Paul Ekman (born February 15, 1934) is an American psychologist who has been a pioneer in the study of emotions and their relation to facial expressions. He has been ranked 59th out of the 100 most cited psychologists of the twentieth century. Ekman conducted seminal research on the specific biological correlates of specific emotions, demonstrating the universality and discreteness of emotions in a Darwinian approach.
Ekman was born to Jewish parents in 1934 in Washington, D.C., and grew up in New Jersey, Washington, Oregon, and California. His father was a pediatrician and his mother was an attorney. His sister, Joyce Steingart, is a psychoanalytic psychologist who practices in New York.
Ekman originally wanted to be a psychotherapist, but at his age of 14, his mother developed a severe mental illness and it had tragic consequences, so he decided to spend his life helping people like his mother.
At the age of 15, and without graduating from high school, he enrolled at the University of Chicago where he completed three years of undergraduate study. He then studied one year at New York University earning his BA in 1954. During his time in Chicago he was fascinated by group therapy sessions and understanding group dynamics, the subject of his first research project with Margaret Tresselt. His classmates at Chicago included Susan Sontag, Mike Nichols, and Elaine May. Ekman eventually went on to receive his Ph.D. in clinical psychology at Adelphi University in 1958, after a one year internship at the Langley Porter Neuropsychiatric Institute. He then went on to join the army and served as chief psychologist at Fort Dix, New Jersey where he did research on army stockades and psychological changes during infantry basic training.
Ekman received his first research grant from the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) in 1963 to study nonverbal behaviour. This award would be continuously renewed for the next 40 years and paid his salary until he was offered a professorship at the University of California, San Francisco in 1972. He also wrote a famous book called "Telling Lies" in the year 1985. He was encouraged to write this book by his college friend and teacher Silvan S. Tomkins.
In 2001, Ekman collaborated with John Cleese for the BBC documentary series The Human Face. He retired in 2004 as professor of psychology in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF). From 1960 to 2004 he also worked at the Langley Porter Psychiatric Institute on a limited basis consulting on various clinical cases.
He was named one of the top Time 100 most influential people in the May 11, 2009 edition of Time magazine. He is currently on the Editorial Board of Greater Good magazine, published by the Greater Good Science Center of the University of California, Berkeley. His contributions include the interpretation of scientific research into the roots of compassion, altruism, and peaceful human relationships.