Doctor Honoris Causa Ceremony for Professor Paul Ekman
University Fernando Pessoa
“The only mystery is there being somebody who might think about mystery”, said one day Alberto Caeiro, one of the heteronyms of Fernando Pessoa, the patron of our university. These words are perfectly suited to the work carried out for more than forty years by Professor Paul Ekman. I have become accustomed to calling him Paul since I first met him and he asked me to use his name, a humble gesture for one of the pioneers of the science of the human face. I first read his books and scientific articles. That was the first face and then I met him face to face, and he matched the thousands of words that I had read. For this reason, Paul, or rather, Professor Paul Ekman, has been a reference throughout my work. I owe him for his lifetime teachings. I am indebted to him for his friendship without commitments and without demands. Alongside his greatness as a man – his refined qualities of simplicity and humbleness are unequalled - I realised Professor Ekman also has the unique dimension of someone who has devoted his life to the human face. It is because of his in-depth rigorous work that it is possible today to identify and recognise the fascinating cartography of the human face. Professor Paul Ekman discovered the map of the human face in the late seventies when he presented to the world the Facial Action Coding System (FACS), a coding of the 44 facial muscles, revised in 2002, which is used by professionals such as psychologists, psychiatrists, and neurologists, worldwide. This year we are celebrating the thirtieth anniversary of this revolutionary scientific tool which has changed the face of the human face. It is the basis of the experimental work of the worldwide scientific community. Professor Paul Ekman knows, because he told me so on several occasions that "Emotions never tell us their source. So when you interview someone who’s afraid as a suspect in a crime, you don’t know if it’s the fear of being caught or the fear of being disbelieved. It looks just the same. You can tell by facial expressions what the emotion is but not the cause”. And that is why studying emotion facial expression is so fascinating. Ekman is a staunch Darwinist and, alongside his consultancy work (for example for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency – DARPA -, a United States Department of Defense agency) he is preparing the publication of his new book, next September, which is about his meetings with Dalai Lama, on the issue of ‘Emotional Balance and Global Compassion’, thus associating himself with a group of scientists, including his friend Daniel Goleman. Professor Paul Ekman is repeatedly invited to give his opinion or to participate in workshops all over the world. Institutions such as the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Central Intelligence Agency in the United States, and Scotland Yard in the United Kingdom, are just a few examples.
In the year we celebrate the twentieth anniversary of UFP, the consecration of a life devoted to the science of human face, by means of this award, makes all sense, as Professor Ekman’s scientific story underlines our academic motto: nova et nove – to teach new things in a new way. To make Professor Ekman one of us is, besides being a source of pride, a broad and well-deserved acknowledgement of a person who, through his tireless work, has made an exceptional contribution to science, particularly the Psychology of emotion facial expression.
When I submitted the proposal for this award to our Rector, in mid-September 2007 (it was approved on 31 October), I did so with the objective of making this tribute a public academic acknowledgement of a person who, due to his merit, has managed to achieve major scientific consensus on his theories. I did so also because his work should be acknowledged by his peers, without any constraints and with the same upstanding character that he represents. Professor Ekman’s honorary title conferred by Fernando Pessoa University is an act of justice and an eternal token to a person who has asked for nothing but has given everything to the knowledge of human emotions. Professor Ekman was born in 1934 and his scientific research on facial expression was triggered by his interest in photography. But the main motive was his mother’s death: "My mother, who I now believe had bipolar disorder, committed suicide when I was 14. I decided that the way to deal with that was to try to help people like her, by trying to understand emotional disorders". In the 50s, when his journey began, science believed that facial expression only showed stereotyped signs. There was no tool to study facial expression. Paul Ekman started by studying the voice and hand gestures.
