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A psychiatrist looks at faces

Think of all the faces you’ve seen today.

Try to remember 3 pairs of shoes you’ve seen today. Now think of 3 faces. This is likely far easier. There is a clear biological reason for this.

As social creatures, the face is central to how we understand and communicate with each other. So much of our happiness depends on our ability to read the subtle, fleeting expressions on the faces of every person we encounter.

In my work as a psychiatrist, I look at faces every day. Interpreting non-verbal cues on my patients’ faces is central to understanding and helping them. Through practice and study, I am continually honing my ability to decode faces quickly and accurately.

While some people are innately very attuned to faces, others struggle. There are even people who are completely unable to interpret facial expressions. Most of us are somewhere in the middle, unaware of our actual ability to read and respond to faces, and of the superficiality of our assessments. We make quick judgments in a few seconds, and this opinion anchors all further interactions. Yet these conclusions are often flawed or incomplete.

Learning to look at someone’s face objectively, and to better interpret what we see, is a skill that everyone would find useful. And it’s possible to teach this skill.

I’d like to share my knowledge of faces with you. We’ll take cues from science, pop culture and art. Through simple exercises and visual demonstrations, we’ll become more aware of the underlying processes that guide our thoughts and opinions when looking at someone’s face. Ultimately, we’ll learn to see faces more accurately, with greater self-awareness and more emotional balance.

By improving our skill in looking at faces, we will improve our skill at understanding the people behind those faces and transform the way we understand ourselves and others.

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