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Paul Ekman
BornFebruary 15, 1934 (1934-02-15) (age 90)[citation needed]
Alma materUniversity of Chicago
New York University
Adelphi University
Known forMicroexpressions, Lie to Me
SpouseMary Ann Mason
  • Named by the American Psychological Association as one of the most influential psychologists of the 20th century based on publications, citations and awards (2001)
  • Honorary Degree, University of Fernando Pessoa, Portugal (2008)
  • Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters, Adelphi University (2008)
  • Honorary Degree, University of Geneva, Switzerland (2008)
  • Named one of the 100 Most Influential People in the World by Time Magazine (2009)
  • Honorary Degree, Lund University, Sweden (2011)
Scientific career
Doctoral advisorJohn Amsden Starkweather

Paul Ekman (born February 15, 1934)[1] is an American psychologist and professor emeritus at the University of California, San Francisco who is a pioneer in the study of emotions and their relation to facial expressions. He was ranked 59th out of the 100 most cited psychologists of the twentieth century.[2] Ekman conducted seminal research on the specific biological correlations of specific emotions, attempting to demonstrate the universality and discreteness of emotions in a Darwinian approach.[3][4]



Paul Ekman was born in 1934 in Washington, D.C., and grew up in a Jewish family[5][1] in New Jersey, Washington, Oregon, and California. His father was a pediatrician and his mother was an attorney. His sister, Joyce Steinhart, is a psychoanalytic psychologist who, before her retirement, practiced in New York City.[4]

Ekman originally wanted to be a psychotherapist, but when he was drafted into the army in 1958 he found that research could change army routines, making them more humane. This experience converted him from wanting to be a psychotherapist to wanting to be a researcher, in order to help as many people as possible.[6]


At the age of 15, without graduating from high school, Paul Ekman enrolled at the University of Chicago, where he completed three years of undergraduate study. During his time in Chicago, he was fascinated by group therapy sessions and understanding group dynamics. Notably, his classmates at Chicago included writer Susan Sontag, film director Mike Nichols, and actress Elaine May.[7]

He then studied for two years at New York University (NYU), earning his BA in 1954.[4] The subject of his first research project, under the direction of his NYU professor, Margaret Tresselt, was an attempt to develop a test of how people would respond to group therapy.[8]

Next, Ekman was accepted into the Adelphi University graduate program for clinical psychology.[8] While working for his master's degree, Ekman was awarded a predoctoral research fellowship from the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) in 1955.[8] His Master's thesis was focused on facial expression and body movement he had begun to study in 1954.[8] Ekman eventually went on to receive his Ph.D. in clinical psychology at Adelphi University in 1958, after a one-year internship at the Langley Porter Neuropsychiatric Institute.[8][9]

Military service

Ekman was drafted into the U.S. Army in 1958 to serve two years as soon as his internship at Langley Porter was finished.[8] He served as first lieutenant-chief psychologist, at Fort Dix, New Jersey, where he did research on army stockades and psychological changes during infantry basic training.[8][10][11][12]


Upon completion of military service in 1960, he accepted a position as a research associate with Leonard Krasner at the Palo Alto Veterans Administration Hospital, working on a grant focused on the operant conditioning of verbal behavior in psychiatric patients. Ekman also met anthropologist Gregory Bateson in 1960 who was on the staff of the Palo Alto Veterans Administration Hospital. Five years later, Gregory Bateson gave Paul Ekman motion picture films taken in Bali in the mid-1930s to help Ekman with cross-cultural studies of expression and gesture.[8]

From 1960 to 1963, Ekman was supported by a post doctoral fellowship from NIMH. He submitted his first research grant through San Francisco State College with himself as the principal investigator (PI) at the young age of 29.[13] He received this grant from the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) in 1963 to study nonverbal behaviour. This award would be continuously renewed for the next 40 years and would pay his salary until he was offered a professorship at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) in 1972.

Encouraged by his college friend and teacher Silvan S. Tomkins, Ekman shifted his focus from body movement to facial expressions. He wrote his most famous book, Telling Lies, and published it in 1985. The 4th edition is still in print. He retired in 2004 as professor of psychology in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF). From 1960 to 2004 he also worked at the Langley Porter Psychiatric Institute on a limited basis consulting on various clinical cases.

