I'm at the Leadership and Emotional Intelligence Summit today. The highlight is a session from Dr Paul Ekman (anthropologist, father of the field of emotional research and friend of the Dalai Lama and 'Danny’ Goleman) which I'm live blogging....
First, the knowledge base...
Our emotions are important - and can even override our basic drives - eg disgust of sex can override our sex drive.
Each one is a discreet categorical module with a separate circuitry. So how many are there? Between 6 and 7. Everyone agrees on the top 5: anger fear sadness disgust happiness.
But where is surprise? Surprise is neutral - not positive or negative and can't stay surprised very long - you move onto another emotion.
Ekman also adds Contempt which he has found around the world and in other primates. And possibly excitement - eg extreme sports participants seem to be after the state of excitement itself. A still unresolved problem.
Another debate is whether facial expressions based on these emotions are a cultural specific body language or universal? Mead suggests they're culturally learned. But this would mean you can't work inane other culture unless you've learnt their facial expressions too...
Where do people learn to translate facial expressions - from the media?, other people or is it genetic. Ekman needed a culturally isolated group of people. He took lots of film but never saw an expression he hadn't seen before. And his interpretation seemed to fit what people were doing.
He then went to New Guinea in 67 to find the last few visually isolated people.
He did two experiments - firstly asking people to stand in front of a camera to see their facial expression in response to a story eg about a smelly dead pig (disgust).
Each emotions has:
- A signal. In anger, the blood goes to your muscles in your hand preparing you to hit somebody. When you're afraid the blood goes to your legs preparing you to run. Anger fear sadness disgust surprise contempt happiness have universal signals. What about envy? It's an emotion but doesn't have a signal. Love isn't an emotion however, it's a state of commitment.
- A trigger theme - a variation on a theme - most of these are learned. Eg things you are afraid of are learnt whilst growing up. They relate to who can show what emotion to whom eg the only beauty contestant is the one who wins.
- Likely actions
There are also display rules and attitudes about each emotion. Eg in some societies any display of anger is taboo.
But what is an emotion? - an automatic appraisal attuned to universal antecedent events (triggers), and a learned trigger eg when you brake whilst driving to avoid an accident. But can be dangerous too eg if you mistake a coiled snake for a rope. So we have a bias to see danger, even when it's not there, as that is safer than the reverse.
Each of these emotions can be found in other species (primates) too. They capable of quick onset and can be brief in duration. They are involuntary and inescapable once they begin.
Other characteristics include:
- Distinctive thoughts memories images
- Distinctive subjective experience
- Refractory period filters information - you'll only be able to remember things which support the emotion.
- Target of emotion unconstrained - you can be angry at anything
- Can be constructive or destructive. We're social animals. If emotions lead to us not talking to each other again that's a destructive emotional episode.
Emotions are different to moods (can last all day vs fleeting, can't always be linked to a trigger even after an event) / traits (eg someone who has anger high in their response hierarchy will after be angry, lasting for years) / disorders
Happiness - there are 5 sensory pleasures - amusement, relief, contentment, wonder, bliss. Ekman suggests the terms happiness should be banished from the English language. Are you amused or relieved? - totally different (as different as fear and ager).
And rejoicing, altruistic joy, fiery (when you express yourself to the maximum), nachos (pride in your offspring), schadenfreude (just because we don't have an English name for these doesn't mean we don't feel them).
Next, onto the skills... (this is what I'm really looking forward to as I use some of Ekman's tests in my sessions on emotional intelligence).
- Aware of other peoples emotions (online training tools include Micro Expression Training Tool - METT)
- Using information constructively (online tools available - RETT)
- Impulse awareness through meditation or exercises
- Behavioural awareness (through the capacity to observe yourself so you never learn your head).
METT came about when working with patients liable to commit suicide and with this guy, Kato Kaelin who was angry with Marcia Clarke:
Micro expressions can be either deliberately concealed or unconscious.
A final point: I liked Ekman's confidence in talking about what he believes but doesn't have any evidence for (take note, HR).
- Consulting - Research - Speaking - Training - Writing
- Strategy - Talent - Engagement - Change and OD
- Contact me to create more value for your business
- jon [dot] ingham [at] strategic [dash] hcm [dot] com