Motivation and emotion/Book/2014/Facial Action Coding System
What is FACS and how can it be used to train people to more accurately perceive the emotions of others?
What is an emotion? This is a question that psychologists continue to ask, as it is a concept that is difficult to define (Kalat & Shiota, 2007). Psychologists studying emotion have differing opinions on what the definition of emotion is,some argue that the definition of emotion should be limited to observable behaviours such as attack and escape, while others define it as a category of experiences that have something in common (Kalat & Shiota, 2007). Paul Ekman suggests that emotion consists of “three differentiated, but interrelated systems; cognition, facial expression and autonomic nervous system (ANS) activity” (Strongman, 2003, p. 187). He defines emotion as having 10 key characteristics:
- There is a distinctive pan-cultural signal for each emotion.
- There are distinctive, universal, facial expressions of emotion that can also be traced phylogenetically .
- Emotional expression involves multiple signals.
- The duration of emotion is limited.
- The timing of emotional expression reflects the details of a particular emotional experience.
- Emotional expression can be graded in intensity, reflecting variations in the strength of the subjective experience.
- Emotional expression can be totally inhibited.
- Emotional expressions can be convincingly simulated.
- Each emotion has pan-human commonalities in its elicitors.
- Each emotion has a pan-human pattern of ANS and central nervous system (CNS) change. (Strongman, 2003, pp. 187-188)
Ekman emphasizes the role of facial expressions in emotion. He believes that ones’ feelings depends on their facial expressions, hence changing their facial expression can change how they feel (Strongman, 2003). Facial expressions are one of the main factors that can be used to observe and understand the emotions of others. For example, the facial expressions associated with anger include a person lowering their eyebrows, scrunching them together and tightening their lips (Strongman, 2003). The significance of the role of facial expressions in understanding emotion led to the development of the Facial Action Coding System (FACS) by Ekman and Friesen in 1978 (as cited in Donato, Bartlett, Hager, Ekman & Sejnowski, 1999). FACS is a system used to measure facial activity (Donato et al., 1999). When discussing FACS, it is important to study theoretical concepts that suggest emotion is the effect of an action, in other words theories that are based on the assumption that an action results in an emotional feeling. These theories provide some evidence to signify the importance of tools like FACS in being able to understand emotion. Some of these theories include the James-Lange Theory and the Facial Feedback Hypothesis.
- Learning outcomes
By the end of this chapter, readers should be able to:
- Identify and explain these theories of emotion:
- James-Lange theory
- Facial Feedback Hypothesis
- Have a good understanding of the Facial Action Coding System
- Be able to explain how FACS can help people in being able to more accurately perceive the emotions of others
One of the first theories of emotion was the James-Lange theory. The theory was first proposed by William James in 1884 and a similar idea was put forward by Carl Lange in 1885, thus the theory was named the James-Lange theory (Kalat & Shiota, 2007; Strongman, 2003). The typical ideology about emotion is that when an event takes place people mentally perceive something,this produces an emotion which then results in an action or bodily expression (Kalat & Shiota, 2007; Strongman, 2003). In contrast to this assumption, James proposed that “the bodily changes follow directly the perception of the existing fact, and that our feeling of the same changes as they occur is the emotion” (James, 1884, as cited in Strongman, 2003, p. 14).
This theory suggests that when a person experiences an event, their autonomic nervous system reacts by creating physiological expressions such as muscular tension, heart rate increases, perspiration, dryness of the mouth and more (Sincero, 2012). The organs affected by these physiological events will send feedback to the brain, and the way the brain interprets these reactions determines the emotion (Sincero, 2012). For example, when a person attacks something as a result of this they will feel angry, or when a person notices themselves trying to escape they will feel frightened (Kalat & Shiota, 2007). Therefore, emotion is not the cause of an action but it is the result of actions (Sincero, 2012).
The James-Lange theory laid the groundwork for theoretical concepts that emphasize the importance of bodily patterns and facial expressions in emotion (Strongman, 2003).
Facial Feedback Hypothesis
One of the theories the James-Lange theory contributed to is the Facial Feedback Hypothesis. Even though the James-Lange theory provided the foundation for this theory, Tomkins (1962) is acknowledged as the creator of the theory (Cappella, 1993). The Facial Feedback Hypothesis is based on the belief that “subjective experience of emotional states is determined, at least in part, by the configuration of the facial muscles in response to a stimulus situation” (Cappella, 1993, p. 14). The James-Lange theory proposed that bodily and physiological actions affect emotional experience. The Facial Feedback Hypothesis, on the other hand, focuses on the role of facial muscles, blood flow, and facial skin (Cappella, 1993). Reeve (2009) provides an explanation about how sensations from the face send feedback to the brain, producing emotion:
- Exposure to an external (loud noise) or internal (memory of being harmed) event increases the rate of neural firing quickly enough to activate a subcortical emotion program such as fear. The subcortical brain (limbic system) possesses innate, genetically wired, emotion-specific programs. When activated, these programs send impulses to the basal ganglia and facial nerve to generate discrete facial expressions. Within microseconds of the displayed fear facial expression, the brain interprets the proprioceptive stimulation (which muscles are contracted, which muscles are relaxed, changes in blood flow, changes in skin temperature, glandular secretions). This particular pattern of facial feedback is cortically integrated – made sense of – to give rise to the subjective feeling of fear. Only then does the frontal lobe of the cortex become aware of the emotional state at a conscious level. Quickly thereafter, the whole body joins the facial feedback to become involved in the fear emotion as the glandular-hormonal, cardiovascular, and respiratory systems become aroused and amplify and sustain the activated fear experience. (pp. 336-337)
Camras et al. (1993, as cited in Strongman, 2003) found that there is strong support for this theory.
