Face expert’s ability to see deception has him in demand

Paul Ekman, a retired psychologist, 71, is known around the world for his research on facial expressions and for his ability to carefully monitor expressions, body language, gestures and voice.

He has analyzed 42 facial muscles that can produce more than 10,000 expressions. He has found that seven basic emotions — anger, contempt, disgust, fear, happiness, sadness and surprise — have clear facial signals. He has coined the term “micro-expressions” to describe ultra-quick facial movements that signal underlying emotions. Though barely noticeable, these expressions are key to determining whether someone is lying.

That ability to detect deception — whether in a cheating spouse or a suspected terrorist — has Ekman in demand these days. As security becomes an everyday concern in American society, Ekman, who spent more than 40 years at the University of California Medical School in San Francisco, is teaching his skills to security professionals, including those at federal agencies in Washington, D.C.