Freitas-Magalhães, Ph.D., is a Portuguese psychologist working on the psychology of the human smile in the context of emotion and facial expression.
He is founder and current director of the Facial Emotion Expression Lab (FEELab) at University Fernando Pessoa (UFP), in Porto (Portugal). His research is devoted to understanding emotions in individuals and society.
Freitas-Magalhães is the author of FACE, a scientific project in Portugal that will allow neuropsychological mapping of the Portuguese facial expression. The FACE imaging technology will contribute to a database of facial expression available for the most diverse social applications, such as health, justice and education.
In an exclusive interview for bestinPortugal, Prof. Freitas-Magalhães talks about the psychology of facial expression, areas of intervention and the challenges faced in being a pioneer in the study of face recognition in Portugal.
Why is it so important to be able to identify and to decipher facial expressions?
The human face is our first communication system. It reveals all our emotions, including those deep inner feelings that were intended to be concealed. The face conveys one’s emotional state to the observer. It is the venue for the brain to view the remains of past experiences as presented in my book “The Psychology of Emotions: The Allure of the Human Face.”
What are some of the areas in which facial expressions are mostly used?
Our face is born with us, grows and develops with us and finally, dies with us. Therefore, the facial expression is valid in any context. The anatomy and function of facial expressions is applicable to service areas such as Health, Justice and Education, to name a few. The scientific analysis of the face may contribute to the pursuit of a healthier social interaction.
Can the study of facial expressions be used as a lie detector?
It cannot because it already is. The Facial Action Coding System (FACS), created in 1978 by my friend Paul Ekman, has been used for over 30 years by Intelligence Agencies & Services like the CIA, FBI and Scotland Yard. In recent years, there has been a significant increase in the number of studies on the application of the aforementioned instrument for measuring the muscular movements of the face. My new book, “The Ekman Code: The Brain, the Face and the Emotion” addresses in detail the usefulness of FACS.
How can the Laboratório de Expressão Facial da Emoção -FEELab/UFP (Facial Expression of Emotion Lab) help to provide scientific evidence through the facial expression of offenders for the criminal investigation and judicial proceedings?
The Facial Expression of Emotion Lab (FEELab/UFP) is prepared and available to give their input in criminal investigation. I’ve advocated for years that interrogations should be videotaped for a further analysis of the micro-expressions. The human face provides unquestionable traces that can make the difference between truth and falsehood.
What are the most common facial characteristics of a typical Portuguese?
I said in a conference held in Prague two years ago, that the Portuguese are not sad: they just weren’t educated to have a positive attitude towards life leading to significant difficulties in the identification, recognition and use of basic emotions. I advocate the introduction of a program of emotional literacy in Portuguese schools. This would allow society to be very different, in a much healthier way. As I previously said, the Portuguese are not sad, it is a way of being that makes part of their cultural heritage of being private and introspective.
How do you take cultural differences into account in interpreting facial expressions?
Cultural differences exist only at the level of display rules (ie culture-specific guidelines for displaying certain facial expressions appropriate for each context), not in the construction of facial expressions conveyed from the emotion that occur in the brain structure.
Culture is one of the moderating variables of facial expression and that is why I advocate the inclusion of a new paradigm of educational culture that integrates an emotional education.
When you were starting your career, what made you choose this area to dedicate yourself to?
I have been studying the facial expression of emotion for nearly 25 years. It all began with a smile, a widespread phenomenon, which in the case was the smile of my wife. But as I later discovered, it is really a complex phenomenon and a key organizer of the human psyche. It was at that point that my scientific adventure began. It continues on since the smile per se, contains all the substance that gives meaning to science. This motivated me to write the book “The Psychology of Human Smile.” Expanding on this subject with a question, why does Mona Lisa’s expression continue to arouse such an interest?
How do you entice scholars and researchers from all over the world to collaborate with you in your research?
The benefits of doing research are to exhibit the results and to share experiences with other researchers on the work done. I believe in shared science. The aim is for people to do science, a science that is practical and shared, as I expressed recently at a conference in the University of Coimbra. I believe that the principle was well accepted by my colleagues.
I divulge my work by networking. As I participate in numerous international organizations, the dissemination of my work is a scientific fact. The scientific and academic international project named “The Brain and The Face” that I have been coordinating since 2008 has been a notable example of this practice.
What are the challenges that you face in being a pioneer in the study of facial expressions in Portugal?
The challenges of an enormous responsibility. I get calls every day to give lectures, to analyze faces, to give advice and to give opinion about the nonverbal behavior in different social contexts. Right now, my goal (beyond the pleasure that it gives me to work in this area) is to give my contribution in the scientific area of facial expression of emotion and to engage the scientific community to get involved on this topic. I have already noticed signs of my contribution and I am up to the challenge of knowing each time more and more on the human face.
The Encyclopedia of Human Behavior, of Elsevier Editor in Oxford, will publish your article “Facial Expression of Emotion”. Besides the personal satisfaction of having your work recognized by an international reputable publication, do you believe that this will help in promoting Portuguese investigators and scientists for international cooperation projects?
Of course it does. I do not make research to be recognized. I do research because it gives me pleasure and because I feel that this was my calling. It is obvious that this distinction is a contribution to the visibility of the Portuguese Science.
Any final thoughts that you would like to add?
The human face will continue to be my scientific allure and I believe that in the coming years the Science of deciphering the human face will be further explored in a forensic context. It’s inevitable.
As additional information, James Bray, Ph.D, President of the American Psychological Association-APA, presented in November of 2009 the book “Emotional Expression: The Brain and The Face” by Professor Freitas-Magalhães in the Auditorium of the Fernando Pessoa University (Oporto).
Image Credits: FEELab – University Fernando Pessoa , BestInPortugal.com