Expert Q&A With

Maggie Pazian

Maggie Pazian, founder of VisualEmotion LLC, is an international trainer and FACS coder with over ten thousand hours of coding experience in facial action coding and identifying emotion cues from the face.

Maggie has more than ten years of experience in both field and academia. She specializes in emotion recognition, micro-expressions, body language, and FACS; creating dynamic skill building programs for private enterprise, not-for-profit and federal organizations. The focus of her training is to translate the insights developed from cutting edge research on emotion, create applications and develop training for those interested in improving their communication and people reading skills.

Maggie launched her career as a consultant in nonverbal behavior while working with Dr. Mark Frank, the leading researcher in facial expression, interpersonal deception and behavioral observation. Maggie has led efforts on projects with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, Office of Naval Research, National Science Foundation, the Transportation Security Administration and Department of Homeland Security.

Maggie is an accredited trainer for the Institute of Analytic Interviewing and Paul Ekman International plc. Maggie appeared on the Discovery Channel show Monsters and Mysteries in Alaska in March of 2010 and has co-authored several papers and presentations on deception detection.

What services does your company VisualEmotion provide?

VisualEmotion LLC provides two main services, facial coding using the Facial Action Coding System (FACS) and training geared towards emotion recognition (i.e. facial expressions and micro expressions), deception detection and interviewing.

On a daily basis, people often hide behind a social mask, basically posing the socially acceptable or socially required expression. What we teach is to not only look beyond the mask to see what is being hidden but what to do with that information once you have it. These skills are beneficial for anyone in any role or job who engages in face to face communication!

Who inspired you to pursue a career in body language?

It was none other than Dr. Mark Frank. After 9/11, I spent 5 incredible years working with Dr. Frank, running experiments using high stakes deception scenarios and then coding each facial tick, and body movement and analyzing the data to distinguish which criteria were most reliable in deciphering truth versus lies.

It was fascinating research. We compiled so much data, much of which still is in the process of being published. But I had a unique immersion into the field because I got to be fully hands on in the research experiments from design to conclusion.

Which muscles are reliable indicators of anger?

In anger both the upper half of the face and the lower half of the face have reliable signals independently. In the upper face we often interpret the lowered eyebrow as a signal of anger, however in reality the lowered brow can signal a multitude of states such as confusion, focus, concentration, etc. What we want to be looking for is a combination of the lowering of the eyebrows and a glare in the eyes.

In the lower part of the face on the other hand the most reliable indicator is the narrowing and tightening of the lips (AU23 for you FACS coders out there).

Facial Expression Anger

(Photo Credit: VisualEmotion LLC)

What effects does botox have on reading facial expressions of emotion?

Botox is most commonly injected into the forehead area paralyzing the muscles in the forehead and preventing the normal up/down movements related to the lowering of the brow (indicator of anger) and inner corner raise (indicator of sadness). According to research the use of Botox in that area may affect a person’s ability to understand written language related to emotions. A brief write up of the study was posted on Science Daily.

Interestingly enough, those people with Botox injections had a more difficult time reading and comprehending statements related to anger and sadness as opposed to happiness.

Can FACS detect depression or suicidal feelings?

Research by Heller and Haynal using FACS found two interesting results when studying suicidal versus non-suicidal patients. First, 5 out of 17 suicidal depressive patients were shown to express contempt and three out of the 5 contempt expressors reattempted suicide. Meanwhile non-suicidal patients did not exhibit any signs of contempt. Second, suicidal patients did not use their upper face as much as non-suicidal patients.

These are simply patterns that the researchers found in this study which lead to a conclusion that observing nonverbal behavior can provide some valuable information about a patient’s risk of suicide.

Overall, being proficient in FACS and particularly the markers of hidden emotions makes people better observers, which leads to a deeper understanding of other people’s feelings. That kind of acuity opens the door for seeing beyond the social mask that most of us wear and allows for better questioning and in the end better information gathering.

How does having an adept understanding of body language affect your private life?

Well, it makes things interesting for sure! My kids are learning to be very attuned to facial expressions at a young age. While they haven’t taken any microexpression training just yet, we talk a lot about emotions, and what different facial expressions signal and of course how to deal with such information.

What does your Deception Detection Training involve?

Detecting deception is about taking a holistic approach. While some people leak microexpressions, others might leak vocal, verbal or body cues. My training teaches the scientifically validated deception cues in addition to the cues that indicate truthfulness.

There is no single indicator of deception and while science has given us some great cues to rely on, there will always be individual differences and things that are unique to a person. A key component of my training is improving observational skills and critical thinking about the information the observer is gathering.

What have you got planned for the rest of 2012?

To continue working on ongoing FACS coding projects, especially with the election season fast approaching we are seeing some interesting project coming in. We are also planning some exciting new training projects to be announced soon. Finally our website is going to get a new look very soon with some great new offerings that we are excited to reveal in the near future!

Learn More

Click Here To Visit VisualEmotion LLC.

Click Here to follow Maggie Pazian on Facebook.

Click Here to follow Maggie Pazian on Twitter.

Go Back To The Main Body Language Expert Interviews Page

Go From Maggie Pazian Back To The All About Body Language Homepage


Michael Jackson

Interesting Psychology

Body Language

Criminal Profiling

Psychology Student Guide

Behavioral Science