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|Born||February 15, 1934 (age 78)
Paul Ekman (born February 15, 1934) is an American psychologist who has been a pioneer in the study of emotions and their relation to facial expressions. He has been considered one of the 100 most eminent psychologists of the twentieth century. The background of Ekman's research analyzes the development of human traits and states over time (Keltner, 2007).
At the age of 15 and without graduating from high school he enrolled at the University of Chicago where he completed three years of his undergraduate. He completed his final year at New York University where he earned his BA in 1954. He received his Ph.D. in clinical psychology at Adelphi University (1958), after a one year internship at the Langley Porter Neuropsychiatric Institute.
He received a Research Scientist Award from the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) in 1971, which was renewed in 1976, 1981, 1987, 1991 and 1997. For over forty years, NIMH supported his research through fellowships, grants, and awards. He also wrote a famous book called "Telling Lies" in the year 1985. He was encouraged to write this book by his college friend and teacher Silvan S. Tomkins.
In 2001, Ekman collaborated with John Cleese for the BBC documentary series The Human Face. 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 worked at the Langley Porter Psychiatric Institute.
Ekman's work on facial expressions had its starting point in the work of psychologist Silvan Tomkins. Ekman's projects included developing techniques for measuring facial muscular movement while also developing theories about emotion and deception through empirical research.  Ekman showed that contrary to the belief of some anthropologists including Margaret Mead, facial expressions of emotion are not culturally determined, but universal across human cultures and thus biological in origin. Expressions he found to be universal included those indicating anger, disgust, fear, shame, joy, sadness, and surprise. Findings on contempt are less clear, though there is at least some preliminary evidence that this emotion and its expression are universally recognized. Ekman's first publication in 1957 discussed all of his findings on developing methods for measuring nonverbal behavior.
In a research project along with Dr. 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 from all walks of life, he found only 50 people that 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.
He developed the Facial Action Coding System (FACS) to taxonomize every human facial expression. Ekman conducted and published research on a wide variety of topics in the general area of non-verbal behavior. His work on lying, for example, was not limited to the face, but also to observation of the rest of the body.
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.
Ekman has contributed to the study of social aspects of lying, why we lie, and why we are often unconcerned with detecting lies. 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. Ekman is also working with Computer Vision researcher Dimitris Metaxas on designing a visual lie-detector.
Ekman devised a list of basic emotions from cross-cultural research on the Fore tribesmen of Papua New Guinea. He observed that members of an isolated culture could reliably identify the expressions of emotion in photographs of people from cultures with which the Fore were not yet familiar. They could also ascribe facial expressions to descriptions of situations. On this evidence, he concluded that the expressions associated with some emotions were basic or biologically universal to all humans. The following is Ekman's (1972) list of basic emotions:
However in the 1990s Ekman expanded his list of basic emotions, including a range of positive and negative emotions not all of which are encoded in facial muscles. The newly included emotions are:
Ekman has claimed to have a policy against commenting on public officials, those seeking public office, litigants, or those with impending litigation, yet has used Bill Clinton as an example of being able to spot a liar.
Ekman was featured in an issue of Greater Good Magazine devoted to trust. In this issue, Ekman and daughter Eve are interviewed on parent-child trust. The main topic of the interview focuses on the benefits of trusting your children, how to encourage trustworthy behavior, and what it takes to build trust between parents and children. Ekman is a contributor to Greater Good Magazine, Greater Good Science Center, University of California, Berkeley.
On February 27, 2009, he was a guest presenter at the Science of a Meaningful Life seminar "Building Compassion, Creating Well-being", along with University of California, Berkeley and Greater Good Science Center Executive Director Dacher Keltner. Together they covered strategies for building resilience, reducing stress, and strengthening relationships with colleagues, clients, family, and friends.
Ekman's work, particularly its applications to airport security via the Transportation Security Administration's "Screening Passengers by Observation Techniques" (SPOT) program, has been criticized for not having been subjected to controlled scientific tests. A 2007 report on SPOT 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".
Ekman no longer publishes details of his recent work in peer-reviewed journals, asserting that this is a deliberate strategy to avoid aiding scientists in countries that the United States considers a potential threat, yet he's quite willing to let Fox make a TV show purportedly based on his insights.
The methodology used by Ekman and O'Sullivan in their recent work on Truth wizards has also received criticism on the basis of validation. Other criticisms of Ekman's work are based on experimental and naturalistic studies by several other emotion psychologists who, in the last two decades, did not find evidence in support of discrete emotions and discrete facial expression, thus questioning Ekman's proposed taxonomy.