After retiring from the University of California, San Francisco, Paul Ekman founded the Paul Ekman Group (PEG) and Paul Ekman International.[14]


In 2001, Ekman collaborated with John Cleese for the BBC documentary series The Human Face.[15]

His work is frequently referred to in the TV series Lie to Me.[16] Dr. Lightman is based on Paul Ekman, and Ekman served as a scientific adviser for the series; he read and edited the scripts and sent video clip-notes of facial expressions for the actors to imitate. While Ekman has written 15 books, the series Lie to Me has more effectively brought Ekman's research into people's homes.[16]

He has also collaborated with Pixar's film director and animator Pete Docter in preparation of his 2015 film Inside Out.[17] Ekman also wrote a parent's guide to using Inside Out to help parents talk with their children about emotion, which can be found on his personal website.


He was named one of the top Time 100 most influential people in the May 11, 2009 edition of Time magazine.[18] He was also ranked fifteenth among the most influential psychologists of the 21st century in 2014 by the journal Archives of Scientific Psychology.[19] He is currently on the Editorial Board of Greater Good magazine, published by the Greater Good Science Center of the University of California, Berkeley. His contributions include the interpretation of scientific research into the roots of compassion, altruism, and peaceful human relationships.

Research work

Measuring nonverbal communication

Ekman's interest in nonverbal communication led to his first publication in 1957, describing how difficult it was to develop ways of empirically measuring nonverbal behaviour.[20] He chose the Langley Porter Neuropsychiatric Institute, the psychiatry department of the University of California Medical School, for his clinical internship partly because Jurgen Ruesch and Weldon Kees had recently published a book called Nonverbal Communication (1956).[8][21][22]

Ekman then focused on developing techniques for measuring nonverbal communication. He found that facial muscular movements that created facial expressions could be reliably identified through empirical research. He also found that human beings are capable of making over 10,000 facial expressions; only 3,000 relevant to emotion.[23] Psychologist Silvan Tomkins convinced Ekman to extend his studies of nonverbal communication from body movement to the face, helping him design his classic cross-cultural emotion recognition studies.[24]

Emotions as universal categories

In The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals published in 1872, Charles Darwin theorized that emotions were evolved traits universal to the human species. However, the prevalent belief during the 1950s, particularly among anthropologists, was that facial expressions and their meanings were determined through behavioral learning processes. A prominent advocate of the latter perspective was the anthropologist Margaret Mead, who had travelled to different countries examining how cultures communicated using nonverbal behavior.

Through a series of studies, Ekman found a high agreement across members of diverse Western and Eastern literate cultures on selecting emotional labels that fit facial expressions. Expressions he found to be universal included those indicating wrath, grossness, fear, joy, loneliness, and shock. Findings on contempt were less clear, though there is at least some preliminary evidence that this emotion and its expression are universally recognized.[25] Working with Wallace V. Friesen, Ekman demonstrated that the findings extended to preliterate Fore tribesmen in Papua New Guinea, whose members could not have learned the meaning of expressions from exposure to media depictions of emotion.[26] Ekman and Friesen then demonstrated that certain emotions were exhibited with very specific display rules, culture-specific prescriptions about who can show which emotions to whom and when. These display rules could explain how cultural differences may conceal the universal effect of expression.[27]

In the 1990s, Ekman proposed an expanded list of basic emotions, including a range of positive and negative emotions that are not all encoded in facial muscles.[28] The newly included emotions are: Amusement, Contempt, Contentment, Embarrassment, Excitement, Guilt, Pride in achievement, Relief, Satisfaction, Sensory pleasure, and Shame.[28]

Visual depictions of facial actions for studying emotion

Ekman's famous test of emotion recognition was the Pictures of Facial Affect (POFA) stimulus set published in 1976. Consisting of 110 black and white images of Caucasian actors portraying the six universal emotions plus neutral expressions, the POFA has been used to study emotion recognition rates in normal and psychiatric populations around the world. Ekman used these stimuli in his original cross-cultural research. Many researchers favor the POFA because these photographs have been rated by large normative groups in different cultures. In response to critics, however, Ekman eventually released a more culturally diverse set of stimuli called the Japanese and Caucasian Facial Expressions of Emotion (JACFEE).[29]

By 1978, Ekman and Friesen had finalized and developed the Facial Action Coding System. FACS is an anatomically based system for describing all observable facial movement for every emotion. Each observable component of facial movement is called an action unit or AU and all facial expressions can be decomposed into their constituent core AUs.[30] An update of this tool came in the early 2000s.

Other tools have been developed, including the MicroExpressions Training Tool (METT), which can help individuals identify more subtle emotional expressions that occur when people try to suppress their emotions. Application of this tool includes helping people with Asperger's or autism to recognize emotional expressions in their everyday interactions. The Subtle Expression Training Tool (SETT) teaches recognition of very small, micro signs of emotion. These are very tiny expressions, sometimes registering in only part of the face, or when the expression is shown across the entire face, but is very small. Subtle expressions occur for many reasons, for example, the emotion experienced may be very slight or the emotion may be just beginning. METT and SETT have been shown to increase accuracy in evaluating truthfulness[citation needed].

