I Can Read You Like a Book: The Mystery of Facial Expressions

Dr. Paul Ekman, a psychologist who lives in San Francisco, is known for being able to see through every facial expression and every gesture a person can make. His knowledge has inspired international intelligence agencies as well as Hollywood. It provided the plot for the successful crime series Lie to Me, which revolves around his fictional alter ego: Dr. Cal Lightmann, the best human lie detector in the world. This documentary portrays the real scientist and deciphers the code of our facial expressions. Paul Ekman has been exploring the mystery of facial expressions for more than 40 years. He taught himself to move each individual muscle in his face at will. For years he worked on cataloging an “atlas of feelings” with more than 10,000 facial expressions. Ekman’s greatest discovery is the so-called micro expression, an expression which flashes across someone’s face in a split second and is an indication of lying. These are the “cracks” through which our real feelings are visible. Micro expressions escape normal observation, but according to Ekman, anyone can learn to read them. U.S. security officials and interrogators are trained according to his method. Since 9/11, Ekman’s goal is to identify potential terrorists before they can kill. Of the 10,000 people Ekman has tested, only 50 had the talent to recognize micro expressions without any training. In the film we encounter one of these “truth wizards,” the ex-secret agent Paul Kelly, who worked as a bodyguard for the Secret Service in the White House. Then we are allowed a moving insight into the other extreme by visiting Rainer Doehle, an autistic man living in Berlin. When together with other people, he often feels he has “landed on another planet.” That’s because he can neither identify faces nor read emotions from facial expressions. Which direction will the future of lie detection and “mind reading” take? When Professor John-Dylan Haynes wants to know if his subjects are telling the truth, he looks directly into their brains. For example, the neuro-scientist can tell by reading patterns of brain activity whether a person has already seen a place or not. Using this futuristic method of crime scene recognition, suspected murderers, robbers and assassins could be convicted. What would it be like if, in the future, no one could hide anything from anyone else?

Broadcast date:Freitag, 7. Oktober 2011 um 21.45 Uhr auf arte
Written and directed by:Dr. Luise Wagner und Andrea Cross
Editorial advisor:Ann-Christin Hornberger (ZDF/arte)
Production:Ulrike Römhild
Line producer:Anke Meyer
Executive producer:Hartmut Klenke
Filming location:USA, Deutschland