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A Look That Could Kill – Understanding the Expression of Anger

Think about something or someone that has angered you recently.  It may be a coworker that annoys you, it may be a company’s customer service rep that you had to deal with on the phone, it may have been a person standing in front of you in line and, despite the ten minutes it took to get to the counter, they still didn’t know what they wanted to order.  Often times your anger towards the person after the fact or after the event has ended and you replay the scene over and over in your head, each time you re-imagine it, your anger towards the person deepens.  You are probably thinking about what you should have said to them or what you would say to them if you were in that situation again.

You don’t even need to be at the scene that initially caused your anger, but you can recreate that emotion in your head at any time and it is likely causing the expression of anger to be displayed across your face.

Anger is one of the 7 Universal Emotions that Dr. Paul Ekman identified through his research that began in the 1950’s.  If you think about anger in your daily life, you may have seen it before in arguments between people and regardless of the type of disagreement; you have often seen it during or preceding fights.  For Marines while we are deployed, a fight can mean getting shot at, finding an IED in the road, having a suicide bomber walk up to us, or being called to a riot that is forming.  For the military and police, fights and anger can have very serious implications and that make anger necessary to understand.

Just as we mentioned in the last face-related post on disgust, we will not know initially what has caused the anger, only that it is occurring.  Once you identify it, you can go back to your decision to “Kill, Capture, or Contact” to figure out the underlying cause.

As we break down anger, the required characteristics are the ones that you MUST see to classify it as anger, while the optional characteristics are the ones that might accompany the required ones.

Required Characteristics

Upper Face:

–       Pull your eyebrows together and down, which means the inner corners of your eyebrows must go down toward your nose

–       While holding those brows down, try to open your eyes wide, so your upper eyelids push against your lowered eyebrows, this will cause you to “glare”

Lower Face:

–       Lips are tense

Optional Characteristics

Upper Face:

–       There could be vertical or horizontal wrinkles across the bridge of the nose.  This would be caused by pulling your eyebrows together and down, but will not be present on every person.

Lower Face:

–       Press the lips together (optional – could be the difference between controlled and uncontrolled anger)

–       Jaw thrust forward

As you practice identifying the emotion in front of a mirror, remember to display the emotion across a variety of intensities, ranging from mild annoyance to rage.  The more capable you are at identifying the emotion on yourself, the better you will be able to identify it on others.

As one final note, just remember that none of the behavioral domains occur in isolation.  In Emotions Revealed, Paul Ekman notes, “There is an impulse to move forward toward the target of your anger” (Ekman, 135).  We refer to the act of moving toward something as a Proxemic Pull, and this is something you will experience a lot of while overseas.  As you are on patrol and enter a marketplace, as people are drawn to your presence, ensure that you are scanning the crowd for any signs of anger that may alert you to a threat before that person gets too close to deal with it accordingly.  The earlier you can identify this emotion could provide you with enough time to stop the threat before it occurs.

References for information from this post came from the following books and training:

“Emotions Revealed” Paul Ekman. St Martin’s Press, New York, NY. 2007

(Specifically Chapter 6 – Anger)

“Telling Lies” Paul Ekman. W.W. Norton & Company Inc, New York, NY. 2009.

(Specifically Chapter 5 – Facial Clues to Deceit)

Training

Paul Ekman’s Micro-Expression Training Tool – Advanced

Paul Ekman’s Subtle Expression Training Tool

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