Paul Ekman International was established in 2010 by the EIA Group based on a partnership between Cliff Lansley and Paul Ekman to deliver emotional skills and deception detection workshops around the world.[31]

Detecting deception

Ekman has contributed to the study of social aspects of lying, why people lie,[32] and why people are often unconcerned with detecting lies.[33] He first became interested in detecting lies while completing his clinical work. As detailed in Ekman's Telling Lies, a patient he was involved in treating denied that she was suicidal in order to leave the hospital. Ekman began to review videotaped interviews to study people's facial expressions while lying. In a research project along with Maureen O'Sullivan, called the Wizards Project (previously named the Diogenes Project), Ekman reported on facial "microexpressions" which could be used to assist in lie detection. After testing a total of 20,000 people[34] from all walks of life, he found only 50 people who had the ability to spot deception without any formal training. These naturals are also known as "Truth Wizards", or wizards of deception detection from demeanor.[35]

In his profession, he also uses oral signs of lying. When interviewed about the Monica Lewinsky scandal, he mentioned that he could detect that former President Bill Clinton was lying because he used distancing language.[36]


In his 1993 paper in the psychology journal American Psychologist, Ekman describes nine direct contributions that his research on facial expression has made to the understanding of emotion.[37] Highlights include:


Most credibility-assessment researchers agree that untrained people are unable to visually detect lies.[38] The application of part of Ekman's work to airport security via the Transportation Security Administration's "Screening Passengers by Observation Techniques" (SPOT) program has been criticized for not having been put through controlled scientific tests.[38] A 2007 report on SPOT referring to untrained people stated that "simply put, people (including professional lie-catchers with extensive experience of assessing veracity) would achieve similar hit rates if they flipped a coin".[39] Since controlled scientific tests typically involve people playing the part of terrorists, Ekman says those people are unlikely to have the same emotions as actual terrorists.[38]

Field research by the EIA Group documented empirical testing of the impact of behavioral analysis in an airport environment by having a small group of trained and untrained subjects identify people from yet another group who had to bring unauthorized items through security.[40] But the white paper is not peer-reviewed or published in a scientific paper, and had only two exercises of an airport security shift-length with the control group and two with the trained group, with about 20 participants total.

The methodology used by Ekman and O'Sullivan in their recent work on "Truth Wizards" has also received criticism on the basis of validation.[41]

Other criticisms of Ekman's work are based on experimental and naturalistic studies by several other emotion psychologists that did not find evidence in support of Ekman's proposed taxonomy of discrete emotions and discrete facial expression.[42]

Methodological criticisms of Ekman's work focus on the essentially circular and tautological nature of his experiments, in which test subjects were shown selected photographs of "basic emotions," and then asked to match them with the same set of concepts used in their production. Ekman showed photographs selected from over 3000 pictures of individuals asked to simulate emotions, from which he edited to contain "those which showed only the pure display of a single affect," using no control and subject only to Ekman's intuition.[43] If Ekman felt a photograph did not show the correct "pure" emotion, he excluded it.[44]

Ekman received hostility from some anthropologists at meetings of the American Psychological Association and the American Anthropological Association from 1967 to 1969. He recounted that, as he was reporting his findings on universality of expression, one anthropologist tried to stop him from finishing by shouting that his ideas were fascist. He compares this to another incident when he was accused of being racist by an activist for claiming that Black expressions are not different from White expressions. In 1975, Margaret Mead, an anthropologist, wrote against Ekman for doing "improper anthropology", and for disagreeing with Ray Birdwhistell's claim opposing universality. Ekman wrote that, while many people agreed with Birdwhistell then, most came to accept his own findings over the next decade.[13] However, some anthropologists continued to suggest that emotions are not universal.[45] Ekman argued that there has been no quantitative data to support the claim that emotions are culture specific. In his 1993 discussion of the topic, Ekman states that there is no instance in which 70% or more of one cultural group select one of the six universal emotions while another culture group labels the same expression as another universal emotion.[37]

Ekman criticized the tendency of psychologists to base their conclusions on surveys of college students. Hank Campbell quotes Ekman saying at the Being Human conference, "We basically have a science of undergraduates."[46] Ekman's own studies have used freshman college students as the subject group, comparing their results with those of illiterate subjects from New Guinea.[43]

Ekman has refused to submit his more recent work to peer-review, claiming that revealing the details of his work might reveal state secrets and endanger security.[38] Critics assert that this is instead an attempt to shield his work from methodological criticisms within experimental psychology, even as his public and popular visibility has grown.[47]


