Microexpressions can sneak up when you least expect it!

March 21, 2012 by VisualEmotion LLC  
Filed under Facial Movements

Watch this video carefully and see if you can spot the microexpression of disgust that Dr. Tendler leaks in this Restasis commercial. (youtube link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OB9tO_VD8d4)

Restasis: Ask Dr. Tendler
The microexpression while extremely brief and fleeting reveals some important information about how Dr. Tendler feels. We do not and cannot exactly know the cause of the microexpression without engaging Dr. Tendler in conversation and probing into the topic that appears to have spurred the emotional reaction but there is still important information that we can glean from seeing a microexpression. By the way it appears at 0:34 in case you didn’t catch it. At the most fundamental level, Dr. Tendler is revealing to us as observers that she is suppressing feelings of disgust. A micro expression is an emotional response that often occurs without our conscious awareness and reveals a person’s actual internal state. The microexpression paired with the verbal content of the expressor can carry an important message to the engaged or casual observer.
Another critical piece of information that we gain from spotting this microexpression of disgust is that universally, disgust signals internally to us and externally to others that there is something offensive or contaminating in our midst. With disgust unlike the emotion of contempt, the object of disgust could be just about anything, such as the sight of something revolting, the smell, the sound, the touch, a thought or the feel of something and it equally applies to other people, their thoughts, ideals and morals. Disgust can be a reaction to virtually anything that can be viewed as harmful and contaminating physically, emotionally, intellectually and morally.
Emotional responses occur without our conscious control through what is called an automatic appraisal system. The appraisal system is a highly functional process in our brain that scans our surroundings and assesses all of the available sensory stimuli through sights, sounds, smells, etc and when necessary triggers an emotional response. In other words, there is an auto-pilot inside our brains filtering and prioritizing information and stirring us to action. Yes, emotions motivate us to act or react, whether it be to protect us from harm or to pursue what makes us happy.
But emotions can also be triggered by a more reflective process whereby an individual works through a cognitively driven appraisal process of the situation at hand. The assessment is one that focuses on how if at all the object or person is affecting me either personally or through my experience indicating that a lack of emotional response can be equally telling as having an emotional response. Ultimately our actions are driven by either the automatic or cognitive appraisal system through which we evaluate and make decisions, some of which are in our control while others are impulse-like due to the very nature of the speed by which they are triggered.
When emotions are intense, they are likely to create visible changes in behavior that are indicative of the particular emotion that is being experienced. Facial expressions like the one in the Restasis commercial have been found to be one of the most accurate cues to emotional experiences because at least for the 7 basic emotions, happiness, surprise, contempt, fear, anger, sadness and disgust there are universal expressions that are unique to each of these emotions making them reliable and universally understandable.

Special thanks to Jeff Thompson (www.nonverbalphd.com) for spotting this expression and sharing it!

Can You Spot The Fake Smile?

August 4, 2011 by VisualEmotion LLC  
Filed under Facial Movements

Can you tell which smile is genuine?

Can you tell which smile is genuine?

Smiling is a form of non-verbal communication that has an important function in our society. Smiling allows us to show and communicate happiness, pleasure, flirtatiousness, excitement and even relief. Most everyone can readily recognize a smiling face. However, happiness is also the easiest of all emotions to fake. People are capable of posing a smile without feeling happy. Consider when you walk down the street and see a passerby that nods and says “Hi, how are you doing?” and flashes a smile. Was that smile genuine? Probably not, especially since the passerby does not know you. So, how do you recognize a real smile from a fake one? The answer may surprise you; it is in the eyes.

French neurologist, Guillaume Duchenne, avidly studied how muscles in the face were used to express emotion. He discovered that real smiles consist not only of the lip corners of the mouth being pulled up by the zygomatic major muscle, but that the large orbital muscle that we have around each eye called the orbicularis oculi also contracts in a genuine smile. The contraction of the muscle around each eye causes distinct features to appear around the eyes called crow’s feet (deep horizontal wrinkles) that make real smiles distinguishable from fake smiles. Only about 1 in 10 people can voluntarily contract the orbicularis oculi, making the genuine smile very difficult to fake. However, when genuine happiness is felt, both the obicularis oculi and the zygomatic major muscles involved in smiling are automatically engaged.

