Is FACS Training right for you?

Undertaking FACS training


The 5-day FACS workshop takes you through the entire training manual for the Facial Action Coding System and helps prepare you for the final test for certification as a FACS coder. As you may or may not already know, FACS is an anatomically-based system for exhaustively describing all observable facial movement. Each observable component of facial movement is called an action unit or AU. All facial expressions can be decomposed into their constituent AUs. The manual describes the criteria for observing and coding each AU and describes how AUs appear in combinations. The CD-based manual (2002) is an exhaustive description of facial behavior in terms of AUs and their combinations.


FACS 5-day Training

  • Milan, Italy
  • Applications and registration for the Milan workshop are through the sponsor, I&G Management


Since its first publication in 1978 by Ekman & Friesen, the FACS manual has been designed to be self-instructional. That is, people would read the manual, do practice coding with video images, and eventually take a final test for certification. Typically, this self-instruction takes about 100 hours, but frequently more, and many people take months to complete the training. Ekman has always recommended training in groups, and those of us researchers who trained with him have often encouraged our students to learn in groups. As the manual is long and tedious, many people benefit from interaction with others in learning the material. I developed a 5-day structured workshop setting for three reasons:

  1. After requests from many researchers who said they wanted to learn FACS but could not take the time to do it in the standard self-instructional manner
  2. Provide guidance and expert advice in moving through the difficult material of the manual
  3. Allow trainees feedback on their coding during training in a manner not available through self-instruction


All people who train in FACS (whether via self-instruction or by the workshop) need to take the final test for certification. The test is self-administered after the workshop. This test involves coding a series of 34 video segments and the codes are evaluated by comparing the test takers codes to a set of criterion codes by experts. One must agree with the criterion codes at a level of .70 or above to pass. Passing the certification test simply means one has demonstrated proficiency in FACS coding; that is, his or her coding is reliable or consistent with the coding of well-trained people. This means one can have confidence to use the technique in research. This is a very important step in training.


After FACS training one is qualified to FACS code. This means that one has learned a basic system for describing anatomical movement of the face. You will walk away with a level of understanding facial movement that few others in the world have. Realize that FACS was designed for researchers. I have trained researchers, therapists, physicians, business people, and animators. Anyone seriously interested in how and why the face moves (and there are numerous applications of that knowledge) can benefit from this training. It is a big commitment for big understanding.

Once you pass the FACS test all you have demonstrated is that you know the AUs. FACS certification does not confer expertise. Certification means that you know the system well enough to code. It does not mean you know it well enough to train others. Consider this analogy – it is like obtaining your driver’s license. Once you pass the driving test and get your license it means you are qualified to drive a car. It does not mean that you are qualified to teach others to drive. Expertise in FACS requires accumulating extensive experience coding.


You will find that learning FACS will give you sensitivity to subtle facial movements that few others have. This is not, however, a workshop for learning to recognize emotions. Nor is it a course on deception detection. It is a course on learning a comprehensive system of measuring facial movement. It is true that one of the main ways in which FACS has been applied is to the study of facial expressions of emotion, but emotional interpretations emerge in the data processing stage — not at the coding stage. The strength of FACS coding is its objectivity. I do spend some time in the workshop talking about techniques and resources for emotion interpretation, but our emphasis is on learning to code facial action using this powerful measurement technique.

FACS training was originally designed by Ekman & Friesen to be self-instructional, wherein one works alone with the manual. Using this method it takes at least 100 hours of self-study. The 5-day workshop is accelerated, but even that requires some advanced preparation. There is no way to shorten the training any further, as it would be incomplete. The emphasis is on expert instruction in FACS, the gold standard system of detailed measurement of observable, often subtle facial movements.

What if I just want to learn to identify emotions?

You can get more simple training in recognizing facial expression of emotion without FACS training, in much less time, for much less money. If you want to become more attuned to the expression of the 7 basic emotions, you go to Paul Ekman’s website and look into the micro-expression training. It will teach you how to recognize the prototypical emotion expressions in people’s faces, especially when they occur rapidly (as microexpressions). It does not teach about measuring facial movement, however, nor does it train you to detect very subtle facial changes.