Facial Coding model – the 6 codes

Our emotion facial coding scheme currently measures 6 “emotions” derived from Ekman’s Facial Action Coding System (FACS). These are: Happiness, Surprise, Puzzlement, Disgust, Fear, Sadness. However, in practice these names do not imply a simplistic interpretation based on the names is appropriate.


This is fairly straightforward: is the person smiling; is it a small or large smile; is it a real smile (i.e. both mouth and eyes); are they laughing? This implies a happy or joyful reaction.


This is also straightforward. The raised brow, wide eyes and open mouth signify something that is new or unexpected.


The original label for this expression is ‘anger’; however. ‘puzzlement’ (e.g. confusion) is also expressed this way, and shares a cognitive process with anger, that is, something not ‘adding up’ or ‘making sense’. This is not always a bad thing: it can indicate cognitive engagement like curiosity or intrigue.


The disgust expression is believed to have come from infancy, when the baby is full and pushes the nipple out of its mouth with its tongue or upturned bottom lip. In this way, disgust can signify rejection or disliking of content, or disagreement. However it can also, similarly, be a ‘thinking’ face.


The fear expression is often seen when the participant is feeling tense, nervous, anxious, on edge, concerned, and so on. For example, a video with a lot of sudden movements tend
to evoke fear. This also tends to be elicited when people empathise with someone on-screen.


Sadness is different from the other emotions in that it is passive / depressing whereas the others are active / stimulating. Most content tested does not induce real sadness (e.g. tears); we tend to find that this label is best interpreted as ‘disinterest’ or ‘switching off’ from the content.