What Is Facial Action Coding System?

What Is Facial Action Coding System?

Facial Action Coding System is a method that describes facial movements by analyzing the action of facial muscles. It was originally developed by Carl-Herman Hjortsjö. The scheme was adopted and further developed by Wallace Friesen and Paul Ekman. FACS has since become a standard reference among animators, psychologists, and others who are studying human emotions.

Wallace Friesen and Paul Ekman began their research into FACS by studying anatomical texts. They were looking for facial muscles capable of working on their own and their effect on facial appearance. They literally made a study of thousands of photographs to find out if they could distinguish muscular actions from appearance. Eventually, they were able to separate the muscles into action units. For example, the frontalis muscle which is responsible for raising the brows was divided into two different action units, depending on the portion of the muscle that raised the segment of the eyebrow.

How Does the FACS Work?

The FACS system encodes individual facial muscle movements from fleeting changes in facial expression. Unlike other facial ratings that categorize facial expressions into prototype emotions such as sadness, fear, anger, and disgust, FACS is able to encode the subtlest and most ambiguous of expressions. This makes it better suited to analyze facial effects.

All facial movements are derived from muscular action. Wallace Friesen and Paul Ekman were able to derive a comprehensive system by analyzing the effect that each facial muscle had in changing the visible appearance of the face. With FACS, any facial expression can be deconstructed and traced back to a specific action unit.

FACS also describes distinctive actions like skin movements, short-term changes in the location, the shape of features along with the pouching, gathering, wrinkling, and bulging of the skin.

More about the FACS System

The FACS is made up of 46 AU numbers, each with its own FACS name and muscular basis. For instance, AU 14 is called the dimpler and the muscle group involved is the buccinator. Some AU numbers involve more than one muscle group. Example: AU 27 or the mouth stretch involves the digastric and pterygoid muscles.

The FACS system ignores muscle tone changes that do not lead to movement and changes in the coloration of the skin as well as tears, facial sweating, pimples, rashes, and other facial characteristics that are permanent.

There are also codes for head movements, eye movements, visibility, and gross behavior. These have also been given FACS names. There are other unitary movements also, called action descriptors, that involve the actions of many muscle groups. The FACS manual does not specify what muscles lead to these actions and therefore their muscle behavior is not specified.

How Can the FACS Help?

People who are trained in FACS can use it to gain insights into facial expressions. Here is an example. You can use FACS to distinguish between smiles such as the Pan-Am Smile in which only the zygomatic major muscle is involved or the Duchene Smile, which involves a contraction of the zygomatic major and the orbicularis oculi muscles. In some places, people have even used FACS to analyze depression and measure pain in people who are not able to verbally express themselves.

The good thing about FACS is that it is self-instructional. This means you do not have to be a psychology student, an animator, or a researcher to learn it. There are also many workshops that teach the technique.

But you cannot learn FACS without understanding the mechanics or the muscular basis behind the facial movements and the best way to learn this, is from a professional. If you would like to learn more about FACS, please contact Let’s Live Coaching. FACS training is an integral part of our communication training programs.

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Francois Janse van Rensburg – Let’s-Live Master Coach – South Africa
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