The dangers of reading micro expressions

Do We Really Want People to Learn How to Spot Micro Facial Expressions?

June 27, 2017

Dangers of reading micro expressions
Dangers of reading micro expressions

By definition, micros leak emotions that people don’t want others to know they are feeling. Sometimes, even the person showing the micro is not aware of the emotion that is leaking out. My Micro Expression Training Tool (METT) enables those who study it to take this information from people attempting to conceal their emotions (and, in a sense, they are stealing this information).

Who has the right to do that, to tear away the curtain’s disguise? Certainly the Law Enforcement Officers (LEOs), although I have argued (a bit rhetorically) that LEOs who have been trained to spot micros should offer those they talk to the opportunity to wear a mask or facial cover.

The Fifth Amendment to the Constitution protects us from self-incrimination, but micros may provide the Law Enforcement Officer (LEO) who took our training just such incriminating information- just what the person involuntarily showing the micros doesn’t want a LEO to know. Would it be in the spirit of the Fifth Amendment for LEOs who have learned how to spot micros to at least inform those they interview that they have been specially trained to take this information- to invade privacy without consent? Should they offer criminal suspects the right to wear a mask to preserve their Fifth Amendment protection?

Many people (lawyers, business operators, salespersons) whose interests are not always the same as those whose micros they learn to spot, can now (without forewarning) invade privacy, taking information without permission that the provider would not want them to have. I never thought about these issues when I developed METT, but I recognize that my training courses enable an invasion of a very private realm of people’s lives: the feelings they don’t want everyone (and sometimes, no one) to know they are experiencing.

And yet, such an invasion of privacy can serve the public good. It helps the health care provider – doctor, nurse, or other caregiver – tune in and, therefore, be better able to help.

I once thought that I might be able to control who else would be able to use METT, but I learned from my colleagues in the Department of Defense that there is no way to do that. A tool, once created and accessible on the internet, is available to everyone who pays the nominal price. All I can hope, my Defense Department colleagues advised, is that it will be used more for what I consider to be good, to help people, than to harm or exploit people.

The proverbial cat is out of the bag, free to go anywhere!

Dr. Paul Ekman is a well-known psychologist and co-discoverer of micro expressions. He was named one of the 100 most influential people in the world by TIME magazine in 2009. He has worked with many government agencies, domestic and abroad. Dr. Ekman has compiled over 40 years of his research to create comprehensive training tools to read the hidden emotions of those around you. To learn more, please visit:

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