Presidential candidate body language plays little role in voter perception

October 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: MU expert says presidential debates likely to be as significant as 1960 Kennedy-Nixon debate

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

Related Stories

Gender is a relative term in politics, study finds

September 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 ...

MU professor analyzes presidential debates

October 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, ...

Recommended for you

Four pre-Inca tombs found in Peru's Lima

November 27, 2015

Archaeologists in Peru have found four tombs that are more than 1,000 years old in a pyramid-shaped cemetery that now sits in the middle of a residential neighborhood in Lima, experts said.


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.