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A Guidebook for Reading Others

Having read Emotionomics and About Face a few years ago, which both earned a special place on my bookshelf due to the impact they had on my own development as a professional, I had high expectations of Dan Hill's latest book, Famous Faces Decoded: A Guidebook for Reading Others. Hill is an expert in the use of facial coding in business and the recipient of several patents related to advanced methods for scoring and analyzing facial coding data. Facial coding is emotion recognition that is based on facial muscle activity. This activity reveals people’s current emotions and it can suggest their behavioral tendencies. While technology companies are pursuing the automation of facial coding, we also have more and more resources to develop our knowledge on this subject.

We already know that words aren't enough to understand people and emotions, as communication is more than verbal declarations. Sometimes we deal with ambiguous situations or meetings where not all the cards are on the table. As we strive to do well in both our professional and personal lives, we need a real-time feedback loop we can count on and this can be the information that people’s faces reveal.

In this book, Dan Hill analyzes the facial expressions of 173 celebrities and provides details of the research results. It is fascinating to understand how 23 facial muscle movements can reveal so much about people’s emotional reactions. As the author states, it is important to note that eyebrows, eyes, wrinkles, noses, cheeks, jaws, chins or mouths can tell you what people are feeling at a specific moment in time, but not what they’re thinking. Nevertheless, perceiving emotions opens the door to more complex skills, such as using emotions to facilitate thoughts and stronger rapport with others.

Famous Faces Decoded explores emotions and their levels in three parts: approach emotions (happiness, anger, sadness), spurning emotions (contempt, disgust) and reactive emotions (surprise, fear). We find out more about the facial cues of each emotion and its different levels, what may trigger each emotion, how to spot them and how we display them. Moreover, for each emotion, the author offers a list of top celebrities that most or least display it. The book also contains personality insights revealed through facial coding comparisons for celebrities such as Serena  and Venus Williams, but also Brad Pitt, Jennifer Aniston and Angelina Jolie, or Steve Jobs and Bill Gates.

Facial coding implies complex analysis and even with happiness (the simplest of the emotions in terms of its display), there is variety in the strength of a smile and the four possible forms of expression. There is no single template for each emotion but, rather, diverse ways in which core emotions show up in facial coding, often with two or more emotions being signaled by one look.

This is a practical book and once I started reading it, I was not able to put it down until I finished it. After this journey, I feel that I will be able to improve my ability to read emotions on other people's faces and I encourage you to pursue this as well. 

Reviewer: Monica Diana Bercea, PhD Student in Neuromarketing Affiliation: “Alexandru Ioan Cuza” University, Faculty of Economics and Business Administration, Marketing Department, Iasi, Romania