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Paul Eckman was born in Washington, D.C., in 1934 and was raised in several states throughout the country. He studied at both New York University and the University of Chicago. He graduated from Adelphi University in 1958 from which he received a Ph.D. in clinical psychology. Eckman interned at the Langly Porter Neuropsychiatric Institute, and became employed there full time in 1960. He remained with the Institute until 2004, when he retired from there as well as resigning from his position at the Department of Psychiatry at the University of California, San Francisco, where he was a professor of psychology. Eckman has received multiple awards, including Research Scientist Award on six separate occasions, from the National Institute of Mental Health, and was named one of the most influential people by Time magazine.
Contribution to Psychology
Eckman is best known for his work with facial expressions. He theorized that all expressions are not necessarily born of cultural influences, but displays of emotions are inherently biological. He discovered that several facial expressions, such as fear, anger, sadness, joy, and surprise were universal. In collaboration with Dr. Maureen O’Sulllivan, Eckman studied the micro-expressions displayed by people in order to detect if they were telling the truth or lying. The study, called the Wizards Project, discovered that only a relatively small percent of people can recognize deception naturally. These people were called the Truth Wizards.
Eckman created the Facial Action Coding System (FACS) which categorized every expression, not only on the face but also throughout the rest of the physical body. His findings on lying were reported through published research over a broad base of topics. Eckman has studied the science and social influence behind lying and what significance lying has on our mental well-being.
From his research working with isolated tribesman in New Guinea, Eckman devised a list of universal emotions and expressions that he believed were present in all humans. They include surprise, sadness, happiness, disgust, anger, and fear. After more research, Eckman concluded that there were both negative and positive emotions that were universal to all humans, although not all were visible in facial expressions. This list of universal emotions includes:
Eckman has continued his work in the area of facial expression by applying it to trust issues, particularly relating to parent-child relationships. He is a contributor to the Greater Good Magazine and works with the Greater Good Science Center at the University of California, Berkeley.