Reading Micro Expressions on a Date

Understanding their true emotions

For many of us, going on a first date can be a daunting, if not confusing experience… and that makes sense! Think about it: not only are you attempting to forge a genuine connection with someone new (who you might be meeting for the very first time!) but you have no baseline to help you understand and interpret their emotional reactions. This is where emotional awareness, nonverbal communication knowledge, and expression detection skills come in handy!

psychologist paul ekmanWith micro expressions training tools, anyone can learn to spot the moment-to-moment micro expressions of others. Knowing what they mean and how best to respond to them, though, takes a lot more practice.

By definition, micro expressions are facial expressions that are visible for a fraction of a second, flashing briefly before disappearing altogether. While they’re easy to miss (and even easier to misinterpret), micro expressions can provide us with valuable information, revealing a person’s true emotions without them ever knowing! However, just because you see a micro expression, you must remember that they do not tell us why the person is feeling that particular emotion. This is why context and further inquiry is vital for understanding the situation and a stepping-stone toward enhancing your communication.

To help get you started, here’s a simple guide for interpreting how well your date is going.

You’ve just told your date that they look nice tonight and they respond with a micro expression of…

· happiness: As you may have guessed, this is indeed a good sign and shows that they enjoyed your compliment.

· anger: Be careful! While perhaps unintentionally, you may have said or done something upsetting and should ask if your comment was the cause.

· fear: Move much more slowly. Your date is feeling a sense of threat/danger and you might want to check in with them or clarify that you meant no harm.

· contempt or disgust: Uh oh, this is a bad sign that this date probably won’t work out. Consider changing the subject or asking what they would like to talk about.

· sadness: Before you, too, get sad, it’s likely that their response has less to do with your comment and more to do with a sad memory or experience they’ve had. Gently ask them if they’re okay.


Whether on a date, in the office, or even at home, train yourself to spot, interpret and respond to micro facial expressions and other nonverbal behaviors with Dr. Ekman’s Micro Expressions Training Tools. If you’re not sure if you need more practice, test yourself with our free online quiz to see how well you perform with the new official Micro Expressions Test!

Paul Ekman is a well-known psychologist and co-discoverer of micro expressions. He was named one of the 100 most influential people in the world by TIME magazine in 2009. He has worked with many government agencies, domestic and abroad. Dr. Ekman has compiled over 50 years of his research to create comprehensive training tools to read the hidden emotions of those around you.

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