Genuine smiles may be more pleasant to give and receive, but it is important to note that fake smiles have their purpose as well. Although using a fake, social smile can make someone seem untrustworthy because there is a contradiction between what is being shown and what is felt, social smiles can prevent discord in society. Social smiles provide an outlet to express disagreement or lack of interest without causing the other person embarrassment. Since social smiles can be used to cover up or dilute negative feelings, they can serve to decrease tension and encourage the open flow of communication. Unfortunately, not all social smiles have good intentions, so building awareness and knowledge of how a genuine smile differs from a social smile can be a benefit in social interactions. To practice your smile detecting potential check out this online smile test:


The Many Faces of Anger: George Anthony

May 26, 2011 by VisualEmotion LLC  
Filed under Facial Movements

George Anthony took the witness stand on Tuesday to testify in the Casey Anthony Trial. While most of the questions were focused on the relationship between George, Casey and Caylee and their routines there were three minutes where the questions were directly focused on Caylee’s disappearance and the newly surfaced sexual abuse allegations.

The questions posed by the prosecution in these difficult three minutes are:

1. Have you ever sexually molested your daughter Casey Anthony?

2. Have you ever committed any sexually inappropriate act, with or in the presence of your daughter Casey Anthony?

3. Were you present in your home when Caylee Anthony died?

4. Is there any extent that you wouldn’t have gone to, to save Caylee’s life?

5. Did you dispose of the body of your granddaughter?

6. Did you obtain duct tape from your shed or garage and place it over the nose and the mouth of Caylee Anthony?

7. Did you have any role or any knowledge that Caylee Marie Anthony died on June 16th 2008 prior to recent revelations?

Below I have captured most of the expressions of anger that George Anthony displays in those three minutes. Anger can be displayed in several ways on the face but namely the expression involves a lowering of the eyebrows, a glare in the eyes, sometimes tightened lower eyelids and most reliably tightened and narrows lips. In anger we will also sometimes see a thrust forward of the jaw which George Anthony displays on several occasions. Notice there are slight differences in the angry expressions in most of the photos below. The appearance of anger can vary depending on several factors such as whether it is present in the upper part of the face around the eyes or lower part of the face around the mouth, or in both. Also the intensity of the muscle contractions affects the appearance of an angry expression.

Most of these anger displays by George Anthony are restrained anger expressions - he is trying to keep the anger and perhaps rage under control. So the cues for anger are only visible in one part of the face such as in the lips for example which is consistent in the images captured below. The strongest show of anger in my opinion is at 31:24. Here for a brief moment he shows the strongest expression and thus we see the most anger cues on his face (AU: 4B+5C+23D). The brows are lowered, the eyes are glaring and the lips are severely narrowed. This strongest display of anger appeared in response to the fourth question - Were you present in your home when Caylee Anthony died?

For original video see here.

George Anthony 5/24/11

George Anthony 5/24/11

FACS Code This Image

March 31, 2011 by VisualEmotion LLC  
Filed under Facial Movements

Copyright VisualEmotion LLC 2010

Copyright VisualEmotion LLC 2010

Please take a moment to FACS code this image on the left. The neutral is provided just below. Please submit your interpretation in the comments section of this blog or email me a maggie.pazian @ facscodinggroup.com.

Thank you for your help!

Copyright VisualEmotion LLC

Copyright VisualEmotion LLC 2010

Update 4/3/2011

Thank you to all who posted FACS codes for the image above. Here is a summary of all the codes that came in:






After careful review I believe that the final score for this expression is best summarized as follows:


The expressions is predominantly one of sadness. The AU’s mainly supporting the emotion read are AU1, 4, 6, 11, 17, 24.

