Body language experts such as Paul Ekman, Joe Navarro and Vanessa Van Edwards give a great deal of attention on micro-expressions. For skilled practitioners like them, reading micro-expressions is incredibly useful and almost second-nature. Unfortunately, for beginners and inexperienced people watchers, micro-expressions are quite difficult to spot.
TV shows such as Lie To Me (based on Paul Ekman) explain that you can read tiny expressions on people’s faces that tell you the hidden emotions behind their words. This is true, but we display multiple micro-expressions in a short space of time it’s very difficult for a beginner to pick up more than one expression in a few seconds – there’s just too much going on.
To spot micro-expressions, you need excellent vision, to know exactly what to look for and be able to observe the entire body, focus on the words and tone of voice AND look at the face all at the same time – it’s a lot to take in and as a beginner it won’t really get you anywhere.
Micro-expressions are often touted as the give-away for deception, but unless you’re a highly skilled practitioner, they will rarely be the indicators that give away a lie in real-time as it occurs. They happen so quickly, unless you have cameras, you’re just never going to see them. Even if you do use video playback, the usefulness of detecting a lie hours after it has happened tends to be minimal.
As a beginner, it’s better to focus on larger movements, involving the hands, arms, torso and feet. Once you’ve got a handle on larger movements, then it’s time to sharpen your reading of facial expressions.