A lot of the time, words can't properly express what we feel. So that's where our body language comes into play, especially microexpressions.
Editor's Note: This article was originally published on February 28, 2020, and has since been updated.
Words aren't the only way people convey emotions. In fact, many of them unknowingly reveal their inner thoughts to you through their body language. Certain gestures like a nervous leg shake or constant blinking can give you some insight into how they're feeling. But there's one more way in which those around you end up saying so much without uttering a word. And that is through microexpressions.
According to David Matsumoto (Professor of Psychology) and Hyi Sung Hwang (research scientist) who explain the term in the American Psychological Association, "Microexpressions... are expressions that go on and off the face in a fraction of a second, sometimes as fast as 1/30 of a second. They are so fast that if you blink you would miss them. Microexpressions are likely signs of concealed emotions. (They may also be signs of rapidly processed but unconcealed emotional states.) They occur so fast that most people cannot see or recognize them in real-time."
If you're asking why these are so important, Matsumoto and Sung Hwang say that being able to read such expressions can help you build bonds with people. They add that "parents, spouses, friends, and everyone with an interest in building strong and constructive relationships can benefit from improving their ability to read emotions."
Since these small expressions occur within such a short time, it takes skill to be able to catch them. It takes even more talent to be able to understand what they mean. So if you know the meanings of these microexpressions, your ability is one that is not very common and can be very useful when interacting not just with strangers but with loved ones as well.
Here are some tricks to being able to read those expressions and understand the meaning:
1. If someone is looking down
Meaning: They might be feeling embarrassment, nervousness, poor self-esteem, guilt or in some cases, shame.
2. If someone quickly darts their eyes to the sides
Meaning: They might be nervous or uncomfortable around you.
3. If someone looks up and to their right
Meaning: They might be trying to imagine something or they could be lying, depending on the context of your conversation.
4. If someone looks up and to their left
Meaning: They might be trying to remember something.
5. If someone makes crows' feet at the corner of their eyes
Meaning: They might be feeling true joy or happiness about something.
6. If someone's pupils are dilated
Meaning: They might be feeling fear or love, based on the situation they are in.
7. If someone's pupils are small
Meaning: They might be feeling intense anger.
8. If someone's lips are raised on one side
Meaning: They might be feeling contempt, disapproval or hate.
9. If someone's lips are drawn downwards at the corners
Meaning: They might be feeling sad.
10. If someone is biting one side of their lips
Meaning: They might be feeling anxious and are trying to calm themselves down.
11. If someone's eyebrows are lowered and drawn together with vertical lines in between them
Meaning: They might be feeling angry or frustrated.
12. If someone's eyebrows are drawn together and upwards at the inner corners
Meaning: They might be feeling sad.
13. If someone's eyebrows are raised and curved
Meaning: They might be surprised and the intensity can be seen by how high their eyebrows lift. Additionally, they might be genuinely listening to you and indicates their openness with you.
14. If someone is touching or rubbing their neck
Meaning: They might be feeling uncomfortable or nervous.
15. If someone is touching or rubbing their nose
Meaning: They might be lying.
It is important to note though, that these meanings for microexpressions, while applicable in most cases, depend on the situation and context as well. Based on how well you know the person, the meanings too can change. However, being able to even make out these signs could help you figure out what the other person is thinking.