The Neutral Micro Expression

The Myth of The Poker Face

By David M. Schneer, Ph.D.

3-Minute Read

Anyone who knows me well knows that I don’t play cards. Poker? No way. Not only do the suits confuse me, but poker parlance is pretty peculiar: from flops, flushes, and folds to tilts, trips and turns. Gutshots and under the gun? Muck? I’ll pass.

But while I know nothing about poker, If I sat and watched you play, chances are I’d be able to “tell” whether you have a weak, marginal, or strong hand—not only by your face but by your body movements. “Remember, “ says former FBI Profiler and Behavioral Analyst, “while there may be some poker faces, there is no such thing as a ‘poker body.’”[1]

In our last blog we discussed the micro expression of surprise. Today, we examine the neutral micro expression—A.K.A. the “poker face.” When one poker player evaluates another, he or she tries to determine if they can match their opponent’s body language with their probable hand. The same is true when you are trying to decipher someone’s body clues in a business meeting. For example, is the behavior you’re seeing (a tic, twitch, touch) typical (something the person always does?). Or is this behavior atypical (only seems to occur intermittently)? To determine what is your opponent’s typical versus atypical behavior, one must take a baseline read of your subject’s “neutral” face.

But if the face is neutral, how can you read anything, you might ask? Plenty, if you look carefully. What is the difference between a poker face and neutral face? Careful examination will reveal that a neutral face appears naturally relaxed, as if the person either is disinterested or lacks an opinion about the topic being discussed. But a poker face appears more tense— almost as if the person’s face displays a “mask” to hide their emotions.

A genuine neutral micro expression is shown below:


Remember, it is critically important get a baseline read of your subject’s face so that you can begin to recognize their typical or atypical behavior.

What to Do When You Encounter a Neutral micro expression?

When you encounter expressions of neutral, try the following:

  1. Try humor, as it can turn a neutral face into a happy one.
  2. Change the topic until you see the neutral change. Notice what type of stimuli influenced the change of expression, and the nature of the new expression (Positive? Negative?).
  3. In this situation it is good to check whether the person is really paying attention to your words or not. Are they having difficulty hearing you?

The Merrill Institute

Stay tuned to our next blog as we begin our series on the 88 major body language positions.

Contact The Merrill Institute to learn more about Body Language Training and Micro-Expressions

[1] Navarro, Joe. 200 Poker Tells, Kindle Edition.