Presidential candidate body language plays little role in voter perception

Oct 16, 2012

Viewer impressions of political candidates are heavily weighted to the content of their speech rather than the body language, a new study published in the Journal of Communication has found. The research, conducted by a trio of German scholars, presents a shift from past research showing that nonverbal communication plays a larger role than verbal in presidential debates.

Marcus Maurer (Friedrich-Schiller-Universitaet), Friederike Nagel (Johannes Gutenberg-Universitaet), and CarstenReinemann (Ludwig Maxillians-Universitaet) conducted an experiment measuring 72 viewers of a German presidential debate using continuous response measurement (CRM). Each participant was provided a dial that gave second-by-second content analysis of participants' feelings during the debate. They found that the verbal-message elements had the strongest impact on viewers' impressions of each candidate.

Past studies have used experimental designs where audio-only or visual-only versions of a debate were presented to participants. This study gave a more encompassing view of the debate, with its audio and being presented simultaneously.

"Most political consultants seem to believe that is the most powerful channel," Maurer said. "Candidates in the US and Germany spend a lot of time training to improve body language. One of the reasons is the 55%/38%/7% rule, which says that 55% of communication is nonverbal with only 7% verbal. This is simply a myth in our eyes. and should take their cues on improving their verbal communication during the next televised debate. Our results show that politicians should concentrate their efforts on what they say and how they say it."

"The article offers important evidence that content and arguments still matter in politics, even more than body language," said Claes de Vreese, Chair of the Political Communication Division of the International Communication Association. "This finding runs counter to much common wisdom and popular arguments."

Explore further: Computer games give a boost to English

More information: "Is There a Visual Dominance in Political Communication? How Verbal, Visual, and Vocal Communication Shape Viewers' Impressions of Political Candidates" by Marcus Maurer, Friederike Nagel & Carsten Reinemann; Journal of Communication Volume 62 Issue 5, DOI: 10.1111/j.1460-2466.2012.01670.x

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

MU professor analyzes presidential debates

Oct 21, 2008

Now that the general election debates are over, University of Missouri Professor of Communication Willliam Benoit has analyzed the content of the three encounters between Senators McCain and Obama. He found that, overall, ...

Gender is a relative term in politics, study finds

Sep 30, 2008

For only the second time in presidential debate history, a female nominee will take the stage to spar with a male opponent. While Geraldine Ferraro broke new ground in 1984, it has taken 24 years for another female to be ...

Recommended for you

Computer games give a boost to English

14 hours ago

If you want to make a mark in the world of computer games you had better have a good English vocabulary. It has now also been scientifically proven that someone who is good at computer games has a larger ...

Saddam Hussein—a sincere dictator?

18 hours ago

Are political speeches manipulative and strategic? They could be – when politicians say one thing in public, and privately believe something else, political scientists say. Saddam Hussein's legacy of recording private discussions ...

Healthy working environment is a salvation

20 hours ago

Contract workers in Norway often face the worst and most unpredictable working conditions. But good management and support from colleagues makes these workers more robust.

Why marvellous isn't awesome any more

20 hours ago

Using the Spoken British National Corpus 2014, a very large collection of recordings of real-life, informal, spoken interactions between speakers of British English from across the United Kingdom, Cambridge ...

User comments : 0