Measuring emotions! Seminar

23 March 2015

On Thursday, 12 February 2015, the seminar Measuring emotions! was held in the beautiful Frans Hals Museum situated in the historical city center of Haarlem, The Netherlands. The seminar attracted about 30 delegates from several universities and companies, who all flocked together for an inspiring talk by Ann Demeester, director of the Frans Hals Museum; the four presentations about emotion research; and a very interesting tour through the museum’s exhibition, Up Close and Personal.

Welcome and Introduction

After a welcome with coffee and tea, Lucas Noldus briefed the audience about the basics of emotion recognition and his company’s facial expression analysis software, FaceReader™. Then Ann Demeester, the museum director, took over. She explained that Frans Hals was one of the three masters of the Golden Age (17th century). His way of painting vivid emotions into his portraiture was considered very modern for that era. At the time of this seminar, the museum named after this artist was showcasing two special exhibitions: one depicting Emotions: Pain and Pleasure in Dutch Painting of the Golden Age, and the other called Up Close and Personal, which explored affective power in contemporary art of the 21st century. In the latter exhibit, Noldus Information Technology assisted in the implementation of FaceReader to analyze visitors’ facial expressions as they looked through the paintings.

Ann Demeester noted that in recent years, there have been several separate exhibitions* around the world displaying emotions in art, calling attention to the relevancy of emotions beyond artistic applications. Frans Hals museum curator Gary Schwartz arranged the Emotions exhibit – Geschilderde Gevoelens in de Gouden Eeuw in Dutch – with an interest in finding out how contemporary viewers responded to the 17th century art. The idea was to examine museumgoers’ facial expressions, posture, and personal narratives to try to get an idea of what they were thinking as they walked through the exhibit. 


Before the lunch break, the audience was presented with a broad program of short presentations:

  • Dr. John Schavemaker, a consultant at the research organization TNO, talked about the way people experience television and how this can be measured. According to Dr. Schavemaker, all the big players in information and communication technology are very interested in utilizing emotions to improve the competitive strength of industry and organizations. TNO works on a number of projects dealing with affective computing and multi sensor data.
  • Professor Agneta Fischer from the University of Amsterdam explored the subject of emotion recognition and emotion regulation. She posed the question: Do we recognize emotions? and explained that there has been a big national (Dutch) investigation into which intensities in an expression people can still recognize.
  • Can you see risk aversion in a face? Professor Charles N. Noussair and Dr. Yen Nguyen from Tilburg University’s School of Economics and Management discussed risk aversion and emotions. They explained that generally, the more “emotional” a person is, the less risk that person is likely to take.
  • Finally, Marten den Uyl, CEO of VicarVision, took the stage. He talked about how machines can be trained to recognize, read, and write human facial expressions and display “emotions.” Explaining what constitutes an expressed emotion, he gave some interesting insights into which emotions can be read and then showed a video of an empathic billboard in a shopping mall which featured an avatar that interacted with pedestrians passing by. VicarVision is currently developing more avatars like this to mimic communication between humans.


After lunch, the group took a short walk to the Hallen Museum in the beautiful city center of Haarlem. The Hallen is a branch of the Frans Hals museum hosting a selection of contemporary art, including the aforementioned Up Close and Personal exhibit. Much of contemporary art relies on emotional impact and its ability to touch the viewer – sometimes literally, as in the case of Up Close and Personal. The curators of the exhibit, Xander Karskens and Ann Demeester, focused on affect and wanted to test whether and how “Beroering” (commotion) plays a role in the art itself. “Affect” describes the stage that precedes emotion, or feeling. While emotion can be expressed through language, affect is pre-verbal and often cannot be defined in words: it is direct and physical, immediate, and intuitive. The artists of Up Close and Personal delved deeper into the theme of “affect” in various ways, allowing the relationship between viewer and work to become the main focus. Read the information letter from the artists here:

The exhibition included a setup of FaceReader (see picture below) which showed a live analysis of passersby’s expressions. The seminar ended with drinks and appetizers at the Hallen, and the participants were free to explore the exhibitions themselves.

*Recent exhibitions showcasing emotions in art:

  • Emoties in de hedendaagse kunst, at the ‘Gemeentemuseum’ in Helmond, The Netherlands, from 14 October 2014 to 11 January 2015.
  • The Tragic Muse: Art and Emotion, 1700-1900, at the Smart Museum of Art, The University of Chicago, USA, from 10 February to 5 June 2011.
  • Real Emotions: Thinking in Film, at the KW Institute of Contemporary Art in Berlin, Germany, from 23 February to 27 April 2014.