompanied by a slight smile, as if the person is happy to disapprove of your actions.

Part 3 of 3: Assessing Situations

Read Faces Step 12

Step 1. Interpret macro expressions

When looking to interpret facial expressions, you should start by looking for macro expressions. Usually a macro expression lasts between a quarter of a second to four seconds. These expressions involve all parts of the body, allowing you to fully interpret a particular emotion.

  • Even a general knowledge of the seven families of universal emotions will help you read macro expressions. The 7 families of universal expressions are: joy, surprise, contempt, sadness, anger, disgust and fear. Since you have certainly experienced these seven emotions before, it will not be difficult for you to recognize them in a macro-expression.
  • If a person expresses their emotions through macro-expression, they are more likely to try to make you aware of their emotional state.
  • In the case of a sad person, it is possible that by this gesture the person expects comfort. However, if you are faced with an expression of disdain, it is likely that the other person is trying to intimidate you.
  • Know that the best way to feign emotion is to do so through macro expressions. Because they last longer, it's easier to let these emotions soak up. However, don't get caught up in false expressions.
Read Faces Step 13

Step 2. Detect micro-expressions

These last on average between 1/15 and 1/25 of a second, which is why it is more difficult to identify them. While a macro-expression can reveal a person's state of mind, it is more likely that the truth will spring from a micro-expression.

  • When a person tries to hide their emotions, clues may well escape their real mood. This state of affairs occurs specifically in the case of micro-expressions. If you don't look very closely at the other person's face, you might be missing out on their real emotions.
  • If you hope to get to know a person better, you need to recognize their micro-expressions. Knowing someone's emotional state is crucial for building sensitive personal relationships.
  • Although a macro-expression can be sincere, it is quite possible for a person to try to trigger a reaction by "faking" their emotions. However, if you pay close attention to micro-expressions, you are less likely to miss a real emotion.
Read Faces Step 14

Step 3. Look for subtle expressions

These expressions have a shorter duration than micro-expressions, which means that you will need a lot of attention to spot them. Their appearance occurs when an emotion is being born as a natural response to those around it.

  • Subtle expressions may not fully reflect an emotion. In the case of a micro-expression, a real emotion passes fleetingly over a period of time, while a subtle expression may contain vestiges of a real emotion.
  • Subtle expressions can help unmask a person's intentions, as they are easier to cover up than micro-expressions.
Read Faces Step 15

Step 4. Associate emotions with body language

After you have mastered the interpretation of facial expressions, you can begin to study body language. Body language, like facial expression, is a fundamental part of non-verbal communication. Recognizing body signals will make it easier for you to understand your interlocutor.

  • If you try to find out if a person has full self-confidence, you can observe their posture. If she is standing with her shoulders back, it means she feels good about herself. Rather, walking with an arched back indicates a lack of confidence.
  • If a person is honest with their feelings, they should be able to maintain eye contact with their interlocutor. Any eye movement may indicate that she is lying.
  • The way of speaking can be supplemented with body language. A calm voice can prove that a person's facial expression reflects their state of mind.
  • Remember that some cultural or physiological differences can affect both body language and facial expression. To confirm your first impressions of someone, you need to get to know them better. It can be helpful to get down to analyzing a person, but this approach might not always be true.

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