NCBI ROFL: Presidential laugh lines. Candidate display behavior and audience laughter in the 2008 primary debates.

By ncbi rofl | October 16, 2012 7:00 pm

“Political humor has long been used by candidates to mobilize supporters by enhancing status or denigrating the opposition. Research concerning laughter provides insight into the building of social bonds; however, little research has focused on the nonverbal cues displayed by the individual making humorous comments. This study first investigates whether there is a relationship between facial display behavior and the presence and strength of laughter. Next, the analysis explores whether specific candidate displays during a humorous comment depend on the target of the comment. This paper analyzes the use of humor by Republican and Democratic candidates during ten 2008 presidential primary debates. Data analyzed here employs laughter as an indicator of a successful humorous comment and documents candidate display behavior in the seconds immediately preceding and during each laughter event. Findings suggest specific facial displays play an important communication role. Different types of smiles, whether felt, false, or fear-based, are related to who laughs as well as how intensely the audience is judged to laugh.”

Bonus figures from the full text:

Picture 1 Hillary Clinton responding to claims she wasn't “likeable enough” during a New Hampshire debate with a felt smile and self-deprecatory humor. (“Well, that hurts my feelings. But I'll try to go on.”) Coding: eyelids slightly closed, eyebrows normal, eye orientation focused then cut, mouth corners raised, and upper teeth showing.

Picture 2 Mike Huckabee at a Columbia, SC debate wearing a look of surprise. “We've had a Congress that spent money like John Edwards at a beauty shop.” Coding: eyelids normal, eyebrows raised, eye orientation staring, mouth corners normal, and both upper and lower teeth showing.

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NCBI ROFL is the brainchild of two Molecular and Cell Biology graduate students at UC Berkeley and features real research articles from the PubMed database (which is housed by the National Center for Biotechnology information, aka NCBI) that they find amusing (ROFL is a commonly-used internet acronym for "rolling on the floor, laughing"). Follow us on twitter: @ncbirofl

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