Chris Brown GMA Interview: What story do his nonverbals tell?

March 23, 2011 by VisualEmotion LLC  
Filed under Facial Movements

Chris Brown is reported to have had a meltdown after his interview on GMA. More specifically he began screaming, tore off his shirt and broke a window before leaving the ABC morning show! Were there any signs of negative emotions such as rage, disgust or contempt in his behavior during the interview? Could they have predicted his fit of rage after?  Let’s examine!

Robin Roberts: “Have you all [Chris Brown and Rihanna] seen each other, been around each other?”

Chris Brown: before he even responds with any words he has already leaked out two micro expressions signalling his anger and disgust that were followed by a restrained anger expression. Look at: 56 seconds-micro disgust signaled by nose wrinkle and upper lip raise (AU 9+10) and 57 seconds - micro disgust again (AU 9+R10) and 1:08 - restrained anger by narrowing and tightening his lips (AU 23).

A little later Chris Brown stresses how he is there to talk about the album while Robin Roberts thanks him for allowing her to ask questions about the assault on Rihanna. In that moment Chris Brown let’s out a powerful expression signaling his level of anger and disgust at the situation. At  2:09 Chris Brown is avoiding eye contact with Robin Roberts and flashes a very brief expression of anger and disgust again seen by the strong raise in the upper lip, nose wrinkle and lowering of the brows and narrowing of the lips (Aus 4+9+10+23). This micro expression is automatically followed by another larger but restrained anger expression at 2:10 where his lips press and narrow significantly (AU23+24). There are several strong jaw clenches throughout the interview which can sometimes be nonverbal signals of restrained anger as well.

A final note regarding Chris Brows’s facial expressions is the fact that he comes across as very contemptuous. Contempt is a unilateral facial expression that occurs around one side of the mouth. It involves the pulling of one lip corner into a smug smile-like appearance. Chris Brown consistently makes this expression throughout the interview. Take a look at 0:57, 1:28, 1:34 and 2:40.

While it can be very difficult to predict someones behavior the level and amount of suppressed or hidden emotions was a clear indicator that Chris Brown was working hard to maintain his composure. Robin Roberts as the reporter here could have helped to diffuse the situation having noticed the level of discomfort from Chris Brown during the interview. As we see in this interview, facial expressions of emotion are an excellent source of information for any interviewer to be attuned to and can truly be used to ones advantage especially when talking about hot topics!

Can Posing a Smile Make You Happier?

March 18, 2011 by VisualEmotion LLC  
Filed under Facial Movements

As most of us know and probably experience on a daily basis, facial expressions of emotion can be displayed in two ways; involuntarily triggered by our autonomic nervous system in response to stimuli or voluntarily by simply posing an expression of emotion. According to facial feedback theory, simply contracting our facial muscles in to an expression can influence our emotional experience. In other words, when we smile we experience pleasure, when we frown we experience sadness and so on.

Research performed by Strack, Martin & Stepper (1988) set out to test the facial feedback theory. The researchers compared three groups of people and their assessment of the funniness of a cartoon. Each group was assigned to hold a pen, one group was told to hold a pen in their mouth by using only their lips, the second group was told to hold a pen in their mouth using their teeth and the control group was asked to hold the pen in their non-dominant hand. The group holding the pen using their teeth naturally assumed an expression that forced the contraction of the zygomaticus major which is the muscle used in posing a smile. The participants in the lip position were naturally forced to compress their lips thus preventing a smile-like expression and to some degree their expression resulted in a frown. As the facial feedback theory purports, the group in the smiling position (pen held by teeth) reported the cartoon as significantly more amusing then the participants in the pen held by lips and pen held in non-dominant hand groups.

What are the implications of such findings you may wonder?

For one, the next time you are feeling sad or perhaps slightly depressed, try putting on a smile and hold that smile for a longer period of time. According to the facial feedback theory, this exercise should help you start feeling better from the inside out.