See also

Other emotion researchers


  1. ^ a b "Ekman, Paul 1934- |". Retrieved 2024-03-06.
  2. ^ Haggbloom, S. J. et al. (2002). "The 100 Most Eminent Psychologists of the 20th Century" (subscription required). Review of General Psychology. Vol. 6, No. 2, 139–15. doi:10.1037/1089-2680.6.2.139. Haggbloom and his team combined three quantitative variables: citations in professional journals, citations in textbooks, and nominations in a survey given to members of the Association for Psychological Science, with three qualitative variables (converted to quantitative scores): National Academy of Sciences (NAS) membership, American Psychological Association (APA) President and/or recipient of the APA Distinguished Scientific Contributions Award, and surname used as an eponym. Then the list was rank ordered. Ekman was #59.
  3. ^ "Facial expression of emotion". In V.S. Ramachandran (Ed.), Encyclopedia of Human Behavior (Vol. 2, pp. 173–83). Oxford: Elsevier/Academic Press. ISBN 978-008-088-575-9.
  4. ^ a b c No Authorship Indicated (April 1992). "Paul Ekman". American Psychologist. 47 (4): 470–71. doi:10.1037/0003-066x.47.4.470.
  5. ^ "Jews Among the 100 Most Eminent Psychologists of the Twentieth Century". Retrieved 2019-05-31.
  6. ^ O'Connor, John (29 November 2008). "First Person: Paul Ekman". Financial Times. ProQuest 229138171.
  7. ^ "Conversation with Paul Ekman, p. 1 of 5". 2004-03-11. Retrieved 2014-03-03.
  8. ^ a b c d e f g h i Ekman, P. (1987). "A life's pursuit." In The Semiotic Web '86: An International Yearbook, Sebeok, T. A.; Umiker-Seboek, J., Eds. Berlin, Mouton De Gruyter, pp. 3–45.
  9. ^ Eissner, B. Paul Ekman PH.D. '58, '08: East Meets West.
  10. ^ No Authorship Indicated (1992). "Award for Distinguished Scientific Contributions: Paul Ekman". American Psychologist. 47 (4): 470–471. doi:10.1037/0003-066X.47.4.470.
  11. ^ Ekman, P.; Cohen, L.; Moos, R.; Raine, W.; Schlesinger, M.; Stone, G. (11 January 1963). "Divergent Reactions to the Threat of War: A peace and a shelter group were studied to examine their different responses to the Berlin crisis". Science. 139 (3550): 88–94. Bibcode:1963Sci...139...88E. doi:10.1126/science.139.3550.88. PMID 17798702. S2CID 44479294.
  12. ^ Ekman, Paul; Friesen, Wallace v.; Lutzker, Daniel R. (February 1962). "Psychological reactions to infantry basic training". Journal of Consulting Psychology. 26 (1): 103–104. doi:10.1037/h0041781. PMID 13889754.
  13. ^ a b Ekman, P. (1987). '"A life's pursuit". In The Semiotic Web '86: An International Yearbook, Sebeok, T. A.; Umiker-Seboek, J., Eds. Berlin, Mouton De Gruyter, pp. 3–45
  14. ^ "About Paul Ekman Group LLC". Retrieved 2014-03-03.
  15. ^ "Lifeboat Foundation Bios: Dr. Paul Ekman". 2002-09-16. Archived from the original on 2014-01-05. Retrieved 2014-03-03.
  16. ^ a b "The (Real!) Science Behind Fox's Lie to Me". Popular Mechanics [Online], 2009.
  17. ^ Dacher Keltner & Paul Ekman (2015-07-03). "The Science of 'Inside Out'". The New York Times. Retrieved 2015-09-05.
  18. ^ The 2009 TIME 100: Paul Ekman, Scientists & Thinkers. Time. April 30, 2009.
  19. ^ Diener, Ed; Oishi, Shigehiro; Park, JungYeun (25 August 2014). "An incomplete list of eminent psychologists of the modern era". Archives of Scientific Psychology. 2 (1): 20–31. doi:10.1037/arc0000006.
  20. ^ Ekman, Paul (January 1957). "A Methodological Discussion of Nonverbal Behavior". The Journal of Psychology. 43 (1): 141–149. doi:10.1080/00223980.1957.9713059.
  21. ^ Jurgen Ruesch, Weldon Kees (1969). Nonverbal Communication: Notes on the Visual Perception of Human Relations. University of California Press. ISBN 9780520011007. Retrieved 2014-03-03 – via Internet Archive.
