Paul Ekman

HH Dalai Lama and Paul Ekman

Little Darling, Dr. Paul Ekman.

Professor Emeritus from University of California, San Francisco, and one of Time Magazine’s Most Influential People in 2009, I was first intro introduced to Paul Ekman’s work high school, where a social psychology primer course was offered in a bundle of potential college courses aimed at increasing interest in college for the kids in my class.

From childhood, even before I had a correct lexicon for the passion I had for science, I knew that people, more specifically, people’s behaviours and thoughts, and most importantly, people’s emotions were malleable, evolving, influential, necessary, and sometimes reliable.

Dr. Ekman’s study of human emotion and its relation facial expression has changed the way psychology studies and interprets all areas of human behaviour.

As an undergraduate at the University of California, Berkeley, I had the honour of mentorship by one of Dr. Ekman’s own protégés, Dr. Dacher Keltner, who went on to make breakthroughs in emotions such as compassion, happiness, meditation, and awe, all stemming from Ekman’s original work.  Our studies together further looked in to physiological and genetic explanations for various emotional behaviour and states.  As you can see, all it takes is one passionate pioneer to pave the way for those behind him to lead to major advances in any field.

I was lucky enough to have met Dr. Ekman at a psychology conference “The Science of a Meaningful Life” hosted by UC Berkeley and Greater Good Science Center.  There, he spoke of his work and interviews with the HH Dalai Lama on questions about happiness and how emotions like gratitude, altruism, and compassion, can actually increase a person’s happiness.  Ekman ended his talk with the ultimate question: “How do we increase compassion?”

I stood in cue during the book signing to get my copies of Ekman’s Telling Lies, and Emotional Awareness signed.  Dr. Ekman’s 30 years of study and his work with several government and security agencies coupled by his book revelations What the Face Reveals and Telling Lies ended up spawning the FOX hit show “Lie to Me;” the main character Cal Lightman, played by Tim Roth is based on Dr. Ekman.

Reaching the signing desk, I crouched down beside the sitting Ekman and told him I was working on finding answers to his question of compassion through my thesis project with Dr. Keltner.  While he signed a personal message into the clean leaves of my books, I told him my theory considered touch to be a prime catalyst for the promotion of compassion, specifically that giving touch would promote greater compassion in the giver and that the more people gave each other pleasant touch, like hugs, kisses, or holding hands, the greater the benefit in terms of emotional, psychological, and physiological well-being.

Dr. Ekman was very receptive to the idea.  He asked me to send him a copy of my citations, and to send a copy of the thesis when it was completed.  Since then, he offered precious advice, and has pointed me toward several resources in pursuit of answers to our common questions.  I am so grateful.

If you are interested in learning more about Ekman’s work on emotion, facial expression, micro-expression, deception recognition, and language please visit


~ by Joy Suzanne Grazer on May 1, 2010.

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