What is the Facial Action Coding System (FACS)?
In 1978, Paul Ekman, along with Wallace Friesen developed the Facial Action Coding System (FACS); a system used to measure all visually distinguishable facial movements (Ekman & Friesen, 1978). FACS is used to measure facial expression by encoding how movements of facial muscles result in changes in the appearance of the face (Ekman & Friesen, 1978; Hamm, Kohler, Gur & Verma, 2011).
In order to develop FACS, Ekman and Friesen had to start by studying anatomy to be able to find the associations between the action of muscles and the changes in facial appearance (Ekman, Friesen & Hager, 2002). Their studies found that some appearance changes are the outcome of movements of multiple muscles and that some muscles can have more than one action (Ekman, Friesen & Hager, 2002). Due to these findings, they named the measurements of FACS action units (AUs), not muscle units (Ekman, Friesen & Hager, 2002). Hence, AUs are the actions performed by individual muscles or muscles in combination (Tian, Kanade & Cohn, 2001). FACS consists of 46 AUs of which 12 are for the upper face, 18 are for the lower face, and AUs 1 through 7 refer to brows, forehead or eyelids (Ekman, Friesen & Hager, 2002; Tian, Kanade & Cohn, 2001). Four types of descriptions are provided about each AU in the FACS Manual:
- The muscular basis of each AU is given in words and diagrams. Detailed description of the appearance changes are keyed to illustrative still photograph and film examples. Instructions are given as to how to make the movement on one’s own face… A rule is given specifying the minimal changes which must be observed in order to score a slight version of each AU. (Ekman, Friesen & Hager, 2002)
FACS involves a scoring procedure where the user is required to break down any action into a set of single AU scores (Ekman, Friesen & Hager, 2002). If the user has sufficient knowledge and understanding about AUs and the rules regarding combinations, this will allow them to analyze any complex facial behaviour into its component elements (Ekman, Friesen & Hager, 2002).
One of the limitations of FACS is that people can conceal their emotions by faking their facial expressions (Kalat & Shiota, 2007). However, Ekman (2001, as cited in Kalat & Shiota, 2007) argues that moving facial muscles deliberately is difficult and that well trained observers can detect ‘microexpressions’ when people try to hide their emotions. Microexpressions are very brief facial expressions people have when they are trying to conceal their emotions (Kalat & Shiota, 2007).
How can FACS be used to train people to more accurately perceive the emotions of others?
Many studies have been devised to investigate the facial expressions that are associated with certain emotions. The emotions that will be discussed here consist of the six universally recognised emotions identified by Ekman, Soreson, & Friesen (1969, as cited in Matsumoto & Ekman, 2008). The way Ekman and his colleagues identified the universality of emotions involved studying how people of different cultures judge emotions portrayed in the face (Matsumoto & Ekman, 2008). They showed pictures of different facial expressions to people from different cultures and asked them to identify what emotions were being represented in the pictures (Matsumoto & Ekman, 2008). If they found a significant level of similarity in people’s judgements of emotions, this would indicate that emotional expressions are universal (Matsumoto & Ekman, 2008). A similarity both within and across cultures was found for six emotional expressions (Matsumoto & Ekman, 2008). These emotions include anger, disgust, fear, happiness, sadness, and surprise (Matsumoto & Ekman, 2008). Similar results were revealed when a preliterate, stone-age culture was studied and different methods of study were employed (Ekman, 1972; Ekman & Friesen, 1971, as cited in Matsumoto & Ekman, 2008).
Research investigating the associations between facial expressions and emotions has been able to provide details of the corresponding facial expressions and facial muscles for anger, disgust, fear, happiness, sadness, and surprise. Darwin’s (1872, 1998, as cited in Matsumoto & Ekman, 2008) descriptions of the facial muscle movements involved in these emotions are listed below:
- The facial expressions associated with anger are: raised nostrils, compressed mouth, a furrowed brow, wide open eyes and head in an erect position.
- Disgust is linked with the following facial expressions: lower lip turned down, upper lip raised, mouth open and lower lip and tongue protruded.
- Some of the muscle movement related to fear are: wide open eyes, open mouth, retracted lips and raised eye brows.
- Facial expressions linked to happiness include: sparking eyes, wrinkled skin under the eyes and mouth drawn back at corners.
- Sadness has been associated with: depressed mouth corners and the raising of the inner corners of eye brows.
- The facial expressions linked to surprise are: raised eye brows, open mouth, wide open eyes and protruded lips.
