Emotieherkenning bij autisme middels FACS (Facial Action Coding System)
Geplaatst op 7 juni 2020 door Marjon Kuipers
Onlangs deed ik voor mijn studie Communication, Behaviour and Credibility Analysis aan The Emotional Intelligence Academy | Manchester Metropolian University in Engeland een klein onderzoek naar de toepassingsmogelijkheden van FACS bij emotieherkenning en autisme. In het veld van emotieherkenning, stress en de werking van het brein is FACS een zeer feitelijk instrument. Dit in tegenstelling tot “ik denk, of ik voel” dat ik een bepaalde emotie waarneem. Binnen de Autismeacademie en FEMProfiling zien wij een breed scala aan toepassingen en leiden wij daar ook in op. Onze collega Ingrid de Jong is een van de weinige officiële FACS coders en daarmee hebben wij deze unieke kennis in huis.
Facial Action Coding System (FACS)
The main purpose of this paper is to outline a theoretical framework in which to describe the origin and the history of the Facial Action Coding System (FACS) and how it can be beneficial to people with autism spectrum disorder. In this article a description of the basis of the Facial Action Coding System is given and furthermore the relationship with the basic human emotions is highlighted. Subsequently, the significance of the field of emotion recognition in people with autism spectrum disorder will be addressed. The opposing scientists and the ones who advocate Facial Action Coding System are also being acknowledged by means of comparing different theories. Finally, a recommendation is made for additional research into emotion recognition and to develop a method for emotion recognition that would benefit people with autism spectrum disorder.
Elaborating on the work of Charles Darwin (Darwin, 1872), Paul Ekman conducted research on emotions worldwide in 1955. Ekman linked universal facial expressions to the basic emotions (Ekman, 1975; Ekman, 2004). Darwin’s The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals continues to form the basis for research into facial expressions and the emotional lives of humans and animals (Darwin & Lakmaker, 2009). Darwin stated that facial expressions for specific emotions are both universally and biologically determined. Darwin was the first to state that the facial expressions not only display emotions but also serve to protect the individual. According to Darwin, emotions are directly related to survival; an emotion can arise quickly and then only last for a few seconds. Three laws apply for the survival of any species, including humans; Will it eat me? Can I eat it? Can I use it for reproduction? Ekman found that regardless of language or culture, facial expressions of emotions remain constant (Ekman & Friesen, 1986; Ekman et al., 1969). According to Ekman, facial expressions are not taught but rather generated by the neurobiological systems, where there is a hereditary transfer of what was essential for survival in the past (Capel, 2018). Ekman proved that all emotions always appear in facial expressions to a greater or lesser extent (Ekman et al., 1987).
The Facial Action Coding System (FACS)
Ekman and Friesen, elaborating on the work of Swedish researcher Hjortsjö (1969), described 43 facial muscles that together form a large number of facial expressions. Ekman and colleagues identified as many as 10,000 combinations of facial expressions, with about 3,000 combinations associated with an emotion. Ekman and Friesen labelled the combinations of cooperating facial muscles Action Units and developed a coding system. They called it the Facial Action Coding System (FACS; Ekman, 2003b, 2003a; Ekman and Rosenberg, 2005; Ekman & Friesen, 1986). The Action Units represent expressions based on the seven universal emotions: anger, disgust, fear, sadness, surprise, contempt and joy (Ekman, 1992; Ekman, 2004). According to Ekman and colleagues, emotions are unconsciously; therefore, FACS is a reliable instrument for coding and analysis individual facial muscle movements and facial expressions. Ekman and Friesen found that macro and micro expressions, as well as their intensity levels, are visible in the face. The intensity level is coded using the letters A, B, C, D and E, where A denotes the lowest intensity and E denotes the highest intensity. It is also possible to analyse when an emotion starts (onset), when it is at its strongest (apex) and when it weakens again (offset). The letters L (left) and R (right) are used to indicate the side of the face that a one-sided expression is observed on (Ekman & Friesen, 1986; Ekman et al., 2002; Jia et al., 2018).
Analysis of the FACS system
The face is a valuable source of information. The face can give observable information about gender, race and age. Research shows that the face provides even more reliable information than speech (Posamentier & Abdi, 2003; Matsumoto et al., 2008; Freitas-Magalhães, 2013). Facial expressions play a vital role in communication between people, especially regarding emotional states (Darwin, 1872; Kohler et al., 2004). Researchers have shown that facial expressions are important for human survival and reproduction. This demonstrates that facial expressions are innate and, thus, have a biological origin (Öhman & Dimberg; 1984; Fridlund, 2014). Unlike the muscles of the body, which are attached to bones and joints, the facial muscles are attached to skin and move facial skin tissue by tightening or relaxing. These movements are largely automatic and related to the experience of emotions (Fridlund, 2014). Ekman and colleagues also found that many facial expressions are not culture-, gender- or age-dependent (Ekman & Friesen, 1986; Ekman, 1975, 1992, 2004; Ekman & Rosenberg, 1998). FACS is based on the assumptions that emotions and the associated muscle contractions are universal and can be perceived by the senses. Therefore, the coding system can be regarded as a reliable instrument. Later research showed that people can also exercise control over their facial muscles to simulate expressions of emotions that they do not feel (DePaulo, 1992; Ekman, 1992). The researchers Tassinary and Cacioppo (1992) found that people can also feel emotions without showing facial expressions. However, this outcome was contested by Ekman (1992, 2003), who argued that the signal value of emotions is vital for survival from an evolutionary point of view. Ekman then argued that emotional expressions are the result of spontaneous muscle contractions driven by unconscious brain responses to emotional stimuli (Ekman, 2002, 2006). Although there are people who can exercise control over their facial muscles, according to Ekman most people are unable to do this with all of the muscles needed to show the combinations associated with the various emotions simultaneously (Ekman, 1993, 2002, 2006). An example of this is the difference between a Duchenne and non-Duchenne smile (Mattson, 2013). A Duchenne smile puts stress on the cartilage muscle (zygomaticus major; Praba & Venkatramaniah, 2015) and the orbicular muscle of the eye (orbicularis oculi muscle; Moerer et al., 2005). The cartilage muscle can be contracted voluntarily, but the eye circuit muscle cannot (Ekman et al., 1980; Ekman & Friesen, 1982; Ekman, 1993, 2003b; Fox & Davidson, 1987).