Another application of this phenomenon is being used by mental health practitioners. Depression is one of the most prominent mental health issues in society today. While many treatments exist of which most are drug related, some mental health professionals support alternative methods to at least achieve short term benefits. One such strategy is to smile and to laugh. The suggested benefits of smiling include an increase of endorphins, stimulation of the immune system, lowering of stress and blood pressure. It is unclear whether all types of smiles produce the same effects or whether only a genuine (Duchenne) smile can create these positive effects.

While the final verdict is still out on whether facial feedback does in fact trigger emotional reactions, smiling doesn’t hurt so go ahead and try it – let us know if it works for you!

Google Asks: What Makes a Good Boss

March 16, 2011 by VisualEmotion LLC  
Filed under Facial Movements

The New York Times reported on Google’s quest to find out what makes a good boss. Management at Google has typically followed a ‘laissez-faire’ style that leaves employees alone unless they need something from the boss. The project named Project Oxygen has in a nutshell found that employees seek a personable and approachable and involved boss as opposed to a boss with high level technical expertise. Time spent with employees is time well spent!

More specifically, what employees reported is that they want face-to-face interaction through meetings acknowledging them individually and supporting them in not only their work tasks but also show interest in their lives outside of work. This is by no means a revolutionary discovery in leadership and management research. However, this study helps to validate what researchers have been writing about for years.

Probably very few organizations have the resources to conduct such large scale research in house. Even if your organization cannot perform such internal audits,  many great lessons can be learned for any organization that cares about the quality of their managers and wants to establish a solid organizational and managerial culture. The first is that existing managers who may not be using the right managerial style can (if they are willing) change and improve. I am willing to bet that most managers who aren’t your exemplary managers don’t even know what they are doing wrong. Proper feedback and coaching can be a great way to work with your current internal resources.  The second important lesson from Google is that when hiring, the interview is a critical time to not only find out about a persons technical skill but also about their people or ’soft’ skills.

Body Language Tips For You

March 8, 2011 by VisualEmotion LLC  
Filed under Facial Movements

Body language experts promise a behavior make-over to enrich your life, improve your relationships, find your next love or get that great job. It is absolutely true that how you present yourself can make a significant impact. Learning how to make a great first impression, building rapport and adjusting some unwieldy behavior can fix a lot of first impression blunders. However don’t fall into the trap of concentrating too much on how you are communicating with your body. Body language is an involuntary and natural process and it should stay that way. Normal gesticulation with the hands and facial expressions is expected in any conversation. In fact it makes you more interesting. Just think about the last time you spoke with a monotonous person who didn’t change their voice tone or pitch, didn’t make any facial expressions and stood as stiff as a board.

Before you go out to hire a body language consultant try these 5 body language tips – usually it’s the simple things that make the biggest difference!

1) Impressions – first impressions start the moment that someone lays eyes on you or hears your voice. If you are heading to an important meeting or on your first date make sure that you are at your best from the moment you pull into the parking lot. You never know who may be looking out the window.

2) Handshake – if you have every shaken a person’s hand and it was terribly wimpy or crushingly tight either no doubt left a lasting, but not so good, impression. When you go to shake a person’s hand be prepared to reflect their hand shake. Make that first physical contact stand out in a positive way, people like those who are similar to themselves.

3) Mirroring – mirroring is common in conversations among people who know each other well. By using similar gestures, facial expressions and even tempo as the person you are speaking with, you will create a sense of ease of conversation.

4) Eye contact – eye contact is a very culture specific behavior. In the western world, eye contact is viewed as important and respectful whereas eastern countries value low eye contact especially when talking with superiors or with the opposite sex. At all costs avoid the prolonged stare, that can make anyone feel uncomfortable.

5) Proxemics – another culture specific norm, how close or far you stand from someone can make a big difference. Watch closely how the other person behaves, if you take a step closer and they take a step back, respect their boundaries. Invading someone’s personal space can throw your interaction off course completely.

