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Facial Action Coding System Inspired Tutorial.

Based on the research of Paul Ekman, Charles Darwin, and Duchenne
de Balogne. (See the “Facial Action Coding System: Megan Fox Edition
for the specific action units mentioned here)

I’ve generated a set of CGI faces with various facial expressions on

them and have included some explanations about the facial action
units in use. The application I used to generate the faces is called

A key concept developed by Paul Ekman is the concept of

‘microexpressions’, fleeting expressions that are flashed across
your face involuntarily for about 1/5 of a second. Since you cannot
control them they are a tool used in lie detection.

For more information on the ‘REAL’ Facial Action Coding System

check this link out.

If you would like to purchase the real facs system, you can do so by
following this link.

Paul Ekman’s personal website can be found here.

I would highly recommend the ‘MicroExpression training’ provided

via the paul ekman website if you are interested in refining your
ability to read people.
The Smile

The smile is an elusive expression because it is commonly flashed for
politeness or to conform to social norms/rules. (Asians tend to
smile when they are upset) Paul Ekman calls these Display Rules.

What you will notice in common between the polite and the true
smile is that both use action unit 12 (The lip corner puller).
The lip edges are lifted towards the ears.

The main difference between the polite and the real smile is the
contraction of the eye muscles that surround the eye socket. This is
called action unit 6 (The Cheek Raiser). For instance some people
will display ‘laugh lines’ or ‘crows feet’ when they smile. The outer
parts of the eye tend to be pulled down. Thus the Eyes also smile
when you truly smile, in terms of actually having joy while you

What is interesting about the eye related muscles is that apparently

they are involuntary in most people. Thus the only way to fake a
real smile is to think about something that you would actually smile
about, then flash a smile.

For a bit of history, the true smile is also called the duchenne
smile. This was a French neurologist who did experiments with
electrical stimulation of the face. When he told the model to smile
he got the Action Unit 12 smile, but when he told the patient a joke,
the patient generated an eye muscle contraction in addition to the
lip corner raiser muscle.

Anger is an expression that comes in several combinations that

involve the inner eyebrow muscles and sometimes the flashing of
teeth. This particular example I chose because it captured the
common muscle action unit that occurs for both open and closed
mouth versions of anger.

The action unit that in question is action unit 4 (The brow lowerer).
As you can see in the above picture, the inner eyebrow is lowered
and brought closer together. The key action here is the converging
of the eyebrows in a downward direction.

Anger is an interesting expression. while I was completing my mba I

came across an article in a consumer behavior class that stated that
there was an asymmetric recognition of the anger emotion. I believe
this article was from the ‘economist’. Men and women in general
appear to be much more sensitive to the facial expression of anger.
Specifically they can pick out anger faster than the other emotions.
What is interesting is that men apparently can spot anger faster
than women, and that in general anger on a male face was easier to
spot than on a female face. There are some arguments that it was
perhaps a good thing to be able to spot angry males in order to avoid
them or sense their intentions.

According to paul ekman’s book “Emotions Revealed”, surprise and

fear are two of the most difficult to distinguish between. In the
research it appears that most cultures have a difficult time
distinguishing between fear and surprise. Apparently literate
cultures are the only ones that differentiate between fear and

To help you distinguish between fear and surprise we should look at

the action units in question.

The action units used are the following:

Action Unit 1(Inner Brow Raiser), Action Unit 2 (Outer Brow Raiser),
Action Unit 5 (Upper Lid Raiser), Action Unit 25 (Lips part – Jaw Drop)

Action Units 1 and 2 raise the eyebrows in an upward direction

Action Unit 5 raises the eyelids
Action Unit 25 opens the mouth in a vertical manner.

The key here is the vertical movement of the mouth. The fear
expression is similar but the mouth stretches horizontally. This is
explained in the next section on fear.

One could theorize that the raising of the eyelids allows you to
take in more information by maximizing the field of view in the eyes.

The Fear emotion is closely related to the surprise emotion as stated

earlier. The key difference here is the stretching of the mouth in a
horizontal direction.

The action units used are the following:

Action Unit 1(Inner Brow Raiser), Action Unit 2 (Outer Brow Raiser),
Action Unit 5 (Upper Lid Raiser), Action Unit 20 (Lip Stretcher),
Action Unit 25 (Lips part – Jaw Drop)

Action Units 1 and 2 raise the eyebrows in an upward direction

Action Unit 5 raises the eyelids
Action Unit 25 opens the mouth in a vertical manner.
Action Unit 20 stretches the lips towards edges of the face.

As you can see it would be easy to confuse fear and surprise if you
didn’t notice the difference in the lip stretching. For both
expressions you may have the mouth opening, however the key thing
to pay attention to is the horizontal lip stretching.

Contempt is a unique expression in because it is the only naturally

occurring expression that is asymmetric. Specifically it only happens
on one side of the face, either the left or right. Usually when you
see any of the other expressions described here, you expect it to be
symmetric across the face from left to right.

The action unit involved in this is Action Unit 12 (lip Corner Puller)

The corner of either the left or right lip will be pulled up and
towards the ears. This is basically a half smile or smirk.

The intent behind this expression is one of superiority, you may see
this when someone is arguing with you and they think they have the
upper hand or moral high ground

This emotion of contempt is interesting because according to

Malcolm Gladwell’s book “Blink”, contempt is the most significant
indicator of negative energy. Specifically he talks about the ‘4
horsemen’ of emotions observed in couples. If a couple shows
defensiveness, contempt, stonewalling, and criticism in an unusually
high proportion (vs good feelings), then it is a strong predictor of
relationship ‘fail’. Of those 4 emotions, the one with the most
weight is contempt. Similar to criticism, this however is applied from
a superior plane as gladwell states it. Talking down to someone per

Disgust is an emotion that appears to show up in other species in the

animal kingdom. Wolves and dogs bare their teeth when threatened
and so do humans as well as other primates.

The action units used in this expression are as follows:

Action Unit 9 (Nose Wrinkler) and Action Unit 10 (Upper Lip Raiser)

The nose wrinkles and the upper parts of the lip raise up to expose
the canine teeth. Think of a dog snarling.

This emotion is a powerful one, it’s the one you may see when you
smell something that is rotten, or when you see someone whose
behavior you absolutely abhor, or when you see something… to put
it directly ‘disgusting’.

In the Fox television show lie to me, the character ‘dr. lightman’
(who is actually based on paul ekman) states that, if you see this
expression in your spouse, it’s going to be game over for your
marriage. That may or may not be true, but it is an interesting

Sadness is expressed by flexing two action units.

Action unit 1 (Inner Brow Raiser)

Action Unit 15 (Lip Corner Depressor)

The key here is to pay attention to the inner eyebrows being raised
but not the outer eyebrows. Also the lip edges are pulled down
towards chin.

Shame is expressed by a combination of two action units but since I

did not previously illustrate them in my “Facial Action Coding
System: Megan Fox Edition” I won’t name them explicitly.

Generally the individual will position their head in a downward

fashion while looking either to the left or right as shown in the


If you are interested in learning more about facial expressions I

would recommend checking out Paul Ekman’s “Emotions Revealed”
or Charles Darwin’s “The expressions of the emotions in man and