The Neglected Clue: Mini’s

Written November, 2009

It was the last day of the Irangate Congressional hearings. Lt. Colonel Oliver North, impressively uniformed, very much in command of the situation, listened attentively as Congressman Lee Hamilton praised North’s many years of dedicated service to the country. Then without warning Hamilton said “but you almost brought a President down”. North did not reply in words, instead he displayied a very subtle lower lip raise, a very tiny pout. The possibility that his covert supply of weapons to the Contras might have damaged President Reagan hurt North. This subtle expression was important because it told those who recognized it that North was not a psychopath, for they don’t care about hurting others.

POUTS: Early in infancy right before a full force cry the lower lip often is pushed up in a prominent pout. Intervention then can often abort the crying episode. But in most adults, especially males, and a Marine officer, all that remains of the cry that leaks out is the subtle, miniature pout.

I have wondered why these subtle expressions have not gotten the attention that micro facial expressions receive. They also can reveal an emotion a person is trying to conceal. But the media – the TV show Lie to Me, and the press – have focused on micros not these minimal, subtle expressions.

In my book TELLING LIES, I only mention them in closing chapters, and didn’t emphasize them as much as current research suggests they deserve. Perhaps also ‘subtle expression’ is too long a moniker, not as snappy as micros. That is why I am adopting the term mini to refer to them. Recent research by a team of English scientists showed that training to recognize minis (with the Subtle Expression Training Tool SETT) improved the ability to identify lies, a little better than training to recognize micros!

In our workshop on Hidden Facial Messages we train people to recognize minis, micros and the clues that a facial expression is false.

Minis can be shown in any part of the face — forehead, eyebrows, eyelids, nose, cheeks, lips, or chin. Sometimes they cut across a number of regions, they can even register across the entire face, but that is less frequent than being restricted to one or two facial regions. Although minis can be as brief as a micro, typically they last longer on the face.

Minis are triggered when:

  1. A person’s deliberate attempt to conceal a strongly felt emotion is not completely successful, so that it leaks out in a mini.
  2. The emotion being felt is very slight, and will quickly pass.
  3. An emotion that is going to grow stronger first begins, revealed in a mini before the person showing it is aware of becoming emotional.

We don’t yet know if there are any differences in the minis’ appearance as a result of what triggered it. I suspect there is not, just as there is no difference in the appearance of a micro resulting from suppression or repression. To accurately interpret minis the observer has to determine what triggered it. Usually that is obvious by the context in which it occurs and the answers to further questions asked of the person who showed the mini.

Learning to identify minis can help establish rapport, allowing people who recognize minis to better calibrate their own behavior. It is useful to the health care provider, the teacher, the salesperson, negotiator and the interrogator. And because it can also betray a concealed emotion recognizing minis is important to anyone who needs to know more than what the other person wishes to reveal.

In my book EMOTIONS REVEALED, and in the workshop Hidden Facial Messages, I explain how to skillfully use the information obtained from minis (and micros) in the workplace, in family life and friendships.

Most people do not recognize minis without training with SETTonline. It takes about an hour for most people to develop the skill to spot minis.

SETT has two parts. In the Learning section the minis for each of the seven universal emotions are displayed one at a time; for example, there are six different minis that register sadness. Each one is shown twice and then held on the screen. In the Practice section minis of all seven emotions are shown in a randomized order and the learner has to judge which of the seven emotions each mini displays. We suggest a slow exposure speed the first time through. At the end of the practice the number correctly judged is displayed. If it is above 85% correct, the exposure speed should be shortened, and the practice repeated. Each time the practice is used the minis are shown in a different randomized order.