Tecce Analysis Catches Media's Eye

By Sean Smith
Staff Writer

Assoc. Prof. Joseph Tecce (Psychology) never set out to be a player in the national political arena, but his research on eye-blink rates as indicators of stress attracted major attention from the media during the 1996 campaign.

Tecce was featured in Boston Globe , Newsweek , The Boston Herald, Channel 7 and Reuters, among other media outlets, about his findings on, and interpretation of the eye blink rates for Bill Clinton and Bob Dole during their debates. Tecce's work even wound up providing the basis for one of David Letterman's satirical spoofs of the campaign during a recent "Late Show."

According to Tecce's hedonia hypothesis, a person is apt to blink more often when experiencing something unpleasant, such as stress, boredom or fatigue, and less if the stimuli are pleasant.

High blink rates during debates have not been positive indicators for presidential candidates, according to Tecce. In his study of the first debates in the 1960 campaign and every presidential campaign since 1980, the candidate with the highest blink rate invariably lost the election.

This is not good news for Bob Dole, according to Tecce's recent analysis. Dole's rate of 147 blinks per minute in the first debate was the highest Tecce has ever recorded and was well above President Clinton's 99 bpm.

Tecce found particularly striking that in the second debate, Dole's rate increased by 32 bpm between his opening and closing statement, while Clinton's declined by 21 bpm.

"The conventional wisdom sees Bob Dole as 'burned out,' but that's not what this suggests," Tecce said. "It is more that his cognitive abilities are not as great, that he tends to be tangential and unfocused."

Tecce is pleased with the interest in his work, and feels it has been depicted correctly and responsibly.

"The media has been very professional and accurate in their reporting," Tecce said. "They have not misquoted or misused the hedonia hypothesis, and I am quite happy about that. My students are also very proud: They bring in the newspaper or magazine clippings or tell me when they've heard me mentioned on TV or radio. It certainly helps them get enthusiastic for this kind of research activity."

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