It’s all in the code

An exiting week as I start my journey into the world of FACS (Facial Action Coding System).

A simple system for mapping what is happening on the face and some parts of the body with a series of alphanumeric identifiers.

It has been good to get back in touch with some old friends from my first days with Paul Ekman International and The Emotional Intelligence Academy, it has almost been like a reunion in a way and I think that has added to the whole excitement of the situation.

So what is FACS?

FACS is a way of demonstrating what is happening on the face by using a series of codes called an AU or Action Unit.  The idea being that you can demonstrate exactly what is happening on a face, without actually needing to see the face itself.  The system was developed by Paul Ekman, Wallace Friesen and Joseph Hager.  An AU itself does not define an emotion has appeared, simply that the use of a muscle or combination of muscles has produced a discernible difference on the face.  This is important to remember!  Many people think that the FACS system is a way of coding emotions, not true, though there are recognised combinations for certain facial displays associated with emotions.  Confused yet?

Think of this more like a map of what is going on in display only. A map of the local countryside is a map only and does not give you the reason for the fields and the hills. Think of FACS in the same way.  As you get deeper you can start to look at the emotional signals that we recognise and start applying a code to them.  A genuine smile uses the AU 6 and 12, and if it is a subtle or gentle smile may be coded as 6c+12c.  The letter following the number indicates the intensity of the action shown.

The cominations are varied and different and have very specific criteria for their measurement.  Not only this but one may impact on the display of another.

If it sounds complicated it is, while being essentially very simple at the same time.  The key is the understanding of how the various muscle groups work together and against each other in the facial displays that we see everyday.

It is considered to take over 100 hours of coding before you would be considered to be proficient at  measuring and mapping the criteria, and many thousands of hours before you could be considered expert.

The advantages of the system of those of us that deal with emotions is it gives us a far greater and finer insight into what actions are behind the facial displays we see.  The advantage is being able to spot the very subtle displays of emotion can be significantly increased.  Think also about squashed, masked, and even display rules.

The system is sound and has been used for many years, in the measurement of psychology patients and in these days significantly more for counter terrorism, advertising and even developing accurate facial displays for computer game characters.

There are many uses that FACS can be diverted into and certainly with the technology advances that are happening these days plans are in place to develop computer systems and programs that use elements of FACS to identify responses to advertisements.  Could we soon be looking at technology that reads what is going on with our face, understands that we are interested by what we see and continues to aim those adverts at us.

I can say with confidence that is being looked at, though at the moment processing power is an issue and the human brain is still far superior at coding.   The best computers are still taking weeks to code a face that takes an experience coder a few minutes.

I will certainly be using the new skills I am learning and expect to hear more on the subject in future.

 

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