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Description of Facial Action Coding System (FACS)

FACS Manual
FACS comes on a CD ROM

What are the FACS Manual and Investigator's Guide?

The Facial Action Coding System (FACS) Manual is a detailed, technical guide that explains how to categorize facial behaviors based on the muscles that produce them, i.e., how muscular action is related to facial appearances. It illustrates appearance changes of the face using written descriptions, still images, and digital video examples. Behavioral scientists, CG animators, computer scientists interested in pattern recognition programs, and other technicians and scientists use FACS in their professional work when they need to know the exact movements that the face can perform, and what muscles produce them. Working through the exercises of the FACS Manual may also enable greater awareness of and sensitivity to subtle facial behaviors that could be useful for psychotherapists, interviewers, and other practitioners who must penetrate deeply into interpersonal communications.

FACS is a training manual, not necessarily easy reading, with lessons for detecting, performing, and categorizing facial movements. The manual does not discuss what the facial appearances described mean, except briefly in the Investigator's Guide. The FACS Manual enables the practitioner to recognize the elements of facial behavior that combine to create meaningful communications; FACS teaches the "alphabet" but leaves the considerable issue of semantics to other works. The FACS Investigator's Guide explains in general how to use FACS in scientific research, how it compares to other facial measurements, and what its psychometric properties are. The new version (2002) of FACS by Paul Ekman, Wallace V. Friesen, and Joseph C. Hager is now available for purchase. You can read about the new version of the FACS Manual, and purchase it on this site.

Facial Action Coding System
Facial action coding involves
identifying muscles that
produce facial appearances

What is Facial Action Coding System?

Facial Action Coding System (FACS) is the most widely used and versatile method for measuring and describing facial behaviors. Paul Ekman and W.V. Friesen developed the original FACS in the 1970s by determining how the contraction of each facial muscle (singly and in combination with other muscles) changes the appearance of the face. They examined videotapes of facial behavior to identify the specific changes that occurred with muscular contractions and how best to differentiate one from another. They associated the appearance changes with the action of muscles that produced them by studying anatomy, reproducing the appearances, and palpating their faces. Their goal was to create a reliable means for skilled human scorers to determine the category or categories in which to fit each facial behavior. The FACS Manual was first published in a loose-leaf version with video or film supplements in 1978.

FACS measurement units are Action Units (AUs), not muscles, for two reasons. First, for a few appearances, more than one muscle was combined into a single AU because the changes in appearance they produced could not be distinguished. Second, the appearance changes produced by one muscle were sometimes separated into two or more AUs to represent relatively independent actions of different parts of the muscle. (After all, facial muscles were identified and named by anatomists, not behavioral psychologists.)

A FACS coder "dissects" an observed expression, decomposing it into the specific AUs that produced the movement. The scores for a facial expression consist of the list of AUs that produced it. Duration, intensity, and asymmetry can also be recorded.

FACS scores are descriptive only, and provide no implications about the meaning of the behavior. Analysis of the data can use only these raw FACS scores, or the scores can be translated into more psychologically meaningful concepts by techniques such as FACSAID, a database interpretation system available to researchers.

How does one obtain FACS?

The FACS Manual, Investigator's Guide, multimedia files, and computer program are available in eBook (PDF) format on a CD ROM. You can read a detailed description of the FACS product and/or read an HTML version of the first two chapters of the FACS Manual and the first five chapters of the Investigator's Guide. The books on CD work with most computers (see System Support for compatibility guidelines). You can buy the new version of Facial Action Coding System online.

Note on Baby FACS: Infants differ from adults in the distribution of facial tissues, which makes the appearances of some muscular actions different from adults. Harriet Oster detailed these differences in a work called Baby FACS which is used in studies of infants' faces. The standard version of FACS is a prerequisite for using this method. Contact Harriet Oster for further information; see the directory of people or list of offsite articles in the Library section for her website or relevant articles.

Images copyright © Corel Corp - do not copy.

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