Jesse de Agustin, Methodology Advisor, Facial Coding, emonalytics, inc.

The human face reveals what occurs on a subconscious level and understanding emotion allows marketers to create stronger brands that engage their audiences. Emotion research is so far reaching that it also gives us telling clues into deceit, and a person’s genuine beliefs and behaviors.

The Facial Action Coding System (FACS) is a method developed by Dr. Paul Ekman that precisely identifies the emotion someone experiences by categorizing the smallest musculature changes in the human face. The emotions – anger, disgust, fear, happiness, sadness, surprise, and contempt – are cross-cultural and can appear in our face consciously or subconsciously.

A recent study in Evolution and Human Behavior looked at FACS and deception in high-stakes situations. Researchers examined various individuals who pleaded to the public for the return of a missing relative. It turns out that half of these individuals were convicted of being the murderer. Upon performing FACS on these individuals, emotional “leakage” was identified especially among facial muscles that are not under much cortical (a stress hormone) control. Therefore, they had to think about crafting a story – and nonverbal emotion was subconsciously leaked via their facial expressions.

Emotion isn’t limited to deception situations. Look at this advertisement for Restasis ®  – Do you see that at the 33-34 second mark we see the emotion of disgust across the doctor’s face?  It happens very fast, but it is now a part of your experience with that brand. Your subconscious saw it the first time and your conscious mind will see it with each subsequent viewing.

Understanding nonverbal communication, in particular how emotion is reflected via facial expressions helps determine what an audience is really feeling – that can contradict what they verbally express. This is invaluable knowledge to apply in order to better understand others, and when creating brand experiences for a specific audience.


Brinke, Leanne ten. et. al. (2012). “Darwin the Detective: Observable facial muscle contractions reveal emotional high-stakes lies.” Evolution and Human Behavior (article in press)

de Agustin, Jesse. (April 4, 2012) The Crux of the Subconscious: Understanding Emotion for Genuine Brand Engagement from Revealing Engagement retrieved  6/1/2012