Matsumoto and Ekman (2008) also outlined the AUs that are found to be associated with these emotions:
|Anger||4, 5 and/or 7, 22, 23, 24|
|Disgust||9 and/or 10, 25 or 26|
|Fear||1, 2, 4, 5, 7, 20, 25 or 26|
|Sadness||1, 4, 15, 17|
|Surprise||1, 2, 5, 25, or 26|
So, how can FACS be used to train people to more accurately perceive the emotions of others? Consider three points:
- Think back to the theories that were discussed at the start of the chapter. These theories suggest that physiological expressions are the cause of an emotional feeling, with the Facial Feedback Hypothesis emphasizing the effect of facial muscle movements on emotion.
- FACS allows people to recognise the facial expressions in a person’s face.
- In this section of the chapter, a brief description of the facial expressions and AUs associated with the emotions of anger, disgust, fear, happiness, sadness, and surprise has been provided.
Using this information it can be reasoned that in order to be able to accurately perceive the emotions of others, the observer needs to be capable of recognising people’s physiological expressions, such as their facial muscle movements. Referring back to the theories, since facial expressions can affect emotional feelings, observing people’s facial expressions can help a person understand their emotions. In other words, if a person is able to recognise the facial expressions of people, they can use this information to understand the emotional feeling people might be experiencing by identifying which emotion is caused by these facial movements. So how can this be achieved? This can be achieved in two steps:
- By training people to use FACS to measure and identify people’s facial expressions and;
- By learning the associations between facial expressions and emotion; which emotional feelings are caused by the different muscle actions in the face?
If a person has knowledge of which facial expressions are associated with which emotions, FACS enables them to identify the facial expressions of people and hence use this knowledge to more accurately perceive the emotions of others.
Incorporating the theme of the book
This chapter contributes to the book theme; how to understand and improve one’s life by applying knowledge from motivation and emotion theory and research, because it is beneficial to be able to perceive the emotions of others. This can improve one’s life as it will allow them to better understand the people they interact with, hence enabling them to build better relationships. It is especially beneficial for psychologists and other clinicians as they can use FACS to get a more accurate understanding of the emotions their patients are experiencing.
- Emotion consists of three differentiated, but interrelated systems; cognition, facial expression and autonomic nervous system (ANS) activity.
- Facial expressions are one of the major elements that can be used to observe and understand the emotions of others.
- Many theories have been developed to explain emotion, two of these theories include:
- The James-Lange theory; bodily changes follow directly the perception of the existing fact, and that our feeling of the same changes as they occur is the emotion.
- Facial Feedback Hypothesis; subjective experience of emotional states is determined, at least in part, by the configuration of the facial muscles in response to a stimulus situation.
- The Facial Action Coding System (FACS) is a system used to measure all visually distinguishable facial movements:
- FACS consists of 46 action units (AUs).
- AUs are the actions performed by individual muscles or muscles in combination.
- FACS involves a scoring procedure where the user is required to break down any action into a set of single AU scores.
- Microexpressions are very brief facial expressions people have when they are trying to conceal their emotions.
- If a person has knowledge of which facial expressions are associated with which emotions, FACS enables them to identify the facial expressions of people and hence use this knowledge to more accurately perceive the emotions of others.
Test your knowledge
- Facial Expression
- Facial Expressions and the Emotions of Others
- Facial Expressions and Culture
- Facial Action Coding System
- Facial Feedback Hypothesis
- James-Lange Theory
Donato, G., Bartlett, S. M., Hager, J. C., Ekman, P., & Sejnowski, T. J. (1999). Classifying Facial Actions. IEEE Transactions On Pattern Analysis & Machine Intelligence, 21(10), 974-989.
Ekman, P., & Friesen, W. (1978). Facial Action Coding Systems (FACS): A Technique for the Measurement of Facial Action. California: Consulting Psychology Press.
Ekman, P., Friesen, W. V., & Hager, J. C. (2002). Facial Action Coding System Investigator’s Guide. Retrieved from: http://face-and-emotion.com/dataface/facs/guide/FACSIVTi.html
Hamm, J., Kohler, C. G., Gur, R. C., & Verma, R. (2011). Automated Facial Action Coding System for dynamic analysis of facial expressions in neuropsychiatric disorders. Journal Of Neuroscience Methods, 200(2), 237-256. doi:10.1016/j.jneumeth.2011.06.023
Kalat, J., & Shiota, M. (2007). Emotion. Belmont, CA: Thomson Wadsworth.
Reeve, J. (2009). Understanding motivation and emotion (5th ed.). Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.
Sincero, S. M. (2012). James-Lange Theory of Emotion. Retrieved from: https://explorable.com/james-lange-theory-of-emotion
Matsumoto, D., & Ekman, P. (2008). Facial expression analysis. Scholarpedia, 3(5):4237. doi: 10.4249/scholarpedia.4237
Strongman, K. (2003). The psychology of emotion (5th ed). Chichester, West Sussex, England: J. Wiley & Sons.
Tian, Y., & Kanade, T., & Cohn, J. F. (2001). Recognizing Action Units for Facial Expression Analysis. IEEE Transactions On Pattern Analysis & Machine Intelligence, 23(2), 97-115.