Paul Ekman Exhibit at the Exploratorium

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A Photographic Exhibition from
Pioneering Psychologist
Paul Ekman
The Search for Universals in Human Emotion
Ekman is One of the Most Influential Psychologists of the 20th Century

At the Exploratorium January 22-April 27, 2008

The Exploratorium presents a photographic exhibition, The Search for Universals in Human Emotion, from the internationally acclaimed psychologist Paul Ekman, celebrating the fortieth anniversary of his influential work with the isolated South Fore people of New Guinea. Ekman was named by the American Psychological Association as one of the most influential psychologists of the 20th century. His research and photographic study of human facial expressions has had a powerful impact on researchers' understanding of both our emotions and our evolutionary history. In addition to the exhibition, Paul Ekman presents a live presentation on his work in the Exploratorium's McBean Theater on Saturday, January 26th, 2008 at 2pm. Both the presentation and the exhibition are presented in conjunction with the Exploratorium's new Mind collection, and are included in the price of admission to the Exploratorium. Reservations to the talk are required; please call (415) 674-2870.

Beginning in 1967, Ekman and his colleagues visited the isolated New Guinea highlands to study the South Fore people, an indigenous tribe with whom the developed world had only recently made contact. These expeditions focused on establishing whether the facial expressions associated with key emotions (smiling for happiness, scowling for anger, etc.) are biologically determined or learned through culture and imitation.

The former view, of a set of innate human expressions shaped by evolution, was advanced by Charles Darwin in 1872's The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals. This argument would be supported by evidence that widely-separated groups of people shared the facial expressions associated with common emotional experiences. However, another view held that such facial expressions were learned rather than innate, implying that different cultures could develop and transmit different sets of emotion-specific facial expressions.

Ekman's team found that the Fore's facial expressions for happiness, sadness, fear, surprise, anger, and disgust were strikingly similar to those found in other cultures. For example, when asked to imitate the expressions associated with meeting an old friend or stumbling upon a decaying animal, they showed the same patterns of eye and mouth muscle movements seen in Westerners under similar circumstances. The fact that the Fore showed these facial "universals" despite little contact with representatives of other cultures (or modern popular media) strongly suggested that Darwin's view of innate expressions was correct.

Ekman's findings formed the basis of a series of influential books and articles that gave new direction to the study of human emotions. His study of the complexities of facial expressions also revealed humans' understanding of the links between facial expressions and deception, information that has lately been of interest to such agencies as the Department for Homeland Security.

I wish I was going to be in town for this one!

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I read a relatively recent edition of Darwin's expression book for which Ekman wrote the introduction and commentaries.