All You Need To Know: Facial Coding

Our face conveys our emotions - sometimes we don’t even realise we’re doing it. Being exposed to certain arousals like an old photo of you and your friends elicit an instinctive reaction.

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Facial coding or Facial Expression Analysis is a tool used to measure human emotions through facial expressions. With facial expression analysis, you can test the impact of any content, product or service that is supposed to elicit emotional arousal and facial responses. 

What is it?

Our face conveys our emotions – sometimes we don’t even realise we’re doing it. Being exposed to certain arousals like an old photo of you and your friends, a particularly sad film or hearing a funny joke all elicit an instinctive reaction. These reactions put our emotions on display revealing the inner-workings of our minds. 

Computer-based facial expression analysis captures raw, unfiltered emotional responses towards any type of engaging stimuli. These responses are detected in real-time using fully automated computer algorithms that record facial expressions. 

The Science Behind it 

The Facial Expression Analysis software integrates leading automated facial coding engines. Using a webcam, you can synchronize real-time facial expressions with stimuli directly in the software. If you have recorded facial videos, you can simply import videos into the platform for facial expression analysis post-processing. You can then gain insights through built-in analysis and visualization tools or export data for additional analyses.

How Does it Work?

The Facial Expression Analysis (FEA) platform provides 20 facial expression measures, 7 core emotions (joy, anger, fear, disgust, contempt, sadness, and surprise), facial landmarks, and behavioural guides such as head orientation and attention. These output actions provide probability values to represent the plausibility that the expected emotion is being expressed. Summary scores of engagement and valence are also provided, giving you an overview of the overall expressed response.

Why is it Used?

By taking advantage of this technology, brands have an opportunity to gain genuine, instinctual insights which measure how a person truly feels about an advertisement, product or service. It provides actionable data and eliminates natural occurring biases that usually result in skewed results. Facial coding picks up on the slightest of expressions that the respondent may not even be aware of. This acts as a gateway into the behaviour of the subconscious mind which is what drives decision-making. It allows insights into the emotional response of participants at specific timestamped points time throughout the experience. It also provides an overall reading of the experience that indicates how a consumer feels without the filter of language to interpret those feelings. 

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Technology in Action 

There are many real-world applications for facial coding from ad testing, consumer neuroscience and neuromarketing to product design whether that be physical products or digital (i.e. usability testing for UX).

Understanding what consumers want and how to persuade them to purchase are vital components in marketing. Traditional market research only scrapes the surface in terms of attitudes and awareness. 

Traditional methods stop short on capturing emotional responses unbiased by self-awareness and social desirability. This is where facial expression analysis shows its value. Based on facial expression analysis, products can be optimised, market segments analysed, and target audiences and buyer personas identified. 

In advertising for example, individual respondents or groups can be exposed to TV spots while monitoring their facial expressions. Identifying scenes where emotional responses were expected, i.e. a strong feeling of happiness from the closing scene, but the audience just didn’t “get it” is crucial in determining the key moments that result in the most extreme facial expressions.

In this context, you may want to isolate and improve scenes that trigger unwanted negative expressions indicating elevated levels of disgust, frustration or confusion, this ensures that nothing is taken out of context.  

One example is taken from the pharmaceutical industry. The company in question were evaluating product safety. They had one variation of an ad that was defensive on the safety topic, while the other was more upbeat. While the verbal responses from subjects viewing the two ads didn’t vary a whole, the facial coding analysis showed a much more negative response to the ad, particularly among a group of subjects supportive of the brand. The dramatic difference in the facial coding response convinced the firm to shelf the defensive ad and run only the upbeat version.

Why Is This Beneficial?

The core reason why facial coding is so beneficial is that it reveals a person’s true, unbiased feelings towards a certain stimulus, whether that’s testing a new product or the responsiveness of a tv ad. People are generally influenced by those around them, and they make decisions based on this fact. This is where certain biases occur. Facial Expression Analysis allows you to break through that barrier and deliver products and ads that align with your target audience and drive precision through reliable and actionable data.

This type of analysis allows you to map the varying degrees of emotion via expressions in real-time to a stimulus instead of just taking the response post-analysis. This provides oversight throughout the entire process allowing you to not miss out on valuable data.

Key Takeaways 

  • Reveals genuine response: facial coding allows you to measure a persons’ split-second microexpression revealing their unbiased feelings
  • Interprets visual language: in some instances, many people are unable to put into words how they truly feel at any given moment, facial coding eliminates this juncture through facial communication
  • Map in real-time: allows you to see the varying fluctuations throughout the course of exposure rather than relying solely on the expressions and feelings made post-analysis. 

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