  22. ^ Ruesch, J.; Kees, W. (1956). Nonverbal Communication: Notes on the Visual Perception of Human Relations. University of California Press, Berkeley, p. 205.
  23. ^ "Watch Lie To Me: Expressions: Introduction online". Hulu. Archived from the original on 2014-07-14. Retrieved 2014-03-03.
  24. ^ "FACS Investigators Guide – Acknowledgements". Archived from the original on 6 October 2009. Retrieved 2 September 2009.
  25. ^ Matsumoto, David (1992) "More evidence for the universality of a contempt expression". Motivation and Emotion. Springer Netherlands. Volume 16, Number 4 / December, 1992
  26. ^ Ekman, Paul; Friesen, Wallace V. (1971). "Constants across cultures in the face and emotion". Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 17 (2): 124–129. doi:10.1037/h0030377. PMID 5542557. S2CID 14013552.
  27. ^ Ekman, Paul (1989). "The argument and evidence about universals in facial expressions of emotion". In H. Wagner & A Manstead (ed.). Handbook of social psychophysiology. Chichester, England: Wiley. pp. 143–64.
  28. ^ a b Ekman, Paul (1999), "Basic Emotions", in Dalgleish, T; Power, M (eds.), Handbook of Cognition and Emotion (PDF), Sussex, UK: John Wiley & Sons
  29. ^ Dailey, Matthew N.; Joyce, Carrie; Lyons, Michael J.; Kamachi, Miyuki; Ishi, Hanae; Gyoba, Jiro; Cottrell, Garrison W. (December 2010). "Evidence and a Computational Explanation of Cultural Differences inFacial Expression Recognition". Emotion. 10 (6): 874–893. doi:10.1037/a0020019. PMC 7360061. PMID 21171759.
  30. ^ Ekman, Paul. "FACS vs. F.A.C.E."
  31. ^ "Cliff Lansley – Member Emotional Intelligence Consortium". Retrieved 2020-03-01.
  32. ^ Ekman, P., 1991: Why Kids Lie: How Parents Can Encourage Truthfulness
  33. ^ Ekman, P., 1996: Why don't we catch liars Archived 2010-01-08 at the Wayback Machine
  34. ^ Camilleri, J., "Truth Wizard knows when you've been lying", Chicago Sun-Times, January 21, 2009
  35. ^ "NPR: The Face Never Lies". Archived from the original on 2009-06-07.
  36. ^ "The lie detective: San Francisco psychologist has made a science of reading facial expressions" by Julian Guthrie, San Francisco Chronicle, September 16, 2002.
  37. ^ a b Ekman, Paul (1993). "Facial Expression and Emotion". American Psychologist. 48 (4): 384–92. doi:10.1037/0003-066X.48.4.384. PMID 8512154.
  38. ^ a b c d Weinberger, Sharon (May 2010). "Airport security: Intent to deceive?". Nature. 465 (7297): 412–415. doi:10.1038/465412a. PMID 20505706. S2CID 4350875.
  39. ^ Hontz, C.R., Hartwig, M., Kleinman, S.M. & Meissner, C.A. "Credibility Assessment at Portals", Portals Committee Report (2009).
  40. ^ Lansley, Cliff (2017-04-11). "White Paper – Observe, Target, Engage, Respond (OTER)". Retrieved 2020-03-01.
  41. ^ Bond, Charles F.; Uysal, Ahmet (2007). "On lie detection 'Wizards'". Law and Human Behavior. 31 (1): 109–115. doi:10.1007/s10979-006-9016-1. PMID 17221309. S2CID 14216919.
  42. ^ Russel and Fernandez-Dols (1997). The Psychology of Facial Expression. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0521587964. Pages 400
  43. ^ a b Ekman, P.; Sorenson, E. R.; Friesen, W. V. (4 April 1969). "Pan-Cultural Elements in Facial Displays of Emotion". Science. 164 (3875): 86–88. Bibcode:1969Sci...164...86E. doi:10.1126/science.164.3875.86. PMID 5773719. S2CID 16462814.
  44. ^ Jan Plamper. The history of Emotions: An Introduction (Oxford, 2012), 153.
  45. ^ Lutz, C; White, G M (October 1986). "The Anthropology of Emotions". Annual Review of Anthropology. 15 (1): 405–436. doi:10.1146/annurev.anthro.15.1.405.
  46. ^ Hank Campbell (16 April 2012). "A Double-Blind Test Of Astrology For The 21st Century". the legendary Paul Ekman said at the Being Human conference, 'We basically have a science of undergraduates'
  47. ^ Jan Plamper. The history of Emotions: An Introduction (Oxford, 2012), 162.