Ipsos Encyclopedia - Facial Coding

Facial Coding uses automated software and webcam capture and has become one of the most relied upon methods for quantifying emotional response to ads and digital videos used in market research.

Ipsos Encyclopedia - Facial Coding


Facial Coding uses automated software and webcam capture and has become one of the most relied upon methods for quantifying emotional response to ads and digital videos used in market research.

Charles Darwin first recognised that humans and other mammals reveal emotions via facial expression. In "The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals" (1872), he suggested that mammals reveal emotions in their faces in universal ways.

In the early 1960s, Paul Ekman, now professor emeritus of psychology at the University of California, began travelling to other nations to research whether at least some facial expressions were consistent across geography and cultures. He found that individuals from distinct and distant regions correctly interpreted expressions in photos from other groups.

In 1972, Ekman published research confirming that many facial expressions are found universally across different cultures. He identified six basic universal facial expressions defined by consistent and distinct facial muscle movements: Anger, Happiness, Surprise, Disgust, Sadness and Fear. Working with Wallace Friesen, also of UCSF, they created the Facial Action Coding System (FACS), which they published in 1978.

FACS uses a map of the face with varying coordiantes to represent muscle movement asssociated with key emotions. It determines the probablility of an expressed universal emotion at any given moment in a reaction to stimuli.

Ipsos Point Of View:

Facial Coding has been adopted by Ipsos, and other major research companies, for ad and video testing. Its appeal comes from being highly informative regarding a video's ability to engage and evoke emotion. Thanks to modern technology, it is scalable and cost efficient, while providing reliable and informative nonconscious emotional response diagnostics.

Ipsos leverages a highly collaborative partnership with Realeyes, who specialise in the capture and measurement of nonconscious, System 1, emotions. Significant integration effort between Ipsos and Realeyes has led to the ability to embed Facial Coding into traditional online surveys programmed by IIS and utilises in-home online testing of respondents with their own webcams. For analysis purposes, we use demographic and other typical survey variables.

It should be noted that this methodology is quantitative and requires 10-15% oversampling in case of poor lighting conditions or respondents moving out of camera range as emotions are recorded. Also all respondents must consent to being videotaped.

Facial coding is most appropriate for testing videos such as commercials or digital content, (versus static stimuli e.g. print ads or packaging) because respondents are more likely to elicit measureable facial expressions when there is motion.

Facial Coding is used by Ipsos Connect, the Ipsos branding and communication specialists, to understand the nature of emotional response to advertising, and the way it varies and builds as brand communication progresses. Connect typically measures engagement via the presence of overall and average (sustained) expressed emotion. Benchmarks for levels of specific emotions are also an integral part of the analysis and indicate whether or not the creative is bringing consumers along the intended emotional journey.

In essence, Facial Coding provides a reliable System 1 lens into the incidence and direction of emotion, along with identifying specific types of emotion at any specific moment in an ad or video, for a deeper understanding of consumer response.

Recommended readings:

White Paper: Ipsos POV on Automated Facial Coding by Elissa Moses, CEO, Ipsos Neuro & Behavioural Science

Book: Darwin and Facial Expression by Paul Ekman (1973)

Book: Unmasking the Face by Paul Ekman (1975)

Book: Emotion in the Human Face by Harriet Oster, Joseph C. Hager, Maureen O'Sullivan, O.P, Phoebe Ellsworth, Professor of Psychology Department of Psychiatry Paul Ekman, Ph.D., Silvan Tomkins, Wallace Friesen, Wallace V. Friesen, and William K Redican (1972)

Book: Emotions Revealed by Paul Ekman (2003)

Book: Emotions Inside Out, by Paul Ekman (2003)

Article: Malcolm Gladwell, The Naked Face (2002)

Book: Emotionomics: Winning Hearts and Minds by Dan Hill (2007)

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