In 1965, he shifted the direction of his scientific research. Following Darwin, Hjortso and Duchenne, among others, up to 1970 he continued his journey to confirm whether gestures and expressions changed according to cultures, following in the footsteps of Margaret Mead – expressions and gestures are socially learnt. But Darwin had said and written the opposite (‘The Expression of the Emotions in Animals and Man’, 1872): human expressions are innate and therefore universal. At the age of 30, supported by photography, he decided to decipher the mystery. He then travelled across Chile, Argentina, Brazil, Japan and the United States, asking people to identify and recognise the emotions displayed. Before identical images, both the Japanese and the Americans moved the same facial muscles. The Japanese more frequently disguised unpleasant situations with a smile. He then went to Papua New Guinea with the aim of checking who was right: Mead or Darwin. In that virgin civilisation, the inhabitants did not even know what a camera was and there was no written language to identify emotions. He asked them to tell stories and recorded the expressions on their face. That face would express the emotionality of the stories. In the United States, Professor Ekman’s students saw the images and had no difficulty in identifying the emotions of the New Guinea inhabitants. Professor Ekman thus confirmed that Darwin was right. Expressions of happiness, sadness, anger, surprise, aversion, fear and contempt are basic and universal, regardless of the culture to which they belong. Professor Ekman presents yet another example of the difference between basic emotions and feelings: “Romantic and parental love are more enduring than emotions, though they are highly emotionally laden. I don’t just feel happy with my daughter. Sometimes I’m worried, sometimes I’m surprised, and sometimes I might feel anger. It’s an attachment, not a fleeting emotional state. A mood, by the way, is different still. It doesn’t last as long as an attachment, though it can last for hours or even longer”. Gestures are the ones that are actually learnt. In 1978, he created the Facial Action Coding System (FACS) – a coding system for facial activity which allows us to scientifically measure the face’s muscle movements. So, he found out that the face can produce more 10 thousand expressions and that it is possible to identify and recognise traces to detect lies, which led to the publication of his book about lie detection, Telling Lies, in 1985. This book is still a core reference today in many contexts, such as forensic expertise. The premise is simple: if there are several forms of expression of the content of basic emotions, then there are profiles for psycophysiologic changes. James J. Newberry, a CIA agent, is one of the many people who employ Professor Ekman’s code. Lies do not grow like ‘Pinocchio’s nose’. An innocent person may display the same reaction as a guilty person. A misinterpretation of an emotion may be fatal to judgement. It is necessary be very careful in the exercise of the face’s vocabulary and to perfectly combine the notes on the universal facial stave. His theory on the facial expression of emotions is the result – and has been tested – of 32 years of hard continuous work as a Psychology professor in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of California, San Francisco, in the Human Interaction Lab which he founded and where he studied the behaviour of, for example, schizophrenics and murderers. He is also the co-founder (with Professor Klaus Scherer) of the International Society for Research on Emotion (ISRE). Currently he is accompanying, with increased attention, the development of Screening Passenger by Observational Techniques (SPOT), in connection with the North-American anti-terrorism programme.
The presence of Professor Ekman in Fernando Pessoa University (USP) is a historical landmark for science in Portugal, particularly for the Psychology of Emotions. It is the first time a Portuguese university confers this title on him, in more than 40 years of scientific ad academic work in the field of facial expression of emotion. Worldwide recognition of his theories, especially the Facial Action Coding System (FACS), and of its conversion for reference in emotional studies through EMFACS, is reinforced by many books and articles published in scientific journals that inevitably cite him, and can be consulted, for example, in the book “What the Face Reveals: Basic and Applied Studies of Spontaneous Expression Using the Facial Action Coding System”, co-written with Professor Erika Rosenberg and published in 1997 by Oxford University Press. Professor Ekman was recently acknowledged by the American Psychological Association (APA) as one of the 100 most important and influential psychologists of the twentieth century. He has previously received the Scientific Contribution Award, also from the American Psychological Association (APA), which represents the highest distinction granted in the area of research in Psychology. This distinction is the result of his unique scientific work, with 16 books (best sellers and translated into dozens of languages worldwide) and more than two hundred articles. Therefore, conferring this title is a historic mark. To Professor Ekman we owe the consensual assumption of the worldwide scientific community regarding the framework of basic emotions (sadness, anger, surprise, fear, disgust, happiness and contempt). One of Professor Ekman’s concerns is the fact that emotions determine our quality of life. That is why it is important to acknowledge them and adjust them to our daily lives, without masks our subterfuges. If emotions are part of our lives, we have to learn to live with them – this is the motto of Professor Ekman’s latest book, “Emotions Revealed: Understanding Faces and Feelings”. Another of his concerns regards the serious procedures we should adopt when we wish to detect incongruences between facial discourse and verbal utterances among criminal suspects. Thus, in the field of Forensic Psychology, the first questioning should be filmed. It doesn’t make any sense to use that procedure in a court room session. The study of facial expression of emotion is still at an early stage in Portugal, despite its interest and the various areas in which it can be applied. The scientific study of the human face is not undertaken with the expected interest. It in the footsteps of the work developed by Professor Ekman, the Facial Expression Emotion Lab (FEELab) of the Faculty of Health Sciences at Fernando Pessoa University has established itself as a pioneer in Portugal. Being a pioneer since 2003 is both the reason for increased satisfaction and a responsibility, as we have to encourage the appearance of other protagonists and platforms for the study of human face, emotions and, in particular, smiles – regarded by Spitz to be one of the leading organisers of the human psyche. Professor Ekman has collaborated with our Facial Expression Emotion Lab (FEELab) from the very beginning, by kindly offering the Facial Action Coding System (FACS), the Micro Expression Training Tool (METT) and the Subtle Expression Training Tool (SETT). FEELab is actually the only laboratory in Portugal duly certified to use these tools The close collaboration will be reinforced with the partnership with the Ekman Group Training. In conclusion, the lesson Professor Ekman proposes could be simply and assertively translated as the absolute need for studying human face so that we are in fact prepared to assume that ‘emotions determine the quality of our lives’. As we are speaking about a unique pioneer code when we speak about Professor Paul Ekman, I leave you with the reference AU7+AU6+AU12 (which translates the Action Units of the ‘enjoyment smile’) – in his own words, the clear distinction: “In a fake smile, only the zygomatic major muscle, which runs from the cheekbone to the corner of the lips, moves. In a real smile, the eyebrows and the skin between the upper eyelid and the eyebrow come down very slightly. The muscle involved is the orbicularis oculi, pars lateralis”), to accompany a profound and emotional Portuguese thank you – as big as the world itself – for your legacy and for sharing your map with us.
Porto, March 31, 2008.