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Dr. Alison Ventura Explains the Facial Action Coding System

March 29, 2013 — Alison VenturaDr. Alison Ventura passed the Facial Action Coding System (FACS) exam after attending a week-long intensive training course at UC Berkely, an endeavor funded through a Drexel Career Development Award. The FACS, developed in the 1970s by psychologists Dr. Paul Ekman and Dr. Wallace Friesen, is a system used to quantify facial movements. Based on current understandings of the different movements of the face and on research showing that there are consistent combinations of facial movements that represent different emotions, the Facial Action Coding System can be used to identify and quantify emotional expressions. For example, happiness is typically expressed by raised corners of the mouth, crinkling in the corners of the eyes, and subtle tightening of the bottom eyelid. The television show “Lie to Me” is based on the FACS and is a good example in popular culture of the way the system can be used. It’s also commonly used by animators so that they can more realistically animate emotions. Law enforcement agencies use FACS to determine whether people are lying or telling the truth.

Dr. Ventura will use the system in her work with infants and young pre-verbal children to help her better understand their reactions to novel foods and their interactions with their caregivers during feeding. She said, “If you think about this population, you can’t just ask them how they are feeling or whether or not the like something, given their limited ability for verbal communication.” Using FACS, Dr. Ventura will be able to quantify how young children react and thereby better understand individual differences in food likes, aversions, and positive and negative interactions during feeding.

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