Further research shows that forced facial expressions are more often asymmetrical and last longer than real, spontaneous expressions (Ekman et al., 2002; Skinner & Mullen, 1991). Some studies argue against the universal expression of emotions (Frijda, 1953, 2005, 2017). Frijda states that the face shows a ‘state of action readiness’ in interaction. Frijda assumes a particular affinity with specific emotions in a certain context (Frijda & Tcherkassof, 1997; Frijda & Sundararajan, 2007; Ridderinkhof, 2017). Russel (1997) is sceptical of the theory of Ekman. In his bi-dimensional model, Russel shows that people refer to each other’s faces based on the dimensions of arousal and valence, instead of emotions (Russell, 1997; Russell et al., 2013). The Dutch professor Agneta Fischer states that the relationship between the Action Units and emotions is weak. She also disputes Fridlund’s idea that emotions have a social function. Research by Fischer and colleagues shows that emotions are inextricably linked to specific contexts (Fischer et al., 1999; Fischer & Roseman, 2007; Hess & Philippot, 2007). As an example, Fischer cites that the winners of Olympic medals had facial expressions that Ekman categorises as anger or fear, even though the athletes indicated that they were cheering and experiencing joy and did not recognise any other emotion in themselves at the time. Furthermore, Fischer states that emotion recognition and interpretation are a combination of factors that determine what is visible in the face, whereby the rest of the body also provides essential information to come to an excellent analysis (Philippot et al., 1999; Hess et al., 1998).
Emotion recognition and the brain
In addition to the muscle contractions, which occur in specific combinations and certain emotions, neurological research has shown unmistakable brain activity in the amygdala when someone produces facial expressions. The amygdala shows activity for expressions generated by emotions but not for forced expressions. As a result, not only can emotional expressions be recognised perceptually but they are also measurable (Ekman, 2000, 2003a; Kahn, 1966; Dolan & Vuilleumier, 2006; Tassinary & Cacioppo, 1992; Etkin et al., 2006). The amygdala is the part of the brain where the emotions are generated. The amygdala is situated in the area referred to as the emotional sentinel. In case of danger, the limbic system of the brain directs survival behaviours through emotions that make us act by fighting, fleeing or freezing (Dispenza, 2014, 2019; Kolk, van der, 2016; Levine & Majoor, 2015; Ogden & Fisher, 2015).
Emotion recognition and autism
Autism is a developmental disorder that affects social functioning, behaviour and cognition (Delfos, 2003; Frith & Mira, 1992; Vermeulen, 1999). People with autism perceive the world differently, compared to people without autism, and teach themselves various coping strategies (Horwitz, 2004; Kern et al., 2007; Vermeulen, 1999). People with autism tend to perceive information sharply and factually (Bogdashina, 2006; Vermeulen, 2009).People with autism experience difficulties in recognising emotions in themselves and others. These difficulties affect social interactions in relationship and work contexts (Harms et al., 2010; Frith, 2009; Golan et al., 2006). Because of the abilities of people with autism to perceive sharply and factually, they can sense a diversity of facial expressions in their conversation partners. Not knowing how to respond to this visual information often results in clumsy and inappropriate behaviour (Buitelaar et al., 1999; Vermeulen, 2009; Bogdashina, 2004). In socio-emotional development programs, children and adults with autism learn about emotions through trainings and role-playing. These training courses often take place in clinical settings; as a result, participants do not acquire sufficient skills to apply what they have learned outside of these training contexts (Boeve Sleeuwen, 2008; Dekker et al., 2014). Underneath the generation of emotions and the associated expressions lies a biological basis, which can be encoded using the FACS system. The FACS system, therefore, offers opportunities for people with autism to recognise emotions based on accurate perceptions and to apply them independently of a particular context.
The actual perception of expressions using observable emotions, which can be displayed in Action Units, offers people with autism a method of emotion recognition. The FACS system offers opportunities for people with autism to recognise emotions based on actual perception and to apply them independently of context. The pure perception of facial expressions, the link to one or more of the seven universal emotions and the clarity of intensity gives people with autism insights into the process of emotion recognition in themselves and others. The idea is that an emotion recognition methodology, with explanations of the functions of emotions and a suitable set of questions, will at least enable more understanding and better social relationships for people with autism with regular to high levels of intelligence. A challenge here is the limited number (approximately 500) of FACS practitioners worldwide who can potentially transfer this knowledge. Another challenge is that emotion recognition and interpretation using FACS has little or no prominence in the field of mental health. Further research regarding emotion recognition through accurate perceptions, the applications of the Facial Action Coding System and the benefits of this system for people with autism are recommended.
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