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: Decoding ethnic labels

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

Decoding ethnic labels

4 hours ago

If you are of Latin American descent, do you call yourself Chicano? Latino? Hispanic?

Local education politics 'far from dead'

Jul 29, 2014

Teach for America, known for recruiting teachers, is also setting its sights on capturing school board seats across the nation. Surprisingly, however, political candidates from the program aren't just pushing ...

First grade reading suffers in segregated schools

Jul 29, 2014

A groundbreaking study from the Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute (FPG) has found that African-American students in first grade experience smaller gains in reading when they attend segregated schools—but the ...

Why aren't consumers buying remanufactured products?

Jul 29, 2014

Firms looking to increase market share of remanufactured consumer products will have to overcome a big barrier to do so, according to a recent study from the Penn State Smeal College of Business. Findings from faculty members ...

Expecting to teach enhances learning, recall

Jul 29, 2014

People learn better and recall more when given the impression that they will soon have to teach newly acquired material to someone else, suggests new research from Washington University in St. Louis.

User comments : 0