The Naked Face by Malcolm Gladwell  AUG 15 2002

Malcolm Gladwell on The Naked Face we all wear:

"But there's nothing secondary about the face, and surely this realization is what set John Yarbrough apart on the night that the boy in the sports car came at him with a gun. It's not just that he saw a microexpression that the rest of us would have missed. It's that he took what he saw so seriously that he was able to overcome every self-protective instinct in his body, and hold his fire."

A must-read article about what people see when we look at each other and how some have taken that skill to a seemingly super-human level.

There are 7 reader comments

Graham43 15 200210:43AM

For a scant $260, you can order FACS (the Facial Action Coding System MG talks about) directly from Paul Ekman. Or you can just skim through the manual online. I'm saving up my pennies.

Eliot Shepard59 15 2002 5:59PM

I found this article really disturbing. Gladwell is in the business of celebrating these savant-type people, whether they be coolhunters, or Sumner Redstone, or facial cognition experts. I'm a little tired of that schtick, but whatever, he's a popular science/sociology guy.

But in this article, he uses these people's gee-whiz expertise to justify some outrageous acts. On a hunch, cop doesn't fire when kid at night points a gun at him? That's stupid (ask a cop). But even worse, at the end of the article, he celebrates another cop who DOES waste a guy simply because he doesn't like the look on his face? That's murder, whether or not the guy was armed.

Jason Shellen30 16 200212:30PM

Amazingly fascinating article and not in just the 'gee whiz' sense.

Eliot, it's as if you didn't read the article and have no cognitive ability to piece together what would have happened to the police officers at the end of the article. For shame.

A while back, Peter Merholz reviewed Gladwell's 'Tipping Point' and was unhappy with Gladwell for not coming to a cohesive conclusion or defining useful strategies. However, I would counter that Gladwell's 'celebratory' style is perhaps more useful in a piece like 'The Naked Face' in drawing out our own conclusions. I feel like this piece was full of information I can use. Thanks for the link Jason.

Eliot Shepard08 16 2002 2:08PM

Let's review the situation described by the protagonist at the end of the article (which I may or may not have read or even been able to understand):

Two cops in a squad car speak to a man in drag out the car window. The man walks toward the car through some water and says "I was out for a walk. I have something to show you." One of the cops shoots the man dead. The cop had been threatened by the expression on the man's face. Later, they learn that man was carrying a "makeshift" weapon, but the cop shot the man "on a hunch."

Apparently cops (or anyone) shooting people on hunches, and then letting the end justify the means describes a world in which you would like to live. Hey, I kind of wish you did too!

Bruce58 19 200212:58AM

Whether Gladwell excuses/justifies the cop's actions or explains it I think it is beside the point. I found the article a great read. Gladwell does have a way of taking the scientific mechanics of humankind and breaking them down in way that is understandable and relateable if not explicit or definitive in their uses.

malcolm46 19 200212:46PM

I have to say that I found the discussion of my article quite interesting. Eliot Shepard is quite right to find the actions of the second cop to be disturbing. I think they are too--and I tried to say as much in the piece. (But maybe didn't make myself clear enough.) My point, though, isn't that the cop was right, or wrong, to shoot. The point is that having that kind of ability sometimes puts you in the position of having to make very difficult decisions--decisions that would never occur to you if you didn't have the ability to read faces. That's why I'm quite happy that I can't read faces. As for the cop who didn't shoot, its hard to criticize him, isn't it? After all, he did save someone's life. . .

Anil06 22 2002 1:06AM

Some examples of the expressions discussed in the article can be found on CMU's website for their robotics department.

This thread is closed to new comments. Thanks to everyone who responded.

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