Similarities and disparities between visual analysis and high-resolution electromyography of facial expressions

Liraz Gat, Aaron Gerston, Liu Shikun, Lilah Inzelberg, Yael Hanein*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Computer vision (CV) is widely used in the investigation of facial expressions. Applications range from psychological evaluation to neurology, to name just two examples. CV for identifying facial expressions may suffer from several shortcomings: CV provides indirect information about muscle activation, it is insensitive to activations that do not involve visible deformations, such as jaw clenching. Moreover, it relies on high-resolution and unobstructed visuals. High density surface electromyography (sEMG) recordings with soft electrode array is an alternative approach which provides direct information about muscle activation, even from freely behaving humans. In this investigation, we compare CV and sEMG analysis of facial muscle activation. We used independent component analysis (ICA) and multiple linear regression (MLR) to quantify the similarity and disparity between the two approaches for posed muscle activations. The comparison reveals similarity in event detection, but discrepancies and inconsistencies in source identification. Specifically, the correspondence between sEMG and action unit (AU)-based analyses, the most widely used basis of CV muscle activation prediction, appears to vary between participants and sessions. We also show a comparison between AU and sEMG data of spontaneous smiles, highlighting the differences between the two approaches. The data presented in this paper suggests that the use of AU-based analysis should consider its limited ability to reliably compare between different sessions and individuals and highlight the advantages of high-resolution sEMG for facial expression analysis.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0262286
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number2 February
StatePublished - Feb 2022


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