Emotions Revealed
by Paul Ekman
(Owl Books)

A good psychology book provokes a shift in the reader's perception: she starts to reconsider the significance of her own behavior and that of those around her. Life is seen from an interesting new angle, invested with yet another layer of meaning. Paul Ekman's Emotions Revealed: Recognizing Faces and Feelings to Improve Communication and Emotional Life achieves all of this while maintaining a notable level of accessibility.

Ekman begins by exposing readers to his research on human emotions and facial expressions over the past several decades, which has focused on the following question: "Are expressions universal, or are they, like language, specific to each culture?" Ekman's research proved the universality of certain facial expressions that have served such a strong communicative purpose throughout the evolution of our species they survived the course of natural selection. Most of our individualized and culture-specific emotional responses are variations on these evolutionary themes. This argument, however, is not a justification for unchecked emotional expression (evolution made me do it!). On the contrary: the rest of Ekman's book maintains the importance of not only detecting emotion in others, but recognizing what triggers your own emotions and questioning whether or not they arise in appropriate ways.

Emotions Revealed is at its strongest when it provides exercises that allow you to apply these ideas to your everyday life. Ekman includes though-provoking scenarios that prompt you to reflect on your own patterns of emotional behavior. Each chapter includes a set of photographs that can potentially improve your ability to recognize the difference between, say, a set of eyelids expressing anger as opposed to sadness. Instructions tell you how to mimic the expressions, and, oddly enough, you may begin to feel legitimately angry after voluntarily making an anger expression. A test measures how adept you are at detecting facial expressions in others.

An interesting, entertaining guide to an often overlooked aspect of our human ancestry, Emotions Revealed is also an active read, replete with tools to enhance your skills of perception and cultivate self-knowledge.