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The eyes have it: Gore bests Bush in blink-off

(10-5-2000) Republican George W. Bush out-blinked Democrat Albert Gore in their first showdown of the campaign, a potentially bad sign for the GOP standard-bearer, according to a Boston College psychologist whose survey of televised presidential debates over the past two decades indicates candidates who blink fastest invariably lose the election.

Assoc. Prof. Joseph Tecce (Psychology), who studies the causes and effects of nonverbal expressions, released his findings following Tuesday's nationally televised debate at Umass-Boston. He found Bush blinked faster on average than Gore, with Bush registering an overall average of 82 blinks-per-minute (bpm) to Gore's 48 bpm.

The candidates' highest blink rates occurred during the discussion of Medicare for Gore (61 bpm) and government intervention in social crises for Bush (108 bpm).

According to Tecce, unpleasant feelings such as stress, anxiety, and pain tend to increase blink frequency while pleasant feelings, such as contentment and relaxation, tend to decrease blink frequency. A person blinks about 15 times a minute while in a quiet resting state. This rate goes up to 20-25 bpm when a person is speaking, and appearing before an audience pushes the rate to 31-50 bpm.

The psychologist said his interest in the cause and effect of blink rates began in 1974 when he watched Richard Nixonís resignation speech and noted the president was "blinking faster that the schizophrenics" he had been studying in his laboratory.

Tecce began studying the role of eyeblinks as indicators of stress. He has found in the past five elections that presidential candidates who blink most in debates go on to lose (see table).

Presidential Debate Blink Rate/Election Outcome Since 1980

Year Candidates Faster Blink Rate Lost Election
1980 Carter/Reagan Carter Carter
1984 Mondale/Reagan Mondale Mondale
1988 Dukakis/Bush Dukakis Dukakis
1992 Clinton/Bush Bush Bush
1996 Clinton/Dole Dole Dole


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