Skip to main content

How to Read Facial Expressions

Think you're good at reading someone just by their facial expressions? These tips will help you figure out what's going on inside their head -- even if they're trying not to show it.


  • Step 1: The so-called "face of shame" worn by many politicians when they admit to wrongdoing -- lips tightly pressed together and curved downward at the corners -- is actually not shame at all, because there is no universal expression of shame. Some nonverbal behavior experts believe that look is an expression of control: The person is struggling to keep their emotions in check and hide how they really feel.
  • Step 2: Watch for micro-expressions: honest emotions that "leak" out when a person is trying to hide them. To see them, you'll have to pay close attention -- they last for less than 1/25th of a second! Good luck with your face reading!
  • FACT: The most common way people try to hide our emotions is with a fake smile.
  • Step 3: Know when a face is registering disgust: Their eyebrows will be pulled down; their upper lip will be pulled up; their nose will wrinkle, like they're smelling something bad; and their lips will be slack.
  • TIP: Contempt is the only unilateral facial expression.
  • Step 4: Catch someone in the act of faking sadness by looking at their chin: If it's bunched up, the sadness is probably insincere. To fake a sad look, people usually pull down the corners of their mouth, and 90% of people also move their chin muscle in the process. In a genuine look of sadness, the chin doesn't move.
  • Step 5: Know that you've made someone mad -- even if they're trying to hide it -- when you see their eyebrows pulled down; their eyelids pulled up; and their lips set in a tight roll.
  • Step 6: Recognize contempt when you see it -- the person's eyes won't betray them, but their lips will: One corner will be pulled up and back on one side only.
  • Step 7: Spot the sign of a real smile: tiny wrinkles at the outer corner of the eyes. In a fake smile, those "laugh lines" are missing.

Popular Categories