And one more bonus tip:

*Don’t get caught up with worrying how much your eyebrows flash or whether your nostrils flare. Unless you are one of the rare people who walks around always looking surprised or emulating a dragon, concentrating on these common natural behaviors will make your body language appear even more awkward.

Many body language blunders can be easily fixed with just a little bit of observation. Watching how others behave and then adjusting your body language to fit is a great way to jump start your body language make over! While we all have our own preferences on how to use our body language if you are looking to make a great impression use the 5 tips outlined above. Adjusting your behavior to appeal to others personal preferences is a sure fire way to make a great impression.

Do Your Employees Create The Right Company Image?

February 28, 2011 by VisualEmotion LLC  
Filed under Facial Movements

I read an article today from TheBostonGlobe.com about an interview candidate that was horrified after being asked a question on the interivew. The hiring manager asked the interview candidate why he has been unemployed for so long. While by itself this question may not seem out of line - apparently the way it was asked, the hiring manager’s tone of voice and body language made the interview candidate want to crawl under his chair.

Most of what we read about body language focuses exclusively on how an interview candidate should behave while largely ignoring the effects that a hiring manager or interviewer can have on a candidate.  In addition, all company leaders should be highly concerned and aware about how their employees are representing their company. This holds true for anyone in their company who is communicating and interacting with clients, customers, interview candidates and guests.  I believe that it is just as important in an interview for the hiring manager to make a good impression and use a wise communication style as it is for an interview candidate to present themselves well.  While an interview candidate may not get the job - at the very least they walk away with a positive image of the company as opposed to a feeling of horror which they will be more than willing to share with others. 

Remember, facial expression, gestures, voice tone, eye gaze, are all forms through which we communicate. Knowing how our bodies talk and what they say can play an integral part in individual and organizational success. Do you know how your body talks?

The Effects of Botox on Emotion Processing

February 3, 2011 by VisualEmotion LLC  
Filed under Facial Movements

In the September 2010 issue of Elle Magazine, actress Julia Roberts spoke out about her refusal to use botox to smooth the wrinkles on her face. She was quoted saying:

“It’s unfortunate that we live in such a panicked, dysmorphic society where women don’t even give themselves a chance to see what they’ll look like as older persons. I want to have some idea of what I’ll look like before I start cleaning the slates. I want my kids to know when I’m pissed, when I’m happy, and when I’m confounded. Your face tells a story… and it shouldn’t be a story about your drive to the doctor’s office.”

Botox is a type of nerve poison used to paralyze muscles in the face and thus restrict muscle movement that could cause wrinkles. Emotions evoke muscle movement in the face, so would restricting facial muscle movement affect emotions in some way? A study by Havas reveals that restricting facial muscle movement can affect how a person understands language related to emotion.

Wrinkles from frowning brow

Wrinkles from frowning brow

In the study, botox was injected into the corrugator muscles of 40 participants. The corrugator muscle is responsible for causing the center part of the forehead between the eyebrows to wrinkle. This wrinkling in the forehead, in turn, is a main component in expressing anger or distress. Participants were then asked to read statements written to evoke happiness, sadness, or anger before and after they were injected. The results showed that after the participants received the botox, they spent more time reading the statements that were sad or angry, while there was no difference in time spent reading the happiness statement. Although the time change was small, the study showed that restricting the corrugator muscle made it more difficult to interpret anger and sadness. A possible explanation for the lapse in interpretation is that the restriction of the corrugator muscle disrupted a message between the face and the brain, which would otherwise link the emotion to the muscle movement.


Restricting muscle movement in the face can affect a person’s ability to process emotional stimuli. The side effects of an inhibited corrugators muscle includes a decreased understanding of communicated sadness and anger or on a more positive note, it may make people happier because anger and sadness become less apparent. Regardless of the outcome, it is important to know that people who use botox or cosmetic-surgery to reduce wrinkling in the face are not only altering their self-image but also how their brain processes emotion.


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